Posts Tagged ‘Hangings in New York City’

The “sloop murderer” hanged on Liberty Island

December 17, 2012

AlberthicksIn July 1860, dozens of boats jockeyed for a prime spot off Bedloe’s (now Liberty) Island.

The boats carried 10,000 New Yorkers heading to see not fireworks or another summer celebration but an execution.

The doomed man was Albert W. Hicks, a 40-year-old sailor who confessed to the gruesome murders of the skipper and two mates aboard the schooner A.E. Johnson earlier that year.

The Johnson was an oyster sloop, on its way from Spring Street to Virginia to procure a shipment of oysters. Days after departing, it was found floating 50 miles from New York without its crew, the cabin awash in blood and human hair.

AlberthickshangingharborAuthorities quickly deemed Hicks a suspect. When they picked him up for questioning in Rhode Island, he had the skipper’s watch.

So he confessed: He said he’d been drugged and shanghaied onto the sloop, then to escape he killed the crew, dumped their bodies into the Atlantic, and left in a yawl to Staten Island, making off with a few hundred dollars.

His trial captivated the city. After being convicted and sentenced to hang, he claimed he’d killed dozens of men at mining camps around the country.

That July morning he met his fate, the thousands of spectators created “a motley and strange scene,” The New York Times reported.

Alberthickshangingad“On the water, there were not less than from 10,000 to 11,000 persons present, in costumes almost as variegated as at a carnival. White shuts, red shirts, blue shirts, blue jackets, red jackets, green jackets and ever steamer, vessel and yacht, decorated with lively-colored flags, while the uproar was incessant—cries of “Down in front,” “Get out of the way,”—rising from hundreds of throats at the same time.”

At 13 minutes past 11 a.m., Hicks was hanged, the last person to be put to death for piracy in New York.

[Second photo: boats jockeying for the best view of Hicks’ hanging; ad: an ad for a trip to see the execution]

The “Bridge of Sighs” over a downtown prison

January 4, 2012

Venice’s “Bridge of Sighs,” built in 1602, connected the city’s prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace.

The name comes from a Byron poem suggesting that condemned prisoners walking back over the bridge would view Venice and then sigh before being locked up for years—or executed.

New York had its own Bridge of Sighs. It linked the criminal court building and the infamous Tombs prison bounded by Centre, Franklin, Elm (Lafayette), and Leonard Streets.

The inspiration for the name is the same. “The span was called ‘the Bridge of Sighs’ because condemned prisoners passed over it on the way to their deaths,” explains

“The gallows were set up in the courtyard near the Bridge of Sighs and taken down immediately afterwards.

“Before the state began employing the electric chair at Ossining and Auburn prisons, the Tombs gallows had hanged some 50 convicted murderers.”

The postcard above shows the Bridge of Sighs connecting the criminal court building on the left with the new Tombs built in 1902 on the right.

Based on what says about gallows in the prison yard, plus the fact that the last hanging at the Tombs took place in the 19th century, there must have been a previous Bridge of Sighs connecting the first Tombs, constructed in 1838.

Perhaps this is it, in an illustration from the NYPL Digital Collection.