Decapitation Really Hurts (But Only for a Few Seconds)
Bad news: despite Dr. Guillotin’s belief that having your head cut off is a humane method of execution, decapitation is going to hurt. Like, a lot
. But the good news is that you’ll only feel it for a second or two! Or maybe not: it could hurt for as long as seven seconds
, which is how long it takes for the brain to use up all the oxygen in the blood. It’s a notoriously hard thing to study since, y’know, it requires decapitating someone.
Heads Can Naturally Twitch a Bit After Decapitation
There are plenty of stories
out there about severed heads blinking and biting
, but modern medical authorities say such accounts – when they’re not urban myths or tall tales – are actually due to reflexive twitching instead of deliberate movement. One widely distributed account of supposed consciousness following a beheading
comes from a French doctor in 1905, who claimed the severed head of a man responded to the sound of his own name by opening his eyelids “without any spasmodic contraction.” However, there areseveral reasons
to doubt the good doctor’s account. Modern physicians have determined that consciousness is lost within 2 to 3 seconds of being decapitated.
Internal Decapitation Is Totally a Thing
Decapitation conjures revolting images of bloodless heads in baskets, but that’s not always the case. There is such a thing as internal
decapitation, which happens when the skull is severed from the spinal column but the head is still attached to the body. This most commonly happens when someone is hanged, but it can also happen by accident, such as the case of a four year old in Idaho who actually managed
internal decapitation after a car wreck.
Head Transplants Could Actually Happen (But Might Be “Worse Than Death”)
A 30-year-old chronically ill Russian man volunteered
in 2015 to be the first person ever to have his head installed on another person’s body. The procedure – which would take 36 hours and 150 doctors and nurses – technically isn’t possible yet, but doctors at least have a volunteer when the time comes ( if
the time comes). Experts, however, say it might be a fate worse than death: they have no idea
what it will do the patient’s mind. It could actually result in “a hitherto never experienced level and quality of insanity.” Seems worth it.
Pumping Blood from a Dog to a Severed Human Head Makes It Twitch, Apparently
Here’s some real-life mad science for you: a doctor in 1880 supposedly pumped blood from a living dog into the freshly severed head of Louis Menesclou, just to see what would happen. Menesclou had been beheaded just three hours prior for allegedly raping and murdering
a four year old. The results of the doctor’s experiment? Trembling lips and twitchy eyelids, if his account is to be believed.
The Guillotine Was Actually Considered a Humane Form of Execution
The inventor of the guillotine, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, argued that, unlike messy sword or axe executions prone to painful mishaps, his device
would deliver a clean and humane
decapitation. Even modern-day execution methods like lethal injections can sometimes fail
, so may maybe Dr. G – who was actually opposed to capital punishment – was on to something?
Decapitation Wasn’t Always Quick
Guillotines made the act of decapitating someone relatively quick (but not painless), but before the guillotine was invented, using a sword or axe often meant multiple strokes were required. Mary, Queen of Scots, for example, required three strokes
when she was executed in 1587. Think that’s bad? According to Tudor History
, Margaret Pole, the Eighth Countess of Salisbury, was beheaded by an inexperienced executioner who botched the job and practically shredded her head and neck.
Children From The 1700s Played With Toy Guillotines
In the 1700s, children played with miniature guillotines as toys. They didn’t go without controversy, however. The San Francisco Call
documents a mother who refused to buy her child
one of the toys:
If I could I would arrest the maker and burn such toys by the executioner. Why should children be encouraged to amuse themselves with things so repugnant by putting into their hands this instrument of murder and blood. No, it must not be.
Small guillotines were also used as paperweights
as well as turned into accessories for women, such as earrings and necklaces.
Some Decapitated Worms Regrow Memories Along with New Heads
Not only can flatworms regrow their heads after a decapitation, they can also, bizarrely enough, “regrow” their old memories. Those memories are pretty basic – like remembering where their food was kept – but it’s still an amazing little superpower
. So amazing, in fact, that the biological explanation for it is unclear.
During France’s Reign Of Terror, 17 Thousand People Were Executed
During France’s Reign of Terror, which lasted from September 5, 1973 to July 27, 1974, 17,000 people
were executed via guillotine. The Committee of Public Safety, led largely by Maximilien de Robespierre, executed enemies on both left and right party lines, the Hébertists and Indulgents, respectively. Suspects’ right to public trial was taken away, and their only options were acquittal or death.
People Love to Watch Beheading Footage
Now this is creepy: even in the 21st century, people have a sick fascination
with watching other people get decapitated. Nick Berg, an American engineer kidnapped by al-Qaeda on April 9, 2004, was executed via decapitation in early May of the same year. Footage of his decapitation basically broke the Internet: the overwhelming traffic to the Malaysian website that hosted the video shut the site down. The top ten search terms in the US on May 13, 2004, all
had to do with the Nick Berg beheading video. In fact, the only search that could compete throughout the month of May was “American Idol.”
The Last Public Execution By Guillotine Happened In 1939
Authorities executed Eugène Weidmann on July 17, 1939. He was convicted of multiple kidnappings as well as the murder of a socialite. Weidmann was executed via guillotine in Paris, France in front of the Prison Saint-Pierre. The crowd was disrespectful and used handkerchiefs to wipe up Weidmann’s blood as a souvenir. Their behavior was so disruptive French president Albert Lebrun banned all public executions.