How Long Can A Human Head Stay Alive After Guillotine Slice?

Jonny Llama
  Published on January 12, 2022   

What?? I can't be the only one to ask this question?

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Photo of an ongoing public execution by guillotine.

Photo of an ongoing public execution by guillotine.


In a publication called Reflections of the Guillotine, the author Albert Camus discusses how horrific and grotesque it is to witness an execution by a guillotine.

He states that his father once witnessed a man’s head separated by guillotine. My father, he says, “came rushing home, his face distorted, refused to talk, lay down for a moment on the bed, and suddenly began to vomit.”

Camus, who is proabolition of the guillotine, states that the modern persons would “repudiate both the vocabulary and the penalty” if he may “touch the wood and steel” or to hear the sound of a “head falling.”

And although the author considers this form of execution “useless and harmful”, it accomplished one thing very well.

Public executions by the guillotine made a statement about living within society’s rules. Law-breakers beware.

And this is not speculation. In 1791, Paris stated at a National Assembly that, “It takes a terrifying spectacle to hold the people in check.”

Watch A Death by Guillotine

On June 17, 1939, a Eugene Weidmann was beheaded outside of his prison cell in Versailles.

This rare video was filmed by 17-year-old Christopher Lee, who would later become a successful British actor.

Debate Over Severed Heads

In 1793, a French revolutionist Charlotte Corday was executed with a guillotine. Her execution spawned the ‘Debate over severed heads’, which mainly questioned the humanness of using the guillotine for human punishment.

The focus of the debate relied on asking a single question. How long does a person continue to live after the blade of the guillotine falls?

Charlotte Corday was executed in 1793. The executioner held up her severed head and slapped her face; she began to blush.

Charlotte Corday was executed in 1793. The executioner held up her severed head and slapped her face; she began to blush.


In Corday's infamous execution by guillotine, her executioner picked up her severed head "for the people to see and dared to slap it twice." Shockingly doing so, Charlotte Corday's "cheeks reddened" as if she was blushing.

Eyes Blinking

A doctor describes an execution of a condemned man called Languille in a journal entry from June 28th, 1905.

“Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. It was then that I called in a strong sharp voice: “Languille!” I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.”

The doctor repeated his experiment twice more, eerily getting similar results.

"It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time."

Body Squirms

One anonymous executioner stated that once the guillotine blade is dropped, the "body literally jumps about in the basket, straining on the cords."

Perhaps even more disturbing, he recalls, "twenty minutes later, at the cemetery, it is still quivering."

How long does a severed head remain conscious? (Joe Scott Youtube)

The Guillotine: A lawyer and a doctor beheaded in La Roquette, Paris (St. Louis Globe-Democrate 23, September 1878)

A debate over severed heads

My favorite head chop quote is from the Queen of Hearts, Alice in Wonderland. Photo credit TeeturtleFandoms

My favorite head chop quote is from the Queen of Hearts, Alice in Wonderland. Photo credit Teeturtle


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Sources

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