Mary O'Sullivan Farmer
The march from the cell to the room was hardly more than twenty feet, but the priest walked slowly, and Mrs. Farmer seemed hardly to move as she dragged her heelless slippers over the stone floor. Her face was in the color of chalk. Her eyes were closed. She did not see the room, the people or the chair. She kept mumbling her last prayer: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, have mercy on me.”
She was dressed in a bifurcated gown. This shabby black gown had been made especially for the execution, and under its folds were slits which left bare the legs so that the straps should be placed next the flesh.
There were nearly a score of witnesses in the room, all of them grouped against the furtherest walls
when the door opened and the white-faced priest entered.
The condemned woman entered the room. The two woman prison attendants held her by the elbows. Following them were the warden and Dr. John Gerin.
There were no preliminaries. The chair had been tested and found in working order. The slippers were drawn from Mrs. Farmer's feet, and she was assisted to the chair. In half a dozen seconds Mary was seated, her bare feet resting on the wire-covered rest, her head falling back to a wire-covered support. Both arms rested on the sides, also covered with wires. The men and women attendants worked noiselessly, quickly.
A great strap was fastened about the centre of her body, a second strap bound back her neck, her arms were bound down tight, and then the bifurcated skirt was drawn aside and about the woman's legs, just above the knees, more straps bound her. Then a cap arrangement, made of steel and wires, was fastened about her head, reaching down on her low forehead almost to her eyes and covering the back of her head to the neck.
All was now in readiness. The Warden stepped aside, the priest continued to pray, and his voice sounded hollow and ghostly. The Warden dropped his handkerchief.
Electrician Davis brought down his lever, and instantly Mrs. Farmer's muscles became taut. She strained against the big straps that bound her until they seemed ready to snap. The 840 volts were kept on for a full minute. The woman stopped straining on the straps and fell back, the muscles of her body quivering and her eyes opening and shutting. For twenty seconds the electrician stood ready to again turn on the current. Again the Warden gave the signal, and again the straps strained as the woman's body convulsed as the current was applied and kept on for five seconds. Persistent life fluttered a third contact was given lasting 3 seconds. Dr. Gerin came forward. He felt the woman's pulse and placed his ear at her heart.
The straps were unbuckled and the limp body, still warm, was carried into a rear room and the usual autopsy held. The autopsy was held in the prison laboratory immediately west of the execution chamber. Her brain was found to be normal, and the other organs were said to be in healthy condition too.
Warden Benham sent a telegram to the governor:
“Execution very successful. There were no distressing incidents.”
All this while the men and women who had witnessed the killing of a fellow being stood as if transfixed with the horror of it all. They had been told how Mrs. Farmer had confessed the murder.
On March 29, 1909, Mary O'Sullivan Farmer was executed at the Auburn prison in New York. The 29 years old woman was shocked to death in the electric chair at 6.15 o'clock a. m. for the brutal axe murder of Mary Brennan.
Warden Benham and the Rev. Father Hickey stole noiselessly to the woman's cell at 5.45, and the priest began whispering the prayer for the dying.
Mrs. Farmer sat on her couch. In one hand was a prayer book and in the other a book on the lives of the saints. Her hair has been brushed severely from her forehead and fell in two braids and two or three locks had been cut from the scalp. Her head was bowed, showing where the hair had been cut so that the electric battery would have full play.
As the condemned woman arose she gazed about her as one in a trance. It may have been that she was paralyzed with fright. There was a grinding of locks and hinges as the big cell door swung wide. Mrs. Donigan and Miss Gorman, women prison attendants, who had kept the death watch during the night, entered the cell, and stood on either side of Mrs. Farmer. The priest began praying in a louder voice and his words seemed to vibrate through the line of cells.