A “Bungled” Execution and a Doctor’s Guilt: The Horrifying Debut of the Electric Chair


This post was written by intern Sarah Davis.

In a newspaper article dated July 1932, Alphonse David Rockwell, a renowned New York State physician who was an important contributor to the development of the electric chair, stated, “It is the principle of capital punishment that I oppose…it is only a measure of vengeance, an admission of the law’s futility.” This newspaper article appeared more than forty years after the first man was executed by electric chair; an execution that Rockwell, for all his contributions to the project, did not attend. In the final years of his life, Rockwell would deeply regret his involvement in the development of the electric chair as a means of execution.

Known as one of the pioneers of electrotherapy, Dr. A.D. Rockwell found his medical calling in the days of the Civil War, when he enlisted as a regimental physician. Even as a young man, his “hard, skillful and faithful work” (“Life Story”) caught the attention of his peers and superiors alike, and his extraordinary medical talents earned him the distinction of becoming the Surgeon Major of the Sixth Ohio Cavalry, the youngest in the Union Army (“Life Story”).

After the war came to an end, Rockwell’s interest in medicine grew. He became the family physician of the Roosevelts, caring for the future president as a child, and building a relationship that would last into his later life. Indeed, Rockwell formed a number of important relationships throughout his life, as indicated by the vast amount of letters he preserved in the pages of a large bound album. In addition to correspondence from Teddy Roosevelt, Junior, Rockwell’s associates included First Lady Florence Harding, progressivist clergyman Lyman Abbott, and photographer Jacob Riis.

In addition to his general practice, Rockwell’s more specific interests lay in the promise he saw in electrotherapy. In 1867, Rockwell collaborated with Dr. George M. Beard to publish a book on their findings. Titled The Medical Uses of Electricity, 1stEditionInside2Beard and Rockwell’s work explored the medical benefits of utilizing electrical currents to treat symptoms of various neurological and physiological disorders. Rockwell was one of the first physicians to utilize these somewhat radical ideas regularly in his practice. His proficiency in the field of electrotherapy eventually earned him the title of Professor of Electrotherapeutics in the New York Post-Graduate School of Medicine (“Rockwell Dies”). It was this expertise in electrotherapy that was, simultaneously, Rockwell’s gift and curse.

When the New York State Legislature passed an 1887 reform declaring death by hanging to be inhumane, Rockwell was called to devise a new method of execution by electricity. Known for his friendships with a number of social reform advocates, Rockwell was staunchly opposed to the practice of capital punishment. Feeling that criminals could “be put to better use” than death, Rockwell followed the consensus that hanging was inhumane. “If the law must kill, let it kill decently,” he argued (“Rockwell Dies”). For Rockwell and many others, condemning a criminal to swing from the hangman’s rope was anything but decent.

Execution by hanging was the primary method of carrying out death sentences in the United States for much of the country’s history. Initially believed to result in quick, painless death, improper calculations often resulted in slow death by strangulation. A slight miscalculation could result in the condemned taking up to twenty minutes to die by asphyxiation, or, in extreme cases, being brutally decapitated by the snap of the rope (“Hanging”). Regardless of one’s personal views for or against capital punishment, many at the time felt that a more humane method needed to be devised.

Continue reading A “Bungled” Execution and a Doctor’s Guilt: The Horrifying Debut of the Electric Chair

The River’s Comeuppance

This photograph shows the damage of the flood. (Photograph 1)

This post was written by intern John McDonald.

The long and oft-contentious relationship between Waterbury and the Naugatuck River came to head on August 19, 1955 during the epic natural disaster known as the Black Friday Flood, or simply the Flood of ‘55. The devastation first visited the Chase Metal Works, whose buildings stood on the northern edge of town. A series of photographs, taken soon after the flood waters receded, illustrate the extensive damage. The rail lines which connected the Chase Metal Works with the nearby rolling mills and the transportation network of the Naugatuck River Valley, were twisted, mangled, or undercut by the raging water and swept off their beds (photographs 1 & 2 show the damage done to the railroads). Debris and sediment were deposited in many of the buildings, which, at one point, were under fifteen feet of water (see Photograph 4) Days later, portions of the complex were still covered by shallow pools of water (see Photograph 3) No lives were lost in this confrontation but the financial losses incurred by Chase were considerable. Along with rest of the Brass Valley, Chase was forced to regroup and rebuild, chastised by the angry river’s might.

Another image of the damage from the flood. (Photograph 2)

In order to gain a better understanding of the circumstances that led up to this catastrophic flood, it is necessary to consider the geology of the Naugatuck Valley region. In Western Connecticut, the rivers are swift and relatively shallow. They are hemmed in between high ridges, in from which numerous tributaries flow. The water drains from the uplands of gneiss and granite, which are largely unsuitable for farming, and into steep-sided valleys. The relatively precipitous gradient of the Naugatuck River and its tributaries was directly responsible for the industrialization of the region that would come to be known as the Brass Valley. The development of waterpower as the driving force of industry in the 18th and 19th centuries drastically changed these watercourses. Rivers and brooks were diverted, sequestered, and tamed. Mills sprang up in the narrow valleys, usually located close to the river banks.

