Alfred Southwick

Birth Name:
Alfred Porter Southwick
Birth Date:
May 18, 1826
Birth Place:
Saybrook, Ohio
Death Date:
June 11, 1898
Place of Death:
456 Michigan Street, Buffalo, New York
Age:
72
Cause of Death:
Natural causes
Cemetery Name:
Forest Lawn Cemetery
Claim to Fame:
The Odd and the Interesting
In 1881 Alfred Southwick heard a story about an intoxicated man who touched a live electric generator. Given that the man died so quickly, Southwick concluded that electricity could be used as an alternative to hanging for executions. And while his background included stints as a steam-boat engineer and dentist, Alfred was credited with inventing the electric chair as a method of legal execution. He also served as a professor at the University of Buffalo school of dental medicine, now known as the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Fun Fact

Ok, we know you’re going to ask, so here we go …

Who was the first person executed using Alfred Southwick’s electric chair? On August 6, 1890, William Kemmler was executed by electrocution. Southwick was present and is reported to have said, “There is the culmination of ten years work and study! We live in a higher civilization from this day.”

William Kemmler was a produce peddler, alcoholic, and murderer, who, in 1890, became the first person in the world to be executed by electric chair. He was convicted of murdering Matilda “Tillie” Ziegler, his common-law wife, a year earlier. Although electrocution had previously been successfully used to kill a horse, Kemmler’s execution did not go smoothly.

Strapped into the chair, the generator was charged with 1,000 volts, which was thought to be adequate to induce quick unconsciousness and cardiac arrest. The chair had already been tested; a horse had been electrocuted the day before. Current passed through Kemmler for 17 seconds. The power was turned off and Kemmler was declared dead by Edward Charles Spitzka. Suddenly witnesses noticed Kemmler was still breathing. The attending physicians, Spitzka and Carlos Frederick MacDonald, came forward to examine Kemmler. After confirming he was still alive, Spitzka reportedly called out, “Have the current turned on again, quick—no delay.”

In the second attempt, Kemmler was shocked with 2,000 volts. Blood vessels under his skin ruptured and bled, and some witnesses claimed his body caught fire. The New York Times reported instead that “an awful odor began to permeate the death chamber, and then, as though to cap the climax of this fearful sight, it was seen that the hair under and around the electrode on the head and the flesh under and around the electrode at the base of the spine was singeing. The stench was unbearable.” Upon autopsy, doctors had found the blood vessels under the cap of his skull had carbonized and the top of the brain had hardened. Witnesses reported the smell of burning flesh and several nauseated spectators tried to leave the room.

The execution took approximately eight minutes.

Cemetery Information:

Final Resting Place:

Forest Lawn Cemetery

1990 Main Road

Buffalo, New York, 14208

USA

North America

Map:

Cemetery map of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York

Grave Location:

Section 31, Lot 21, Grave 3

Grave Location Description

As you enter the cemetery follow the blue line in the road until you come to the intersection of Sections 25, 26 and 31. Located 6 rows from the road and behind the large Nott * Hunt monument look for the 4 identical rectangle markers that only come up about one foot from the ground. Alfred has the inscription “Father” on his monument and is buried next to his wife.

Grave Location GPS

42.92700192627793, -78.85984359269278

Photos:

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