At the end of his rope: The execution of William Williams

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Minnesota has three things you may have heard about: Cold weather, “Minnesota Nice,” and a vigorous training program in Passive Aggressive Behavior (PAB). Unless you know about things, you probably didn’t know any of that.1

The part about the cold weather is neither here nor there with Global Warming causing it to go away. The latter two are interrelated and complex, and can only be understood through a great deal of analysis. And, since we don’t have time to put everyone in the state into Freudian therapy, I’ll just give an example.

This week we celebrate Darwin’s Birthday, and Abe Lincoln’s birthday, both on the 12th as well as Valentine’s Day on the 14th.

Lincoln has a dubious but important Minnesota Connection that links to the practice of execution by Hanging, which I will also not go into here (that is a very sad and disturbing story) but it reminds us that this week, on the 13th, is the anniversary of execution by the rope of William Williams for the murder of his lover, Johnny Keller, and Johnny’s mother. It is one of the most interesting stories you’ll read this week; the details are provided in this item at MinnPost.

Here’s the short version of the tie-in between all these disparate historical factoids and statewide personality traits. A law had been passed in Minnesota to make legal executions happen in secret and in the dead of night with no press (though a reporter had snuck into William’s execution) because Minnesotans were very into watching and getting giddy about them, and that was also a time when illegal executions (lynchings) were very common in the state. I suppose the crowds were getting out of hand. Yet, still, Minnesotans were against executions and wanted the death penalty to stop, to the extent that after the William Williams fiasco (the rope was too short so instead of getting his neck snapped he had to be strangled to death, and that took time) two governors in a row were able to commit to commuting all death sentences to life in prison without hanging themselves politically. And eventually, the legislature passed a law that the governor signed to make the practice illegal. Because Minnesotans, who were busy lynching each other on a regular basis, felt it was wrong.

Minnesota Nice is a thing, people.

1In case you needed an example of the latter, which you probably did,1 that was one.

Note: there is even a peer reiviewed article on this.

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2 thoughts on “At the end of his rope: The execution of William Williams

  1. Note: If you go to the MinnPost link you may get a malware warning. The editors of MinnPost assure me that there is no malware, that the malware flaggy thing has been cleared, and that the certitude of the site merely needs to propagate down the intertubes for a while.

  2. Looks interesting (as I skim while students complete an exam). But I can’t reconcile, with skimming, your comment “the rope was too short…” with this from the paper’s abstract:

    How Too Much Rope……

    Because the county sheriff miscalculated the length of the rope, the hanging was botched, with Williams hitting the floor when the trap door was opened.

    I think you meant to type “the rope was too long…” ?

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