1890: An Electrifying Year

Kayden Ammerall, guest writer

People always say their life flashes before their eyes when they are about to die. This always puzzled me. How is that possible, and who survived death to relay this information? As I sit here; however, certain of the death that is to befall upon me in minutes, all I can think about is, in fact, my life and the events of this dreadful year that led me to this point. How did I end up here, about to die at the hands of my own father?

*  *  *

January 2

            Clink. Clink. Clink.

            The sound of pebbles being thrown at my window woke me up from a deep sleep. What on earth he could want at this hour?

            “Go away, Louis,” I grumbled down from my window.

            “Come on Nellie, we are going to miss it! It is already almost midnight.”

            “What are you talking about? Go home and go to sleep. My father would kill you if he knew you were here.”

            “But Nellie, you promised!”

            I had forgotten his eighteenth birthday. Every year on his birthday, we would go and watch the train in town pass by about six times. We would wait until dawn, but at that point we knew his father wouldn’t come. His father left him on his tenth birthday, and Louis was convinced he would return some day. I couldn’t help but be a little jealous that his father had left. All my father was good for was being a lush and beating my mother and me. I wished with all my heart that he would leave.

            I reluctantly followed Louis to the train tracks near his house where we sat for the next six hours.

*  *  *

            I regret leaving with Louis that day. While I was gone, my father returned home late—drunk as usual. I couldn’t hear his screams, but I imagine there weren’t any to hear. I don’t remember much after seeing my mother’s lifeless body, just Louis yanking me by the arm and pulling me to the church where we prayed for the next hour.

            My mother’s death was an open case. No one knew how or why she died, but they suspected foul play. I locked myself up in my room for the next week, not even talking to Louis. I wanted to be left alone, and I especially did not want to see my father—the one I suspected had killed my mother. I remember thinking of that day as the worst day of my life, but oh how wrong I was.

 *  *  *

March 31

            “Louis! Louis!” I shrieked as I waited by the train, calling for my best friend. I was sure he was dead.

            He left on the twentieth to visit family in Louisville, Kentucky. He promised to send me a telegraph when he arrived at his aunt’s. He mentioned how it was very stormy out. I heard some people talking in school about the tornadoes that hit there on the twenty-seventh. The storm had killed about seventy-six people and injured over two hundred (US).

            “Nellie, over here!”

            I turned around and saw Louis, so tall he towered over most of the people in the crowd. Tears streaked my face. I was relieved that the only person in this world that I cared about was alive.

*  *  *

July 8

            “Nellie! Nellie! Did you hear?”

            “Did I hear what?”

            “Idaho became an official state on the third of July!”

            Louis and I had been waiting for it to become a state for as long as I could remember. We would talk about visiting some day and maybe even moving there once I finally escaped from my father. Little did I know, that would never happen.

*  *  *

July 29

            My mother had few living relatives. Her older sister, Anna, and her family were my only relatives on my mother’s side. Anna’s son, Vincent, was many years older than me. My parents had a late start having kids because my mother had a difficult time getting pregnant—she had three miscarriages. After I was born, the doctor said it was too dangerous to try for more. This devastated my father because he wanted a son badly. I think that was when he started to drink.

            “Nellie, get in here.”

            “C-coming,” I managed to stammer out as I ran to his side.

            “Your cousin, Vincent, is dead,” the stench of alcohol in his breath made me wince.

            This meant nothing to me; I had never met him. My mother and Father had moved to America in the sixties because my father needed a job. My aunt and my mother had gotten into a fight many years before I was born and had not talked to each other since. As far as I was concerned, she was not my family and neither was Vincent.

            He had apparently been some talented artist in France, but a troubled one at that seeing as he died of an infected bullet wound that he inflicted upon himself (Vincent). That did not matter to me though, Vincent Van Gogh was no family of mine.

*  *  *

August 5

            It is a warm morning. I woke up to the sound of my horse, Cotton, neighing in her pen. I shot out of bed and ran out to her. I instantly saw what the commotion was about—my father was trying to take her.

            “Stop! What are you doing?”

            He glanced over at me, a blank stare plastered on his face. “I need to do a trial run on an animal before I use the chair on a man tomorrow,” he stated plainly.

            Tomorrow. I instantly knew what he was talking about. My father, Edwin Davis, was the executioner for the Auburn Prison in New York, a few miles from my home. Tomorrow, August 6, he would perform the first execution by electrocution on William Kemmler.

            “T-test?” I stammered out. “You cannot! Mother gave me her for my birthday! I will not let you.”

            “Go away, girl. You have no say in the matter.”

