220px-martha_place_croppedOn March 20, 1899, Martha Place earned her place among the infamous by becoming the first woman executed in the electric chair.

Martha  Place was put to death in Sing Sing Prison’s electric chair on March 20, 1899 after having murdered her stepdaughter and trying to murder her husband. The double murder was shown conclusively to have been planned by Place and yet, her death elicited sadness among many, including the prison warden.


The First Woman Executed by Electrocution

Martha Place was led into Sing Sing Prison’s death chamber and strapped to the electric chair. An electrode was placed on a shaved area on the crown of her head and one on her calf.

“Mrs. Place went calmly to the chair. She leaned on Warden Sage’s arm. Her eyes were closed, and she seemed neither to seem nor to hear. She murmured a prayer,” reported the Portsmouth Herald.

She wore a plain black dress she had made herself.

“It was her expectation to wear this dress when she emerged from the penitentiary, either as a free woman or to return to Brooklyn for a new trial,” the Marion Daily Star reported.

Her last words as she sat down were, “God help me.”

More than 1700 volts were sent through her body, killing her instantly at 11:01 a.m. One report noted how the only sign of pain was how her lips pressed together.

“It was almost a smile, as she died,” the Portsmouth Herald reported.


Why She Was Executed

William Place lived in Brooklyn with his daughter Ida. About 18 months after the death of his first wife, he hired Martha as a housekeeper. They were married two months later.

“As long as she was housekeeper, it is said, she was extremely kinds to place’s daughter Ida, but she became quite a different person when place married her,” the Portsmouth Herald reported.

Martha was jealous of the close relationship between her husband and stepdaughter, which led to quarrels between the three of them.  In addition, William wouldn’t let Martha’s son from her first marriage come to live with them.

And so, on February 8, 1898, after planning what she would do, Martha Place attacked her 22-year-old stepdaughter. She threw carbolic acid in the young woman’s face and then struck her senseless with an axe. She then carried the woman to the bed and smothered her with a pillow.

Following that, she lay in wait for her husband to return. When he did, she attacked him with the axe.

She injured him and he lost consciousness, but not before his screams alerted the neighbors. When the police broke into the house, they found Martha unconscious on an upstairs bed in an apparent suicide attempt.

The husband recovered and identified his wife as his attacker. Further, it was shown that Martha had written to her brother outlining her plan and telling him that she would be coming to live with him.


The Trial and Appeals

Judge William Hurd sentenced her to death after her trial and she fainted when she heard the verdict. Martha Place was sent to Sing Sing Prison on July 21, 1898, and wept as she entered.

She appealed the decision, but did not win.

Gov. Theodore Roosevelt of New York would not commute Martha’s sentence. He wrote in his statement, “This murder was one of peculiar deliberation and atrocity. To interfere with the course of the law in this case would be justified only on the ground that never hereafter, under any circumstances, should capital punishment be inflicted upon any murderess, even though the victim was herself a woman, and even though that victim’s torture preceded her death. There is but one course open to me. I decline to interfere with the course of the law.”

And so, Martha became the 26th person to die in Sing Sing’s electric chair.

You might also like these posts:



Catherine (Kitty) Genovese

On March 27, 1964, Catherine (Kitty) Genovese returned home from her work managing a Queens bar. It was around 3:20 a.m. when she parked her car and walked toward her apartment in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York.


The Attack on Kitty Genovese

She noticed a man loitering nearby who soon moved to intercept her. The man attacked her and she screamed. Lights in the nearby apartments came on and people looked outside.

“Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me! Please help me!” Genovese screamed.

A man yelled from one of the apartments, “Leave that girl alone!”

The attacker ran off and the neighbors went back to bed.


The Murder of Kitty Genovese

A short time later the killer returned and attacked Genovese again and again she screamed. Lights in nearby apartments came on and  once again people looked out at the attack. This time the killer the killer succeeded and murdered and raped Genovese.

One person did call police who arrived within two minutes, but by then it was too late. Genovese died on the ambulance ride to the hospital.

When witnesses were questioned as to why they did nothing, the most-common response was that they didn’t want to get involved.

Assistant Chief Inspector Frederick Lussen said, “ a phone call (during the attack) would have saved the girl’s life.”


The Murderer

Winston Moseley, 29, was arrested for the murder. He was a business machine operator who was arrested later on burglary charges. He confessed to the Genovese murder and two others that also involved sexual assault. Psychiatric exams suggested he was a necrophile. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Married, Moseley had gotten up at 2 a.m. that night, left his wife sleeping and set out to kill a woman. He found Genovese.

