MARTIN FOY, JR., DIED
IN THE DANNEMORA CHAIR.
Graphic Story of the Execution
Told by a Globe Writer Who Witnessed It -
Dead Two Minutes After Entering the Chamber.
With a small party of gentlemen, I was standing Monday morning, on one of
the lower ridges along the northern borders of the Adirondacks, feasting
my eyes on the grandeur of the scene.
In front of us, at our right and to our rear, forming a
semi-circle around us, rose a high wall of mountains, come capped with
snow, others covered with shrub growth or with forests.
Far off to the left our eyes rested upon the blue-gray waters of
Lake Champlain and so clear was the pure mountain air that we could
plainly see the Champlain House on the Vermont shore fo the lake, 23
miles distant. The bright
sun shining down upon the scene, the mild breeze, the birds twittering
in the tree-tops gave such a charm to the morning that, as I thought of
the occasion which had brought us there, I could not help but think to
“How lovely the world seems to-day!
Is it not a pity, is it not wrong that just as God has made it
most beautiful, man would put a fellow-being out of it, even though that
fellow-being has been guilty of the same at?”
Further down in the valley before us was the one blot on this
fair picture – the gloomy walls of Dannemora prison, behind which even
now, as we were drinking in the beauties of nature, one who had seen but
little more than boyhood’s days was preparing to leave the world.
Martin Foy had broken the laws of God and man and the courts of
the State had said that he must die.
This was the day fixed for
It was about 11:30 Monday morning, when Warden Walter N. Thayer
crossed over from the prison to the little village hotel and announced
to the witnesses who had assembled there that all was ready for the
execution. The witnesses
were 23 in number; among them were William H. Farrell, P.P. Gilliland
and Dr. E.E. Larkin, of Plattsburg; Dr. John O’Brien, of Amsterdam;
District Attorney Dudley, of Elizabethtown; C.W. Lansing, of Port Henry;
Dr. George Beebe, of Albany; E.P. Morrison, of Sandy Hill; Dr. H.B.
Burton, of Troy; E.A. Andrus and Dick Mingay, of Saratoga; Dr. E.S.
Lawrence and District Attorney Person, of Ballston; John Harding, of
Saranac Lake; Thomas Patterson, of Whitehall; W.H. Palmer, of Dannemora
and the GLOBE representative. Escorted
by Ed M. Coughlin, the warden’s secretary, they proceeded to the death
chamber, a narrow room in the south wing of the prison.
A few feet from the door stands the death chair and close behind
that is the switchboard, at which the current is turned on and off.
In the presence of the witnesses the electrical apparatus was
tested by means of lights, but State Electrician Davis and Dr. J.B.
Ransom, the prison physician. When
the officials were satisfied that everything was in good working order
the warden retired from the death chamber. A few minutes elapsed and then he re-entered the room.
Beside him walked Principal Keeper E.J. McKenna.
Then came the condemned man and Father Belanger, his priest, and
Guards Vogen and Glazier followed them.
As he entered the room, the prisoner’s eyes were turned toward
the floor. His countenance
was pallid; in his
trembling hands he carried a crucifix.
Warden Thayer, Keeper McKenna and Father Belanger stepped aside
and Foy walked slowly to the chair and seated himself.
His nerve seemed to be completely gone.
No sooner was he in the chair than the guards proceeded to fasten
him. One strap was placed
around the chests, another around the waist, two were put around each
arm, one over the forehead and eyes and another across the chin.
His feet were placed in sockets.
While the guards were strapping the prisoner, Electrician Davis
bared the right leg below the knee and applied one of the electrodes and
another, helmet-shaped, was fastened to the head.
All this was quickly done and in a few seconds over half a minute
after the mournful procession entered the room,
FOY WAS READY FOR DEATH.
Gathered about the chair were the warden, the keeper, the priest,
Dr. Ransom, Dr. R.B. Bontecou, of Troy, Dr. Frank Madden of Plattsburgh,
and Dr. J.B. Ledlie of Saratoga, the three last named being the
physicians who were to assist Dr. Ransom in the examination of the body.
It was 11:48 when Dr. Ransom gave the signal and Electrician
Davis turned on the current. The
witnesses, with their eyes fastened intently on the doomed man and with
bated breath, waited to see the body straighten up and hear the straps
creak as it was forced against them – something they had been led to
expect from reports of other executions.
But there was not a sound. As
the current shot through the body, the right leg, to which the electrode
was applied, moved gently and slowly to the right, then back to its
natural position, and then again forth and back.
But there was no other noticeable movement of the body.
The physicians who stood about the chair say that it moved
slightly as the muscles were contracted by the electric fluid, but this
was not perceptible to the other witnesses.
The current was kept on for 78 seconds, varying in force from
1.640 to 150 volts. Immediately
upon its being turned off, the physicians examined the body and within
two minutes after Foy entered the room he was declared dead.
There is no question, however, that he was unconscious and
totally oblivious of all sense of feeling from the
INSTANT THE CURRENT WAS TURNED ON.
As the doctors were examining the body, and before they had
declared the man dead, a rasping sound came from Foy’s throat.
The witnesses were momentarily alarmed, thinking that there had
been a failure and that he was not yet dead, but Dr. Ransom and Warden
Thayer immediately relieved their anxiety by explaining that Foy had
suffered from chronic dyspepsia and that the noise was caused by gas
coming from his stomach. Although
Dr. Ransom and the examining doctors were satisfied that the current had
done its work, another shock was subsequently administered, in order
that all the gas might be driven from the stomach.