            I tried to run up and grab Cotton’s lead from him, but he shoved me to the ground. I laid there and watched as he took the last thing I had to remember my mother by. He didn’t care, though. He never cared about me.

            “Learn your place, girl,” he sneered as he led Cotton to her death.

*  *  *

August 6

            That day was full dread and anticipation, and even the sky seemed to understand the  dreariness. I woke up to a rainstorm and, at first, thought my roof had a leak. I then realized that I had been crying, and the memory hit me. My horse was dead. The experiment had been a success, and at 6:43 A.M., William Kemmler would be the first person to receive the death sentence by the electric chair (Duhaime).

            My father came home that night extremely drunk, which I had assumed was due to the fact that he had just electrocuted a man. I overheard the towns people talking about the horrific event. Rumors were being spread that William’s last words to my father were, “take your time and do it right, Warden. There is no rush. I don’t want to take any chances on this thing, you know” (Duhaime). I suppose they had failed him. William hadn’t died the first round—it had taken two tries to end his life. One man stated that “they would have done better with an axe” (Staff).

*  *  *

November 20

            I heard a knock at the door.

            “Louis, what happened?”

            “My mom. She died.”

            His mother had caught a nasty cold about two weeks prior, and it never went away. She had a fever and was very weak because she lost about fifteen pounds.

            “It was diphtheria, not a cold. Nellie, I don’t know what to do,” at that point, he began to sob. Had his mother fallen ill a few weeks later, she could have been saved. On December 11, the antitoxin would be discovered; however, this was not the case (Powell). Ms. White was dead.

            “I have no one left but you.”

*  *  *

December 1

            Bang. Bang. Bang.

            “Open up, it’s the police!”

            I ran to the door to find it open, my father standing there talking to the officer.

            “Nellie May Davis?”

            “Yes, that’s me.”

            They took me, mumbling something about my mother and me, but I was too shocked to register the event.

*  *  *

December 15

            The police suspected that I had poisoned my mother with arsenic over a long stretch of time—at least a few months. I couldn’t prove my innocence because a container of it was found hidden on a shelf in my room. Louis came to visit me in prison every day since I had been arrested. He believed I was innocent, even though no one else did. We both knew my father was most likely the person who killed my mother. We also suspected he put the arsenic in my room. He hated the fact that she hadn’t given him a son. Over the years, their marriage had begun to dwindle.


            “Hmm?” I hadn’t realized I stopped listening.

            “I said I love you.” He was gazing into my blue eyes searching for a response.

            “Oh Louis,” he loved me—a horrible decision, really, being that I was knocking on death’s door. “I know.”

            “I have to leave for a few months. I enlisted in the army after my mother died, and I am being sent South Dakota. When this is all over and I am back, we will leave here. We will leave New York and your dad, and we will move to Idaho like we’ve always talked about.”

            Though I knew it would never happen, his words made me smile, and tears began to fall down my cheeks.

*  *  *

December 29

            Two days ago, the Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, where Louis had been stationed, was won by the American troops leaving behind very few American Indians (Powell). Many were calling it a massacre. Louis would be returning home soon under the false intentions that we will soon be fleeing to Idaho.

*  *  *

December 31

            I am lead into a quiet room permeating with the stench of death and bleach. The realization of my impending demise hit me when my long, brown hair was shaved off of my head. As I walk to my death, I pray to God. What comes after death? Will it hurt? Will it take two tries like it had with William Kemmler? As these thoughts run around in my head, I continue to pray, pleading with God to calm my nerves.

            They have no proof. It was my father. The words don’t come out. I’m only 19.

            I can see those who will be witnessing my death, and I look over at my father. He looks at me, eyes stone cold. I am strapped down, and a black hood is placed over my bald head. Something cold and metal is strapped on like a helmet and I begin to cry, but no one can see my tears as they fall down my face.

            Click. In that split second, I feel as though I have been lit on fire. Then, everything goes dark.

Works Cited

Duhaime, Lloyd. “1890: The Debut of the Electric Chair- The Electrocution of William                                Kemmler.” duhaime.org. 2012. Web. 17 Jan. 2018.

Powell, John. “The 19th Century, 1801-1900.” Salem Press, 2006. Print.

Staff, History.com. history.com. 2010. Web. 15 Jan. 2018.

US Department of Commerce, NOAA, National Weather Service. “Top 10 Tornadoes in the                Louisville CWA.www.weather.gov. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2018.

Vincent Van Gogh.biography.com. 2017. Web. 26 Jan. 2018.


Bgill. “Famous Electric Chair Executions:Topic, Pictures, and Information.” www.fold3.com.                       2011. Web. 29 Jan. 2018.