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Joseph Christock goes to the county gallows

Published March 26. 2011 09:00AM


On March 30, 1911, Joseph Christock became the 657th person executed in the state of Pennsylvania when he was hung at the prison in Pottsville.

Four months earlier, Christock had been sentenced for the murder of two women - the shotgun slaying of Mrs. Mary Ann Richards and the rape and murder of Elizabeth Faulds, whose husband Peter owned the farm Christock was working on as a hired hand in South Manheim Township, near Auburn. Christ Becker of Tamaqua was one of the jury members during the emotional trial in November 1910.

During that trial, the Tamaqua Courier described Christock as a "loose-jawed, low-browed fellow, a brother to the ox, under the fine-spun skin of the human."

"To our mind the most fitting punishment that could be inflicted would be to keep him confined where God's sunlight never penetrates until the mercy of death descended on him," a Courier writer stated after the verdict.

While awaiting his fate on death row, Christock showed little remorse for his crime and was even heard telling jokes during his final days at the prison. He seemed much more concerned about the suit which he planned to wear during his date with the hangman.

The day before the execution he joked that he was cleaning up his cell - No. 14 - by "getting rid of everything he did not need."

"He appears to be as calm as a man who was stepping from prison to his freedom instead of to his death," a Courier reporter said.

The sound of the carpenters erecting the gallows at the prison seemed to have little effect.

"Let them put it up," Christock said two days before his hanging. "They will not bother me."

The day before his execution, he showed the reporter a Bible in which he had already recorded his death on the title page - "Joseph Christock, March 30th, 1911."

"This shows the absolute contempt he has for death and indicates that he will be just as brave tomorrow when he steps out of the door and walks the short pavement which leads to the scaffold," the reporter noted.

Another person who visited Christock the day before his death was Levi Hummel of Gordon. Described as a "professor of phrenology," Hummel attempted to determine Christock's "true mental condition" by reading the "bumps" on his skull.

"He told the prisoner many traits of his character, saying just what the prisoner liked in the way of art, music, flowers, etc., and predicting that if he had been brought up under the care of parents he would have been a draftsman and musician," the reporter stated.

Gov. John Tenor denied Christock's attorney a last-minute reprieve by taking an insanity plea.

Christock spent his last night writing letters to his friends and just before midnight smoked his last cigarette. He arose at 5:30 a.m., and had an egg sandwich, some coffee and milk. He also asked for a piece of sandpaper to rub on the soles of his shoes so that he would not slip on the gallows.

A reporter said he "walked the floor of his cell until 9 o'clock, engaged in prayer." After the arrival of his spiritual adviser, Rev. Vincent Dargins of New Philadelphia, no visitors were admitted into the corridor.

Visitors began arriving before 8 a.m., clamoring for admission to the prison and yard where "the gruesome scaffold stood."

"The crowds were thick upon the stairs of the prison before the doors were opened, " a reporter stated, "and after they began to admit visitors the crowd streamed through the door in an unbroken line." The crowd, estimated at 3,000, included at least a half dozen women "of foreign descent."

Just before 9 a.m. a wagon loaded with a detail of state troopers drove up to the prison door. Under the command of Capt. Wilhelm, they immediately went to the yard and took up positions behind a rope barrier.

"The troopers had orders to keep the crowd back at all hazards and to prevent a rush for the rope after the execution had been completed," the reporter stated.

Only those holding passes were allowed into the yard.

A reporter stated that on making his way to the platform, Christock "pranced up the steps as lightly as a boy entering a school house." He was accompanied by Rev. Dargins, Sheriff P.J. Murphy and Dr. Monaghan, prison physician.

Just before the black cap was adjusted, Sheriff Murphy asked the prisoner if he had anything to say.

"I am sorry for what I did and I hope everyone will forgive me. Goodbye," he said.

Just before leaving the platform, the sheriff shook his hand and Christock whispered, "Goodbye, sheriff. Pray for me."

He was pronounced dead at 10:34 a.m. After the execution, deputy keeper Foster announced that no portions of the rope would be given out as souvenirs.

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