Modern last words tend to be more political, as illuminated by the passionate death-penalty debate in this country. During Prohibition, the condemned tended to blame their troubles on “liquor and bad women.” The largest shift, however, was the move from public to private executions behind prison walls. Those on the gallows, speaking to crowds, were in a very real way on a public stage. They would often offer advice, spiritual guidanceeven sing hymns.
Behind prison walls, in some states, the condemned could speak directly to their family or the family of their victims. These last words tend to be more plainspoken, more intimate, and people are addressed directly and by name. You don’t find much of that before 1930.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.