March 3, 1905, was not an auspicious day for Hy Brown.
Brown, an 18-year-old man from California with no known occupation, had been sentenced to death for the murder of Patrick Dunne, an aged storekeeper. On March 3rd, his sentence was carried out, making him the 149th of over 200 men executed by hanging at the California State Prison at San Quentin between 1893 and 1937.
San Quentin was erected between 1852-1854 to replace the overcrowded prison ship Waban. It rose in response to the violent crime boom in California that followed in the wake of the Gold Rush of 1849. In 1891, a change in the state’s penal code mandated that executions take place only inside state prisons, and on March 3, 1893, Jose Gabriel became the first convict hanged at the first California state prison.
Hy Brown's entry in the San Quentin Prison execution registerThe Manuscripts and Archives Division at NYPL is now home to a register of executions which took place at San Quentin between 1903 and 1937. Donated by the renowned crime writer Patricia Cornwell, the register documents a macabre chronology of capital punishment.
Entries in the register include mug shots, vital statistics, names of victims, and in many cases, a brief summary of the crime. Hy Brown and his friend Frank Kelly, entered the Del Norte County establishment of Patrick Dunne on December 10th, 1904:
While Kelly got life behind bars, Brown got “the rope.” Today, over a century after Hy Brown went to the gallows, the state of California wrangles with the legal and ethical issues surrounding the implementation of the death penalty in the future; and here at NYPL, the faces of San Quentin’s condemned men look out at us from the past.