When Foy had been declared dead the witnesses examined the body.
I gave it a careful examination at those points where the current
entered and left the body and was unable to find any mark or
discoloration. There is no
doubt that the execution was the most successful that has yet taken
place and Warden Thayer and Dr. Ransom are deserving of praise for the
smoothness with which everything was done.
The execution demonstrated that with proper care on the part of
those having it in charge, electrical execution is the nearest to humane
of all methods. With proper
precautions there can be no such scenes as were witnessed at Auburn af
few months ago. Capital
punishment is brutal in principle;
it is nothing better than legalized murder and should be
abolished. But if the Legislatures will not do away with it, then in
every State in the Union where the law, “A life for a life,” exists,
it should be enforced by New York’s method.
There is always a certain horror about a hanging, no matter how
careful those having it in charge may be.
But Monday’s execution demonstrated that in electrical
execution death is instantaneous and painless;
there are no horrible attendant features; nothing to shock the
most timid witness.
OF THE BODY.
Immediately after the execution the autopsy was performed.
The body was found to be in perfect condition.
The action of the electric current on the vital organs could not
be discovered, the symptoms of death being those which are present in
all cases of death from natural causes – the heart had stopped beating
and the blood had become clotted.
When the doctors had concluded, the body was dressed for burial
and placed in a cheap coffin. During
the afternoon the father and brother of the dead man, who were in
Dannemora since Saturday night but did not witness the execution, were
permitted to view the remains. The
brother broke down completely and wept like a child, but the father
controlled himself, though his face told of the pain and bitterness that
was in his heart.
“If we were half-millionaires,” he said, as he looked upon
the face of his dead son, “you would not be here to-day.”
The brother declared that Foy had been the victim of persecution,
for despite his faults and vices, they still loved the depraved being
and will always believe that he died unjustly.
They acknowledge his crime, but claim it is the only wrong deed
he was ever guilty of, and say he would not have committed that had he
been in his right mind. Later
the coffin was enclosed in a pine box and turned over to the Foys, who
took it to Saratoga that night.
LIFE AND CRIME.
Brutal Murder, His Escapes and His Last Days at Dannemora.
The story of Martin Foy’s crime has been told over and over
again, but it will bear repeating.
He was born in Saratoga 25 years ago.
His father, Martin Foy, Sr., is a stone mason by trade, an
industrious workman and a citizen respected by all who know him.
The rest of the family also bear a good reputation.
Martin, wayward in his childhood, left home when 12 years of age
and ever after lived a life of sin.
Several years ago he became connected with the race track and
traveled about as a helper for various owners.
About three years ago he met Henrietta Wilson, who had come to
Saratoga from Pennsylvania. After
a time the two began to live together as man and wife, though unmarried,
and this relation continued until a year ago last spring when she left
him and took up with another man. Foy
then threatened to kill her and patiently awaited his opportunity.
On the night of May 13, he met her on Spring avenue, Saratoga,
and shot her. She ran a few
steps, shrieked and fell. He
followed her and shot himself in the head as he stood over her body,
giving himself a slight scalp wound that caused him to fall to the
ground. Then raising
himself on his elbow and seeing his victim rolling on the ground, he
cursed her and shot her again. The
girl died and her assassin was locked up in the jail at Ballston.
was a troublesome prisoner from the start and a few months after his
incarceration succeeded one night in getting out of his cell into the
corridor. In the morning
when Jailer Howland appeared with breakfast, Foy hit him on the head
with a chair and escaped through an open door.
He succeeded in reaching California, but in November was captured
there and brought back to Ballston.
A few weeks passed and then as Jailer Storey appeared at his cell
door one day with his dinner, Foy held an imitation revolver in his face
and demanded the keys. The
old jailer thought it was a real revolver and quickly complied with the
murderer’s demand. Foy
then made his escape. An
alarm was quickly given by the jailer, however, and in a few hours Foy
was caught in the woods near the village and returned to jail.
WAS NOT YET DAUNTED.
A few nights later he pulled the excelsior from his mattress and
lighting it, threw it out into his corridor.
The fire was discovered by another prisoner just in time to save
the jail from destruction. After
this last attempt, Foy was put in chains and kept in solitary
confinement until February. Then
he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.
He was taken to Dannemora soon after.
An appeal was made to the higher courts for a new trial but this
was denied, and in July he was sentenced to be executed on August 27.
When sentence had been pronounced and he was asked by his counsel
if anything further could be done for him, Foy replied with an air of
bravado, “Yes, ask the judge to make it July 27 instead of August 27.
before the time fixed for the execution the horrible, bungling affair
took place at Auburn, and to prevent a repetition of it Warden Thayer
asked of Gov. Flower that a respite be granted Foy in order that he
might strengthen his electrical apparatus.
Accordingly the date for the execution was changed to October 23,
the warden meanwhile putting in a new dynamo at the prison.
effort was made to save Foy’s life.
The family is well liked at Saratoga and, out of sympathy for
them, probably, nearly everybody in the village signed petitions for Foy’s
commutation. The ground
upon which the request was based was insanity.
As late as Sunday a party of prominent Saratogans appeared before
Gov. Flower and pleaded for Foy, but the Governor refused to interfere.