Mount Mitchell State Park

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Watt Espy's Passion

 
 
Chapter One Excerpt
 
A large, unpainted wood-frame house in Headland, Alabama, fifty miles from I-10, is a de rigueur first stop on any trip through the Death Belt. The ancestral home of Watt Espy, America's foremost historian of executions, it also serves as the offices of his Capital Punishment Research Project. An unfunded, unaffiliated, one-man attempt to collect every available fact about the American death penalty, it is a project to which he has devoted most of his adult life.

Espy, who greets me at the door, is a tall, thin man in black frame glasses, a polo shirt, khaki pants, and tennis shoes with prim anklet socks. He smiles a lot when he speaks, heavy, preoccupied smiles filled with a mournful irony. "These are the condemned," he says, pointing to the head shots, mug shots, wire photos, and book and magazine clippings, all individually framed, that fill the walls. Many hang at derelict angles, others have a crack in the frame glass, and a few show the yellow discoloration that comes with prints taken too soon from the hypo bath, but there's no mistaking the passion with which they were assembled.  - For more of the story, click here.

The Last Face You'll Ever See: The Private Life of the American Death Penalty by Ivan Solotaroff

In a review of Solotaroff's book, Tom Lowenstein of The American Prospect, writes......

Solotaroff, a magazine journalist and the author of a book of essays, provides  a brief and intelligent narration of the recent legal history of the death  penalty, going back to the 1970s. He introduces us to M. Watt Espy, who runs the  "unfunded, unaffiliated, one-man attempt to collect every available fact about the American death penalty" known as the Capital Punishment Research Project out of his wood-frame house in Headland, Alabama. Espy, at the time of Last  Face's publication, had chronicled the details of 18,812 executions by "hanging, shooting, electrocution, gassing, lethal injection, burning, beheading, entombment, gibbeting, breaking on the wheel, boiling in oil, roasting, drowning," and other means, and can recite from memory dozens of examples of botched executions and the condemned's last words. The conversation with Espy, who comes off as having more a sense of academic detachment than a bent for thrill seeking, nevertheless does much to remind the reader of the strange subculture that has sprung up around murderers in our country.  Source

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