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Last Public Execution by Guillotine

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There are some people still alive today who were present at the last public execution in France. Actor Christopher Lee, for instance. In the early morning of 17 June 1939, Eugène Weidmann bowed down before the blade of the guillotine, the last person to do so publicly.

Weidmann was the last person to be executed before a crowd in France. He had been convicted of multiple kidnappings and murders, including that of a young American socialite. His trial was a sensation in that tense summer of 1939; the Frankfurt-born Weidmann was quickly dubbed “Teutonic Vampire” by the tabloids. His execution outside the prison Saint-Pierre in Versailles was a noisy affair.

In the days following the execution, the press was especially indignant at the way the crowd had behaved. Paris-Soir denounced the crowd as“disgusting”, “unruly”, “jostling, clamoring, whistling.” Among the sins the lofty paper found unforgivable was the crowd “devouring sandwiches”. More shockingly for the authorities, the unruly crowd delayed the execution beyond the usual twilight hour of dawn, enabling clear photographs — and one short film! — to be taken. The government regretted that public executions which were intended to have a “moralizing effect” now produced “practically the opposite results.” President LeBrun signed an order to hold executions only behind closed doors.

By this time, France was already an anomaly; the proud tradition of macabre spectacle dating back millennia  was fast becoming forbidden in the West.  Most German states banned public executions in the 1850s. England carried out her last public execution — that of the Fenian agitator Michael Barrett — in 1868, and most of her dominions followed. From then on, momentum was with ban of public executions. Liberal Denmark banned public executions in 1882, and abolished the death penalty altogether in 1933. In 1936, Kentucky became the last American state to ban public executions. 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 31, 2014 at 3:48 am

Posted in Culture

24 Responses

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  1. Yes, and we all know how crime has dropped since they have banned public executions!
    I say, let the crowds roll in, (Sandwiches and all), Sell beer (!), and produce viral videos for teens to share on Facebook.

    Maybe if we go back to the “Good ol’ days” where a good Hangin made scumbags think about what they were planin to do, crime would be an anomaly and the world would be a decent place to live in.

    I just might start a petition on “Move-on” or “Change.Org’ to bring back Public hangings, public floggings, and the chain gang!

    Also, “penal Brigades” like that of Brigadier Dirlewanger during the Great WW-2 might be a good idea??!! We could use convicts to go out and find mines! (of course we wouldn’t want them to be allowed near real people and who knows, in the end, they might just kill each other off!!!).

    What is a shame though, is that every once in a while some poor innocent basterd is executed by accident and is later proved innocent. That sucks big elephant. SO, maybe there is a compromise in here somewhere? Only time and the ingenuity of our institutions and our great King Pinocchio will tell.

    Your Obt. Svt,
    Col Korn,
    Chief O’ Mayhem, In the Great WW-2 (An tha Cold War)
    Currently Chief O’ Security, Sanitation an the Complaint dept.
    OXOjamm Studios.

    Col. Korn

    January 31, 2014 at 5:43 am

    • You are clearly a total arsehole of no intelligence ……….for e.g. how exactly does your preferred system accommodate those “criminals” with mental health issues ?? I say we briefly return to hanging folk, just to hang you & your ridiculous suggestions too.


      March 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    • Keep dreaming


      March 29, 2016 at 8:38 am

  2. Doesn’t quite make it to satire or even snark, for that matter. One might consider the hanging times in England at Tyburn, and other locations in England and see how much effect that actually had on crime.


    January 31, 2014 at 6:27 pm

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  6. […] Last Public Execution by Guillotine | Iconic Photos. […]

  7. If the State is going to kill, let the act be public. Too much killing goes hidden as it is.

    Brian Cantin

    March 16, 2014 at 10:44 pm

  8. […] you aware that France was still conduction executions by guillotine as recently as 1977? Were you aware that the actor Christopher Lee attended the last […]

  9. […] described in Iconic Photos:In the early morning of 17 June 1939, Eugène Weidmann bowed down before the blade of the […]

  10. I would have loved to eat sandwiches and attend something like that!

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