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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Gas Chamber

     If the hangman's scaffold concentrates the mind, the gas chamber has a way of bewitching it. It's smaller than one would think, roughly four feet square and ten feet high. Almost beautiful, if one is mechanically inclined, it's also extremely alien looking, like an antique, six-sided diving bell someone painted gray....

     Waist-high windows, tinted green and reinforced internally with thin wire, are embedded with large rivets in five of the chamber's six sides. At first sight, these windows make it seem harmless. Windows are hard to associate with death. Then the mind makes the obvious leap: this place is not only for killing but for offering death as a spectacle. Three windows look out from the rear half of the chamber onto the witnesses' room, where media people, state officials, lawyers, and families of the victims sit on long wooden benches that resemble church pews. A fourth window, on the right side of the chamber's front half, is for two doctors who monitor the condemned's heartbeat on an EKG machine and a stethoscope. The fifth, to the left of the chamber's 300-pound door, is for the executioner.

Ivan Solotaroff, The Last Face You'll Ever See, 2001

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