Though his own testimony at his trial proved he was the murderer, his death sentence was reduced to a life sentence in 1967. He tried to escape from prison in 1968, managing to take five hostages and rape one of them before being recaptured.

He was denied parole for the thirteenth time in March 2008.


Response to the Murder

In the weeks following, the murder of Kitty Genovese was not the story so much as the witnesses lack of help. The United Press International report read, “38 residents of a middle class New York neighborhood watched a killer stalk a 28-year old woman for more than 30 minutes before he killed her and none of them even called for help.”

The country’s shock at how witnesses failed to help Genovese led to a nationwide effort, particularly in New York City, to fight apathy about crime.

Started campaign against apathy against crime


How the story has changed

As more investigations and evidence have come to light about the story, it has altered somewhat. For instance, it was originally reported that Moseley made three attacks against Genovese. It is now known that they were only two attacks. Also, though it was originally reported that 38 people saw the murder, it is now believed that the number was around 12 and none of them saw the entire attack.

Other posts that you might be interested in reading:



27124uThe Sixth Massachusetts Regiment wasn’t looking for trouble when they came to Baltimore in April 1861. The city wasn’t even their destination. They were traveling to Washington, D.C., but there was no direct railroad connection between Massachusetts and Washington. The Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad ended at President Street Station. Horses then had to pull the rail cars 10 blocks along Pratt Street to Camden Station and onto the rails of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The soldiers were answering the request of President Abraham Lincoln who had called for 75,000 troops to put down rebellion that began at Fort Sumter a week earlier. The call had only encouraged the Confederacy. What had been seven Confederate states quickly grew to 11 and many Marylanders wanted their state to be the 12th. These people saw the arrival of Union troops, even those passing through, as a foreign invasion.

With tensions high, the Baltimore Police escorted the Massachusetts troops as they transferred between stations. Nine rail cars were allowed to pass over the Jones Falls bridge with little but catcalls like “Let the police go and we’ll lick you” or “Wait till you see Jeff Davis” harassing them.

When the tenth car approached the bridge, someone in the gathering mob managed to throw the brake on the car and stop it. The crowd then pelted the rail car with paving stones as the soldiers within took cover.

The crowd quickly grew to 800 people who began to tear up the street and tracks with shovels and picks. With no way to continue, the soldiers were faced with marching through the growing mob in order to get to Camden Station. However, the mob had continued to grow both in size and anger. It was now estimated to be 2,000 people strong.

When the troops didn’t leave the relative safety of the rail car, the mob prepared to storm it. They were only stopped by the Baltimore Police who rushed in force to put themselves between the crowd and the rail car.

With the tracks blocked, the troops had no choice but to disembark into the hostile crowd. They formed ranks and began to slowly push their way toward the Camden Street station. The mob wasn’t willing to let them go so easily, though. The soldiers tried to march in one direction and were blocked by an unyielding crowd. When they reversed direction, the mob blocked them in that direction, too.

“Then the crowd pressed stronger, until the body reached the corner of Gay street, where the troops presented arms and fired,” according to an eyewitness account published in The Sun. “Several persons fell on the first round, and the crowd became furious. A number of revolvers were used, and their shots took effect in the ranks.”

Chaos reigned as people scattered, yelling and trampling each other. The police efforts were overwhelmed within minutes as they lost control of the situation.

The soldiers now found themselves in a running fight with the mob as they tried to reach Camden Station. The mob continued throwing bricks and stones and some even got a hold of weapons and fired toward the soldiers.

“After firing this volley the soldiers again broke into a run, but another shower of stones being hurled into the ranks at Commerce street with such force as to knock several of them down, the order was given to another portion of them to halt and fire, which had to be repeated before they could be brought to a halt,” according to The Sun. “They then wheeled and fired some twenty shots, but from their stooping and dodging to avoid the stones, but four or five shots took effect, the marks of a greater portion of their balls being visible on the walls of the adjacent warehouses, even up to the second stories. Here four citizens fell, two of whom died in a few moments; and the other two were carried off, supposed to be mortally wounded.”

3c32929uOne soldier who was brought down by the mob begged for his life, saying “he was threatened with instant death by his officers if he refused to accompany them. He said one-half of them had been forced to come in the same manner, and he hoped all who forced others to come might be killed before they got through the city.” Whether he spoke the truth or just hoped to win his life is not known, but the mob took no further action against him.

