History and Historiography

Future of Virginia’s 113-year-old electric chair and lethal injection gurney in limbo

By Frank Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia’s ultimate sanction was carried out for more than a century on an oak chair from Trenton, N.J. used to execute 267 people who were deemed too vile or dangerous to live among us.

Their limbs and torsos bound by straps and heads crowned with a metal helmet and brine-soaked sponge, the last moments and thoughts of some of the state’s most egregious criminals were spent in an electric chair first installed at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908.

If the chair was a symbol of extreme, immutable justice, it was also a tool of racial intimidation for much of its history. In modern times, a more diverse group of offenders were electrocuted or killed by injection on a gurney first used in 1995.

Now, like the fate of the Confederate statues and monuments taken down in Richmond and across the state, the question arises: What should be done with such significant, yet arguably dark, pieces of state history?


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