I read this morning about a scientist in 1905 who was fascinated with hanging. The kind that hangmen used to practice. The kind that makes your feet do a frantic little dance looking for something to stand on to. Well, I have to admit it fascinates me, too, but only in a ‘better him than me’ sort of way. There was a movie back in the ’70s called “Faces of Death” which was a compilation of real-life ways to die. A bunch of us teenagers would get together and start watching the tape and then see who would last the longest before throwing up or running away. I always won, but only because my friends duct taped me to my chair. But there was one scene that showed a row of men being hanged at the same time. I can’t remember if it was the standard gallows or if they were pushed off a ledge or what; all I can remember is their feet doing that frantic little dance a few moments before settling down. Fascinating but gruesome.
So this fellow by the name of Nicolas Minovici from Romania set out to study all he could regarding the whole hanging thing. He ultimately produced a scientific paper almost 300 pages long called “Studies on Hanging”. They weren’t that sophisticated back then. A paper now would probably be called “The Morphology, Physiology, Trigonometry and Metaphysics of Terminal Asphyxiation.” But hey, in 1905 they hadn’t invented all those five dollar words. So Nicolas began analyzing suicides by hanging – 172 of them, to be exact (this was before the days of being distracted from depression with such things as sitcoms and Facebook) – and broke the occurrences down by gender, race, how sophisticated the rope was, what time of year it was, the circumference of the rope and even the kind of knot used. I’m disappointed to mention, though, that he didn’t record if they had their tongue hanging out or not. When we were kids we used to pretend we were dead by rolling our eyes up in their sockets and sticking our tongue out. I can’t remember if the “Faces of Death” hanging folks had their eyes rolled up and tongue out, though. I was too busy watching their feet do a jig.
It wasn’t enough for Mr. Minovici to study other peoples’ hanging. He had to go and try it himself. Idiot! That’s why God made assistants! Anyway, he started out by hanging from a non-contracting noose. He wrote “I let myself hang six to seven times for four to five seconds to get used to it.” I don’t think I could get used to a thing like that. He obviously didn’t find it too pleasant, either, because he wrote that he found the pain ‘almost intolerable’. Talk about being a pain in the neck! You don’t need me to tell you what he would be called if he hung himself by the butt cheeks. He also reported that his neck hurt for weeks afterwards. They didn’t make scientists too bright back then, because he wrote that he was ‘comforted by the results’. I think I would have chosen another transitive verb other than ‘comforted’. He was so comforted that he decided to go all out and experience the real thing. Like I said, not too bright.
Nicolas stuck his head through a regular contracting noose and directed his assistant to hang him twelve times. Honestly. I bet he gave his assistant a hefty raise right before the experiment, because that guy could have literally gotten away with murder. “Honest, officer, look at his notes. He told me to do it!” This is where it gets really interesting, though. The scientist apologizes profusely in his notes afterwards that ‘despite all my courage I could not take the experiment any longer than three or four seconds.” All that work for nothing. I’m just glad he lived to tell about it. He did invent tap dancing, though.