The soldiers eventually reached Camden Station and the police formed up their own ranks to block the mob. The troops were alive but they had lost much of their equipment and some of their wounded, who they had been forced to leave behind.

The small battle left four soldiers and 12 civilians dead. It is not known how many civilians were wounded but 36 soldiers were left behind to be treated. One of the dead soldiers, Corporal Sumner Henry Needham, is sometimes considered to be the first Union casualty in the Civil War, though he was killed by civilians.

Though the Maryland legislature voted against secession on April 26, it had to meet in Frederick to do it for fear of inciting another riot. Union troops were also deployed throughout the state to ensure that it remained within the Union. Confederate sympathizers like the mayor of Baltimore and the police commissioner were imprisoned in Fort McHenry.

The most-lasting effect of the riot is that it inspired James Ryder Randall to write “Maryland, My Maryland,” a strongly Southern supporting song, which eventually became the state song.



Marina Amaral’s colorization work is amazing. It looks authentic and so eye catching.


banana docks new york ca 1890 to 1910 colorized by marina amaral

This absolutely jaw-dropping photo is exactly the kind of history I love to see the most: a real, genuine piece of the past that has been made vivid, real and accessible in a way that speaks to us today very powerfully. In this photo, taken between 1890 and 1910 (my guess is it’s around 1900), a ship carrying bananas from Central or South America has just docked at a pier in the East River in New York City and fruit agents–the men in suits–are already haggling for deals, even before the bananas themselves have been unloaded. Carts are ready to haul the fresh fruit away to marketplaces, most of them probably not too far away from this site. In the meantime, lots of other commerce is going on, and you can see the buildings of Manhattan rising in the background. This is a very evocative image that speaks to the…

View original post 276 more words

Brazilian digital colorist Marina Amaral has done a magnificent job of bringing this 1930s photo to life.

Source: Historic Photo: Men of the Depression, 1939, by Dorothea Lange, colorized.


Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of three posts about the civilians who were taken as prisoners of war by the Confederate Army after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.


Libby Prison in Richmond, Va., where the Gettysburg civilian prisoners were kept for a time.

In March of 1865, the country was still at war, but the end was near. The Confederacy was collapsing and the Union was pressing its advantage and forcing the Confederate Army to retreat.

They would not surrender easily, though. Just a couple weeks earlier, 40 McNeill’s Rangers had snuck into Union-occupied Cumberland, Md., and kidnapped General George Crook and General Benjamin Kelley from their hotel rooms. They escaped back into Virginia and delivered the prisoners to the infamous Libby Prison where they were promptly ransomed back to the Union.

The generals’ incarceration hadn’t even lasted a month. They were lucky.

Around the same time negotiations were underway to free the generals, several men returned home to Adams County, Pennsylvania. They had been missing for 20 months. They weren’t victorious soldiers. They were farmers, postmasters, and ordinary citizens. They were also a secret, or perhaps, a shame of the Confederacy because these men were civilians arrested by the Confederate Army at the end of the Battle of Gettysburg and marched back to Virginia when the Confederate Army retreated.

“The hostages were selected from three target groups. They were agents of the government such as postmasters or tax collectors, they defied or criticized the invaders or they were prominent citizens in the community,” James Cole, a descendant of one of the hostages, said in a 1994 interview.

On July 2, 1863, Confederate soldiers arrested Samuel Pitzer and his uncle, George Patterson on the suspicion that they were spies. The rebel sharpshooters were hidden behind the Pitzer Schoolhouse and surprised Pitzer and Patterson.

The two men argued that they were farmers not spies. The soldiers told them that they would have to go to the headquarters for a hearing.

“As they did not find any firearms upon us they assured us that we would not be held after the hearing. When we reached headquarters however Major Fairfax said it was too late to give the hearing that night and put if off till morning,” Pitzer wrote of his experiences years later and reported in the History of the St. James Lutheran Church.

The following day, the Confederates were defeated and started their retreat. All thought of the hearing was forgotten and the prisoners were forced to march south, accompanied by a guard who stood beside each prisoner.

Emanuel Trostle, was another Gettysburg farmer. He lived with his wife and child on Emmittsburg Road. During the battle, a Confederate colonel rode up to his farmhouse and warned him that his family was in danger because of the battle.

