There is a guy I know about. His name is Nick. Old Nicky Boy. (NOT to be confused with Old Saint Nick. No way. No how.)
Specifically, his name is Nicolas Jacques Pelletier. In case you are slow on the uptake, he is pretty French. He lived a long time ago too. In the mid 1700’s. In, of course, France.
I am not too terribly sure what his life was like in childhood. But as it turns out, when he got to be an adult, he wasn’t a very nice guy.
You see, Pelletier routinely associated with a group of known criminals. Nick was a thug. Nick the Knife, or something.
So, he and his band of merry men were out on the night of October 14, 1791. The were rousting about in the rue Bourbon-Villeneuve in Paris. The spied a passerby, assaulted him, and stole his wallet.
And for whatever reason….during the robbery…. Nick killed the man. (This little detail has been disputed in later literature as possibly having been an assault, robbery, and rape.) Either way… Nick did it.
He was apprehended and accused that same night. Apparently the cries for help alerted people in the city…. and a nearby guard arrested Pelletier.
He went before Judge Jacob Augustin Moreau, the District Judge of Sens. If Judge Moreau were hearing my case, I would be worried all to heck.
The judge ordered a death sentence for December 31, 1791. (See? I told you about Moreau).
On 24 December 1791, the Second Criminal Court confirmed Judge Moreau’s sentence. BUT…… the execution was stayed. And I’ll tell you why. The National Assembly Of France, made decapitation the only legal method of capital punishment. That’s why.
And guess what they had to build? The old potato chopper.
Pelletier waited in jail for more than three months as the guillotine was built in Strasbourg under the direction of the surgeon Antoine Louison. I guess it took some serious engineering.
And of course… testing. So the public executioner who’s name was Charles Henri Sanson…. got busy. He tested the machine on corpses in the Bicêtre Hospital.
They had other details to work out. And then, finally, the National Assembly decreed on March 23, 1792 in favor of the guillotine. A big two thumbs up.
And then it was Execution Day. On this very date… in 1792. April 25. The guillotine was placed on top of a scaffolding outside the Hôtel de Ville in the Place de Grève. They were expecting a large number of people to come to see the first-ever public execution-by-guillotine
The execution took place at 3:30 in the afternoon. Pelletier was led to the scaffolding wearing a red shirt. The guillotine, which was also red in color, had been previously fully prepared.
And Charlie Henri Sanson… the Executioner… who had plenty of practice… moved quickly on that day. Within seconds, the guillotine and Pelletier were positioned correctly, and Pelletier was instantly decapitated.
This did not please the thrill-seeking crowd.
They were completely dissatisfied with the guillotine. They felt it was too swift and “clinically effective” to provide proper entertainment.
They liked the old way much better… such as death by hanging, death-by-sword, or breaking at the wheel. The public even called out, “Bring back our wooden gallows!”
Ahhhh…. the good old days.
But as I have mentioned a thousand times before in this little column… everything changes. These days, we don’t have government held public executions….. let alone… “breaking at the wheel.” I bet that was really something to see.
And don’t you know….. in these moments… I am very thankful for change. Even when it seems hard when we are in the middle of it. Even when it seems like things are changing and we don’t want them to. It is probably happening just as it should.
So yes. I am thankful for change, even though I don’t often like it.
And as for Nicolas Jacques Pelletier, the French highwayman who was the first person to be executed by means of the guillotine? When his head hit the floor… suddenly… he became a “no body”