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Not Long for this World

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[Electric Chairs.], Digital ID 814385, New York Public LibraryElectric chairs (c. 1907) Brooklyn Museum and the near-permanent exhibit, American Identities. Tired from the walk, we loitered around the first room and looked at the disparate paintings, furniture & objets d’art. Also in this room was a television monitor showing a loop of Thomas Edison’s films of revelers at Coney Island. These films reminded one of us of another Edison film from Coney Island that hasn’t made it onto the Library of Congress’ American Memory site: “Electrocuting an Elephant” (1903). Two grainy versions of the film are available here & here, but it’s perhaps best to start with the reported account of the execution from the New York Times (pdf).

I’m not quite sure of the aesthetic merits of this animal snuff film, but it is imprinted in my mind like Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair series. The inventor of the electric chair was, of course, Mr. Thomas Alva Edison and the elephant was named—after a little girl who ‘growed’—Topsy.

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