Details of the weird mishap were not lost on a respected Buffalo dentist and prominent faculty member of the fledgling University at Buffalo Dental School
named Alfred Porter Southwick
.An engineer for the Great Lakes Steamboat Company
, and later the chief engineer for the Western Transit Company
abruptly turned to dentistry at the age of 36.Brought up a Quaker in Ashtabula, Ohio, Southwick
sported a beard with no mustache, giving him a stern, ecclesiastical look.Like many learned gentlemen of the Gilded Age, he
subscribed to eugenicsâ€"the belief that the human race could be improved by selective breeding.Interestingly, Southwick
and his wife adopted their only daughter, Mary.
was enterprising and curious.For years he
had been following the latest developments in electricity and was determined to discover a practical use for its primal power.He'd worked with it on Great Lakes steamers, and he
wondered if it might have a useful application in his
new profession, perhaps as an anesthetic for agonized patients in the dental chair.
read the articles and the accounts of Smith's autopsy, a light bulb went on above his
head.Although it clashed with his Quaker upbringing, Southwick was an advocate of capital punishment.He
wondered: If this poor unfortunate could exit the world in the blink of an eye, wouldn't his
sort of death be a more humane alternative for a condemned man than, say, the hangman's noose?
To satisfy his
curiosity, Dr. Southwick
began a pioneering series of experiments on stray neighborhood dogs.When he
threw the switch on his
primitive contraption, they were killed with an electric shock that to his
purposes seemed painless.After a few years of experimentation, he
sensed that his
newfangled method of execution might be the solution the governor was seeking.
The third member of the commission was Southwick
In order to conduct further research into killing by electricity, Southwick
was able, in the summer of 1887, to work out an arrangement with the City of Buffalo and the SPCA
to conduct more experiments on stray dogs.That summer, the city council placed a 25-cent bounty on all straysâ€"or six bucks a pup in today's dollars.Soon young boys began bringing in more dogs than the pound could handle.At the time, drowning was the solution for unwanted dogs.Concerned about the welfare of the animals in overcrowded conditions at the city pound, the SPCA
stepped in and allowed Southwick
and another Buffalo physician named George Fell to try out their newly constructed "dog killing cage" to put the animals away.
and Fell continued to amass the results of their experiments in scientific papers.
...Unfortunately for Southwick, Elbridge Gerry, the chair of the Death Penalty Commission, was not easily convinced.
...Concerned that commission chairman Gerry was going against his recommendation, Southwick decided to send a flattering letter from his home at 456 Niagara Street to Thomas Edison in Menlo Park dated November 8, 1887.
A month later Southwick
received a disappointing reply from Edison.
picked up his
pen again, and wrote in his
florid, stylized script that since capital punishment always had and always would exist, it would therefore be best to find its most civilized and humane form.Stroking Edison's ego, he
went on to assure him that his
opinion would greatly influence the Gerry Commission
...Charles T. Saxton, chairman of the Assembly's judiciary committee and friend of Southwick, introduced a bill to turn the recommendation into law in the spring of 1888, making an impassioned plea for its passage.
Dr. George Fell, who had worked with Southwick
on the "dog killing cage," was called to testify and admitted that his experiments failed to determine what voltage would be required to kill every human being and the only way to make such a determination would be through conducting human experiments.
...Among the witnesses in town to watch the proceedings were Doctors Southwick and Fell, excited to witness their invention in action on a human beingâ€"though Fell was likely disappointed that the warden would not let him try out his electrical resuscitation machine on Kemmler, once he was dead.
took the opportunity to deliver his
prepared statement: "This is the culmination of 10 years work and study.
Both the cottage where Kemmler
perpetrated his dreadful crime and the home of Alfred Southwick
Among these personalities, on a small hillside in section 31, you can visit the final resting place of Alfred P. Southwick
, beside his wife and only adopted daughter, Mary, who appears to have died unmarried in 1919 at the age of 72.