“Did Ravachol’s Head Utter a Word?” (August 17, 1892)

Did Ravachol’s Head Utter a Word?

London Daily Telegraph

Ever since the execution of Ravachol a lively controversy has been going on as to the real nature of the “last cry” which he uttered just as the knife of the guillotine was falling upon his neck. Whether he intended to shout “Vive la République!” or “la Révolution!” or “la Révolte!” will never be known, as he had only cried: “Vive la re———” when his head was severed from his body. Several persons who were close to the guillotine declare that they distinctly heard the final syllables “———publique” issue from the lips as the head fell into the basket.

A controversy arose as to whether such a phenomenon is physically possible, ad has assumed such proportions that the academy of medicine has become interested in the matter, and a letter has been read before that learned body which will probably settle the question once and for all. It is communicated by an eminent physician, who explains that no sound can possible emanate from the head when severed from the body, no matter on what part of the neck the knife descends. The same does not, however, apply to the trunk, provide the larynx be left with it.

If a criminal goes to the scaffold as Ravachol did, with all his wits about him, he instinctively contracts all his muscles when placed under the knife. On the severance of the spine the muscles suddenly distend, and the air which has been confined in the chest may, in passing through the vocal organs, produce a sound which could be mistaken for the syllable “ique.” The sound was probably heard by the persons in question, whose natural emotion caused them to imagine that it proceeded from the lips after the decapitation.

“Did Ravachol’s Head Utter a Word?” New York Times, (August 17, 1892): 3.

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