“Mr. Trostle, who was crippled at the time, and walked with the aid of a staff and crutch, told the colonel that he could not pass through his pickets. The colonel told him that he would take him through, and accordingly did so,” the Gettysburg Times reported in 1914 when Trostle died.

Trostle had second thoughts the next morning, though. He worried about some of the household goods that he had left behind and headed back, accompanied by a friend. They got as far as the pickets before they were captured.

“He was taken to the battle-field, expecting to be paroled, but the firing opened before the parole could be made out. He was taken to Staunton, Va., walking the entire distance of 175 miles; was on the road six days, and for three days had not a mouthful to eat,” according to the Gettysburg Times.

When the Confederates left Pennsylvania at the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, they left with eight civilians: George Codori, J. Crawford Guinn, Alexander Harper, William Harper, Samuel Pitzer, George Patterson, George Arendt, and Emanuel Trostle.




Emmitsburg, Md., once went through three burgesses in four months in 1939.

It began when Burgess Michael J. Thompson died unexpectedly on May 31. He had gone out walking through Emmitsburg, including stopping at the Hotel Slagle, before heading home. He had only been home a few minutes when the heart struck and he died about 12:20 p.m.

“Mr. Thompson had been in ill health for the last two years and the attack this morning was third he has suffered within the last year,” The Frederick Post reported.

He was only 61 years old. He had been born in Waterbury, Conn., in 1877. He loved playing sports, but in 1893 while playing football for Suffield Academy against Taft School, he broke his right leg. He healed, but then broke it again the following spring while sliding into second base during a baseball game.

His playing days were over.

When he attended Holy Cross, he organized the school’s first football team and coached it in 1896 while he was still only a freshman. The following year, he refereed his first game between Boston College and Brown.

He soon became a regular referee for college games.

“His most famous game was the Harvard-Carlisle Indians contest in 1903, when he allowed the ‘hidden-ball’ play. Jimmy Johnson, the Indian quarterback, in a close formation, slipped the ball under the jersey of Dillon, a husky tackle, who lumbered unmolested down the field and across the goal line,” The Frederick Post reported.

He came to Mount St. Mary’s College in 1911 and served as a coach and referee for 23 years before retiring.

He was also a former publisher of the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

Two days before Thompson was buried, John B. Elder became the burgess since he was the head of the town council. Like Thompson, he was also a publisher of the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

With Elder’s move to burgess, Council Member Charles Harner became the head of the town council.

Harner and Elder were the only two members of the town’s governing body at this time. Usually, there was a burgess and three members of the town council. However, the third seat on the council had gone unfilled in the last election. Thompson had been planning on appointing a person to fill the seat, but he had died before it could be done.

On August 21, The Gettysburg Times reported that “Emmitsburg now has its third burgess since the May election as municipal affairs underwent a second unexpected change, occasioned by the sudden resignation last Friday of Guy S. Nunenbaker, retired engineer.”

Elder had unexpectedly resigned from his position as burgess at the beginning of the month. Luckily, Thornton Rogers had been appointed to town council before Elder’s resignation so Harney wasn’t left as the sole member of town government.

Richard Zacharias became the new burgess and served out Thompson’s unexpired term.

This wasn’t the first or last time that Emmitsburg would have trouble finding people to serve in Emmitsburg’s government. Many of its elections lacked contested races and once no one even filed to run for the office of burgess.

“A light vote is anticipated inasmuch as apathy of local citizens to run for office was prevalent during the past week when no one filed his intentions to run for the office of Burgess,” the Emmitsburg Chronicle reported in 1955 just before the election.

The newspaper speculated that most people probably thought that incumbent mayor Thornton Rodgers would run again, but he, too, chose not to seek re-election. When no one had filed for burgess in the election, Rodgers allowed himself to become a write-in candidate.

He was re-elected with 91 votes (out of 438 registered voters) of residents who wrote in his name.

James Edward Houck was elected burgess in 1961, but even then, people referred to the position as mayor. He won the election by only four votes over the incumbent Mayor Clarence Frailey.

Houck wrote in an article for the Greater Emmitsburg Area Historical Society about his time in office, “Being elected Burgess of Emmitsburg in the early 1960’s was quite an eye opening experience for me. The regular duties that you expect to do and the things you want to accomplish are only a small portion of the job.”

Additional charter changers in 1974 made official the change from a burgess to a mayor.

In 2006, the number of commissioners on the board was increased from four members  to five. Changes were also made to keep the mayor from voting on issues since he also has veto power.

Other posts that you might enjoy:

%d bloggers like this: