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Famous Electric Chairs

By Yona Williams    12/28/11

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Throughout the history of the electric chair, there have been nicknames given to these objects of death. Some are quite obvious to pinpoint the origin, while others highlight specific details regarding the prison. In this article, you will learn what some of the most infamous electric chairs were called.

Yellow Mama

Yellow Mama was the nickname given to the electric chair in Alabama, which was first installed at Kilby State Prison in Montgomery, Alabama. The chair received its name when it was painted that color using the same paint that lined highways. The chair was constructed by a British inmate in 1927 and was first used to execute a man that same year – Horace DeVauhan.

Today, Yellow Mama is kept in an attic located above the newly reconstructed execution chamber at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. The last execution that the chair saw was in 2002. Lynda Lyon Block was put to death for killing a police officer. After her death, a bill was passed that would allow people to be executed by either electrocution or lethal injection.

Old Sparky

Old Sparky is the nickname given to electric chairs in several different states, including New York, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, Kentucky and seven other states. It was also the nickname given to the long-retired electric chair that once belonged to the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia – which is no longer an operating prison. The electric chair is still on the premises, but is now used as a tourist attraction. Out of all the nicknames, 'Old Sparky' is one that can be used to reference electric chairs in general.

Gruesome Gertie

Death row inmates nicknamed the electric chair in Louisiana – Gruesome Gertie. It was in 1940 that the state made the electric chair their primary method of execution. The effective date for this change was June 1, 1941. At first, there was no permanent place to put the electric chair and it was taken from parish to parish to perform executions – usually at the courthouse or jail of the parish where the condemned was convicted. It wasn’t until 1957 when it was decided that the Louisiana State Penitentiary would be the home for the chair and that an execution chamber would be built to accommodate it. This would be where all the execution in Louisiana would take place.

Gruesome Gertie saw her fair share of criminals, including Elmo Patrick Sonnier (the inmate depicted in the movie 'Dead Man Walking'). Lethal injection replaced the electric as the main method of execution in Louisiana in 1991. The last person to die by way of electrocution was murderer Andrew Lee Jones on July 22, 1991.

Old Smokey

The electric chair at the state prison in New Jersey was nicknamed Old Smokey. One of the most famous of criminals to die by this chair is Bruno Hauptmann – the man responsible for the kidnapping and death of the 20-month-old son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. Before being put on display at the Newseum in Washington, DC, the chair was once housed at the New Jersey State Police Museum. In New Jersey abolished capital punishment, but before it did – 159 men and women died between 1907 and 1963 in Old Smokey.

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