I'm pleased to welcome local author and good friend April Moore to talk a little bit about Folsom's 93: The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men and what it was like to immerse herself in researching this book. It had to be fascinating to study these condemned men as well as the the history of Folsom Prison and the California penal system, but there can be drawbacks too.
April lives and writes in Colorado and helped found a writers critique group in 2003, in which she is still actively involved. During that time, her first fiction manuscript became a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Contest, and her short story, “Apartment 3B” is included in the literary anthology, Cacophony.
No Talk of Executions at the Dinner Table, Please by April Moore
“No elbows on the table, napkin in your lap, and, dear . . . no talk of executions at the dinner table, please.” For some reason, executions can make one queasy, especially while eating. Crime scene talk was strictly forbidden because apparently, it made lasagna unappetizing. But when things got quiet after trying to pry more than two words, or at least a shrug from our then-middle school son about his day, I couldn’t help myself.
Over the course of roughly five years, I spent my days with convicted murderers. During the years of 1895 to 1937, Folsom Prison swiftly meted out the court’s punishment to ninety-three men, via a hemp rope and a trap door. The tales of what brought them—sometimes kicking and screaming—to the Folsom Prison gallows, fascinated me. Soon, conversations at the dinner table morphed from "How was your day, honey?" to "So, just before the guy was hanged, he said. . .”
As a writer and lover of history, I came across plenty of fodder for dinner conversation because frankly, the stories I unearthed were simply stranger than fiction; I had an overwhelming urge to share them. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by a man’s last request of a head of lettuce? Or another request that the rope he’d soon hang from, be cut into 13 pieces; one to each jury member and the judge who convicted him? Or what about the fact that it often took more than ten minutes for the condemned man to die once the trap sprung? Come on, this is intriguing stuff, right?
My range of topics weren’t limited to just executions, but also that of prison torture methods, unfortunate shower incidences, and conjugal visits. Some things I could get away with though, sneaking it into the conversation between forkfuls and “please pass the salt,” such as one man’s defense was the incessant chatter of monkeys and parrots made him crazy. And who didn’t want to hear about the “vagabond lover of the 350-pound woman?” Also, the fact that the wife of one of the condemned had been married to three other murderers before him, which was downright mind boggling. The men who I thought were innocent, wrongfully executed for the crime, always seemed to garner more conversation and interest, which tended to lead to thoughtful discussions ranging from early crime investigations to the death penalty itself.
Regardless of guilt or innocence, there are stories behind the haunted stares of these men and I wanted to tell them, even at the dinner table. So perhaps if I tackle another heavy project such as factory farming or Civil War battle wounds, I’ll at least wait until after dessert to bring up how I spent my day.
Thanks, April. Folsom's 93 is an excellent book, which shows how hard you worked on your research as well as the writing. Congratulations, and I hope you get great turnouts at your book signings.
For those of you who can make it, April's signing and presentation schedule is on her website:
July 20, 2013: Folsom Prison Museum, 10-4
July 24, 2013: Time Tested Books, Sacramento, 7pm
July 25, 2013: Modern Times Bookstore, San Francisco, 7pm
For more information about April and her book, visit her website and blog. She can also be found on Twitter.