"Old Smokey," the State of Tennessee Electric Chair Responsible for 125 Executions. Constructed from white oak of the former State gallows, the Tennessee Electric Chair was built using convict labor and installed within the State Prison at Nashville in 1916.
Unofficially nicknamed 'Old Smokey', this apparatus was used continuously until 1960, at which point Tennessee declared a general moratorium on executions.
While there are no official records reflecting the circumstances of 'botched' executions in the Tennessee Electric Chair and in most instances members of the press were not permitted to attend, the chair's lower region indicates a distinctly charred appearance.
Among the 125 men who forfeited their lives in the Tennessee Electric Chair was a lay Minister, a donut salesman, an armed robber named 'Johnny Outlaw' and even a Deputy Sheriff, Ben Fowler, in 1928.
But it was the execution of mixed-raced gambling hall owner Maurice Mays, which fixed the world's attention upon the Tennessee Electric Chair. Mays, the illegitimate son of a mulatto housemaid and a well-known white politician, was arrested for killing a woman, Bertie Lindsay, during a late night home invasion.
A witness identified Mays as the intruder and the murder trial that followed ignited the deadly Knoxville Race Riots of 1919, during which Mays was targeted by lynch mobs that stormed the city jail. In spite of a Knoxville Police Officer's testimony that a fellow Officer fabricated the case against Mays, Mays was convicted of the murder and by March of 1922 he was scheduled for electrocution.
On the hours preceding his death, religious hymns were sung in the State Prison's condemned cells by a Baptist choir from Nashville, and Mays spoke a prayer which included: "Oh God, I am innocent of the crime for which I am to die."
Tennessee author John Egerton writes that years after Maurice May's death, a woman named Sadie Brown Mendil walked into a rural Police Station in Virginia and offered a written confession stating that she, not Mays, had murdered Bertie Lindsay after discovering Lindsay and her husband were having an affair. Although the Virginia authorities found Mendil's confession to be credible, the Chief of Police in Knoxville refused to investigate, stating that false confessions were common after sensational crimes. Mendil was ignored, and no one ever questioned her about the murder again.
National Museum of Crime & Punishment (Image taken by Patrick R. Kane on 24 Sep 2011 with Canon EOS-1D Mark III at ISO 1600, f3.5, 1/50 sec and 18mm)