IMG_0374In an 2011 article in the Waterbury Observer, Raechal Guest described how the relationship between Chase Brass and the Naugatuck River began around 1910, when Henry Chase purchased 25 acres of land in Waterville. On this relatively flat expanse by the river, Chase constructed a brass mill which began operations in 1912. The Naugatuck River was moved from its natural channel in 1914 to make way for an expansion of the mill. This was not the first major injustice to be done to the river, but the latest in a long line. For years, the river had been dammed, channelized, and put to work, first to supply water power, and then as a solvent for use in various manufacturing processes, and to transport waste products generated by the brass industry and the growing population of Waterbury. The latter practice had rendered the river nearly devoid of aquatic life forms by turning the once pristine waters into a chemical sewer.

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“Echoes” of the Past – The Early History of Baseball in Waterbury, CT

This post was written by intern John McDonald.

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The reward for winning this game is a “purse of $50,” which, today, would be over $1,200!

If any one sport could be chosen as an exemplar of the American spirit, with its lack of affectation, its sincere enthusiasm, and improvisational gusto, it would be the game of baseball. Waterbury’s overall importance in the professional game has diminished since the major league affiliation was lost in 1986. However, in a 1997 article, Jack Cavanagh of the New York Times raised the possibility that Waterbury “may have the richest baseball history of any city in Connecticut.” Published ephemera recently discovered at the John Bale Book Company provides a glimpse into this history. Ten bills, or broadsides (single-sided advertising flyers), printed by Malone & Cooley of 74 Bank Street announce a series of games played between July 30, 1884 and August 30, 1885. These bills are just a quick snapshot in time, and offer little to go on, but with the assistance of several reference volumes, a narrative begins to form.

In the third volume of Anderson and Ward’s History of Waterbury, Arthur Reed Kimball places the origin of baseball in Waterbury in 1864 with the organization of the Waterbury Base Ball Club. The members were all city men and included those “prominent in… official and industrial life, [who were] the best representative amateur athletic talent of a city which has been especially devoted to this American game” (Anderson, 1104). Games were mainly played with teams from other Connecticut towns and cities, but Kimball notes that “excursions were even made to New York and into Massachusetts” (Anderson, 1104). In a situation similar to today’s imbalance of talent, the advent of professional baseball in the 1860s contributed to the decline of the amateur league, as the better players and team officials followed the money.

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This game, starting at 11:00 AM, shows that small and local businesses were granted time in order to play.

Waterbury’s rise to industrial prominence during the Gilded Age placed it in an enviable position. Professional baseball was brought to the city with “substantial financial backing” provided by local businesses. Bills printed in 1884 by Malone & Cooley announced “Waterbury’s New B.B. Grounds”, the location of which became evident after further research. Kimball describes how, after the establishment of the new professional league, “the grounds at the junction of the two railroads was fitted up” (Anderson, 1105). William J. Pape, in his Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, briefly discusses the railway network in the Waterbury region as it existed in the late 19th Century (92-94). In 1884, the pace of industrialization was still gaining momentum and the network consisted of two main lines; the Naugatuck Railroad and the New York and New England Railroad. A 1874 map of Waterbury in the University of Connecticut’s MAGIC collection shows the junction of these two railroads to be located close to the present-day Republican-American building in the downtown area. This building, which is crowned by a magnificent 240-foot Italianate clock tower, was once Waterbury’s main railroad station. This structure had yet to be built in 1884, when most of the land between Meadow Street and the Naugatuck River was undeveloped.

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Welcome to Oddity Land: The Life and Times of Edward Anthony

Anthony’s hand-crayon’ed letter (mentioned to the right)!

This post was written by intern Sarah Davis.

Placed between pages of paper-clipped inter-office memos and folders of manuscripts in the Edward Anthony collection at the John Bale Book Company is a unique letter. At the top of the page is the official letterhead of the Crowell Publishing Company’s Executive Offices, but what the letter contains is far from company business. Instead, it is a whimsical note sent from Anthony to his wife and son. Arguably the most remarkable part of this letter is a stick figure self-portrait drawn by Anthony in crayon, as well as the rather silly sign-off, a single word promising, “Luvankisses.”

The childlike nature found in this letter to his family is just one facet of who Edward Anthony was. Born in 1895 to a Hungarian father and Austrian mother, Anthony spent his childhood helping in his father’s pleating business, avoiding trouble with a rival group of boys from Park Avenue, and, of course, reading (This is Where I Came In 51). At the age of 32, he worked on the Herbert Hoover campaign, and it was there where he met his future wife, Esther Howard (238). The two were married in 1928, and were together until his death in 1971 (“Edward Anthony”). These are the facts of Anthony’s life, but there is more to this man than simple truths.

Having had the opportunity to sift through some of Anthony’s personal effects is truly a marvelous, eye-opening experience. It is nearly impossible for an observer to not find themselves wishing they had the chance to meet Edward Anthony for a cup of coffee and a good chat, perhaps in the comfortable café of the John Bale Book Company. Unfortunately, here in 2014, we have to make do with getting our pleasure and joy from the letters and limericks he left behind. While not nearly as satisfying, one would imagine, as speaking directly to the man himself, the materials found in the collection provide fascinating insight into the life of Edward Anthony.

From his first job as a business-school course salesman in high school, to his retirement from Crowell Publishing in the late 1950s, Anthony left behind not only an impressive body of work, but a trail of letters and postcards revealing a warm, light-hearted man who sat behind the letterheads and official memos. Indeed, we have several typed manuscripts, office memos, business letters, and various newspaper clippings, but none of these items speaks enough of Anthony’s simple passion for life and his ability to view the world with an almost child-like sense of wonder and enjoyment. Even the pages of his autobiography, written in his own words, offer mere glimpses into his complex and fascinating inner life. Instead, it is in his personal letters, drawings, and postcards, that we find some of his most endearing and light-hearted qualities shining brightly through.

This is Anthony’s whimsical dedication from his book, “Oddity Land”.

Evidently the most important relationship in Anthony’s life was the one he shared with his wife and son, Richard “Dick” Anthony, born in 1931 (“Edward Anthony”). In his autobiography, he speaks of meeting Esther during his time in the Hoover Campaign, where she was employed as the secretary to the publicity director. Their early relationship is described as one of light-hearted teasing and friendly banter. Their marriage was carried out at a city hall in Brooklyn, with no traditional announcement made by the happy couple (This is Where I Came in 247). However, among the books and papers in the collection is a stack of folded cardstock, apparently several copies of scripts for a brief opera titled “The Traitor.” The “opera” progresses as a gang of “Crusty Bachelors” accuse Ed Anthony of being a traitor to the cause, a “Bachelor Turned Benedict Arnold.” It can be presumed that this “opera” is, in fact, a marriage announcement, sent out after the couple had tied the knot. The fact that he chose to announce his marriage through the apparent distribution of a humorous mock-opera clearly shows that eccentric thinking was the norm for Edward Anthony. A traditional announcement by newspaper or postcard would not suffice for this out-of-the-box thinker.

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Welcome to Our Blog!

Welcome, readers!

This post constitutes the formal opening of the John Bale Book Company blog! I’m pleased that you have found your way into our corner of the Internet.

I’m sure that you’re wondering why our bookshop has a blog. What, you may be asking yourself, could there possible be to blog? The answer is an exciting one, but one that requires a little explanation about what the John Bale Book Company is and does.

Titled “The Anatomy of Man’s Body, as Supposed to be Governed by the 12 Constellations” was found in a Waterbury, CT almanac from 1853!

The John Bale Book Company is an antiquarian bookshop, which means that we sell items (books, ephemera, prints, and all items in between) that range anywhere from the 1400s to the present.

You read that right! Our four-floor building in downtown Waterbury has books as old as 500 years! Which, when you think about it, is breathtaking! How many of you were aware while you were casually having lunch at the cafe on our first floor, enjoying one of Krista’s lunch specials or a delicious dessert by Ede, that books older than the oldest living thing you’ll have ever seen (with the possible exception of a couple of trees) sat on shelves on the floors above you?

Amazing, isn’t it?

After 20+ years in business, the John Bale Book Company has had some pretty remarkable items pass through our shop. What makes them remarkable, you ask. A remarkable book is not necessarily an expensive one, two separate qualities that, though not mutually exclusive, are often bundled together. Books that are remarkable may be so because of their unique binding (the type of leather or cloth used on the outside of the book), or because of a signature or an inscription, or perhaps because of a curious bookplate.

But by the standards of our blog, a remarkable book is always one that can tell a story. The items that we have handled (some would say “curate” but, let’s be honest, booksellers are not curators) and continue to buy and sell have all proven that they have earned– that they deserve– their place in history. This is where our blog, run by our interns and staff, makes its stand.

This is the best spot to sit down and read a book! Located in the fiction section of the shop, there is always a great book within reach!

While we aim to update this blog regularly, we are by no means rushing to pull together curious items about which we will blog. The fascinating and the interesting come together in time. But check back here and on our Facebook to find out when a new post hits the web!

Thanks for reading!
Bilal Tajildeen, Apprentice Bookman
The John Bale Book Company
158 Grand Street
Waterbury, CT 06702

Contact Information

If you’re looking to reach us:

The John Bale Book Company
158 Grand Street,
Waterbury, CT 06702
(203) 757-2279

If you have a question about buying or selling antiquarian or rare books, be sure to ask for Dan! For all other books, ask for Bilal!

If you have a question about publicity opportunities at the John Bale Book Company or renting out our second floor tea room for your next holiday gathering or business meeting, be sure to ask for Ede!

If you have a question about caterings or scheduling a book signing in our cafe, ask for Krista!

To learn more about these names, click here!

Antiquarian, Rare, and Out-of-Print Books