In The Green Mile movie (1999) the main character is a guardian in jail and performs death penalty executions. One can see that on such executions some external people come to watch (as "external" I mean common people other than guardians, priest, and all the stuff). The action takes place in 1930s. - if I remember correctly - Louisiana.

Are there any memoirs, press articles, explaining why people did attend such shows?

In medieval times or even up to 1800s. it was some sort of entertainment or just curiosity ("Something is happening on the town square, I'll better go and check out"). The depicted events happen in the jail, so it is necessary to come there (make some effort).

Was it just to ensure myself that the Good always wins or the law system operates correctly? Maybe was it some sort of public pressure to enjoy this? Was it considered to be a citizen's duty?

  • I hope the question is not to broad. In fact, I am interested in typical reasons, that could have been recorded in letters, memoirs, newspaper articles etc. I understand there are as many reasons as people and if you consider the question should be closed maybe you could help me to reformulate it, please
    – Voitcus
    Apr 27, 2015 at 5:30
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    Cheaper than a movie perhaps. Apr 27, 2015 at 6:12
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    Afaik, accuser and those, damaged by the goner, have seen it as their right, to watch the penalty to be sure that their view of "right" has been forced. Pretty pervert in my opinion, but,... yeah.
    – jawo
    Apr 27, 2015 at 10:41
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    @TylerDurden I don't think the question is crazy, I think watching somebody's death is, as Pieter Geerkens said it could be cheaper version of cinema. The movie shows common people on executions, was this fun for them? Why? This is the reason I ask.
    – Voitcus
    Apr 29, 2015 at 10:00
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    Do you mean attendance of public executions, or state mandated witnesses to executions (both public and private.) Currently every state that continues to perform capital punishments (executions) have requirements that those executions be (legally) witnessed by persons "not connected in any way to the condemned (either plaintive or defendant) or the State." Several states have considered resorting to want ads to fulfill the requirements due to a lack of public willingness to witness an execution (esp one where you have no connections). (full disc.: I have been a witness to an execution.)
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 30, 2015 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, I had trouble finding a source of evidence to link to you for this, but I recall that, in a high school US History class, we watched a documentary on the death penalty, and it covered the history of it. There were some hand-painted signs advertising the killing of a known convict, but I can't recall what period they were from. That said, the art looked to be from the early 20th century.

While I could not find this for you, I do recall the gist of the documentary. The killing of convicts was used for entertainment longer than the USA has been in existence. This ties into the same cultures which used to hold picnics in graveyards. People were generally more morbid about life, likely due to their average lives involving death (remember, most people were famers or hunters and death rates were much higher until only recently thanks to the advent of modern medicine), and this likely carried on well through this age; indeed, it only seems to have decreased following WWII, likely due to three generations in a row being exposed to mass casualties.

With later research, I did find two sources which may be on interest, however; pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/readings/… is a fairly good source. It mentions Eva Dugan, whose execution was public (and publicly botched), wherein a wikipedia search leads to a historical account in content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,738741,00.html which, sadly, requires subscribing to view


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