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BobLibDem
01-18-2005, 02:23 PM
Watching the French Revolution on History Channel last night, I was puzzled by the fact that before being beheaded, the condemned had to get their hair cut above the collar. This was so not to interfere with the guillotine. What gives? This blade can slice through a spine with no problem but hair is going to stop it? What is the reason that they had to cut the hair?

Speaker for the Dead
01-18-2005, 02:32 PM
This is a bit of a WAG, but it might just be a precaution. The blade could probably cut through the hair, yes, but you want as much of the falling force to be transfered to killing, rather than barbering. One of the reasons the guillotine was used was because it was "humane," so they wouldn't want any gruesome, though unlikely, partial beheadings.

Padeye
01-18-2005, 03:07 PM
Even with a sharp blade fibers can be remarkably tough to cut. A butcher knife that easily slices through meat won't do the same though rope. Demonstrations where a knife slices through rope requires an extremely honed edge with a narrow angle grind. A [I]Guillotine[/B] blade won't have a razor edge since that would be too fragile for cutting though bone.

BobLibDem
01-18-2005, 03:09 PM
True enough. I'd just like to see a demo on a cadaver before I believe it.

Cunctator
01-18-2005, 03:24 PM
Perhaps the forced haircut, which was doubtless swift, rough and not particularly "stylish" was also seen as an additional piece of public humiliation before the actual execution?

Eve
01-18-2005, 03:25 PM
Ann Miller (http://ann.star-wisher.com/pics9.htm)'s hair not only could have stopped a guillotine, it would have bounced the blade right back up to the top!

silenus
01-18-2005, 03:36 PM
It wasn't just for the guillotine. Historically, people facing the headsman would have their hair cropped or tucked under a cap, so as to not interfere with the smooth cut.

MrFantsyPants
01-18-2005, 03:53 PM
considering you can stop a bullet with a couple of sheets of fabric, the hair thing shouldn't be too surprising.

Finagle
01-18-2005, 04:01 PM
I'm in the camp that says that massed hair might be quite resilient to a cutting force. It is going to "give", almost like a Kevlar vest, particularly given the extravagant hairdos of the time. I wouldn't want to be the one lying there counting on my mullet to save my neck, but it's a better chance than none at all.

Exapno Mapcase
01-18-2005, 04:29 PM
I wouldn't want to be the one lying there counting on my mullet to save my neck, but it's a better chance than none at all.
But the whole point of the guillotine was that it was the most humane form of execution because it did so in one swift blow, unlike inexperienced axeman executioners who might need several blows to finish the job.

The last thing you want at that point is a chance that you might survive the first drop.

gytalf2000
01-18-2005, 04:32 PM
Despite any "interference" by thick locks of hair, wouldn't the impact of the blade still kill you or at least knock you unconscious? I just do not see how hair (unless it was Rapunzel's!) could possibly save you from a guillotine blade! Please enlighten me if I am wrong...

Padeye
01-18-2005, 04:50 PM
I don't think anyone is suggeting that hair will save one from the Guillotine's blade but that anything that interferes with it could turn an extremely quick and hopefully painless death into a messy, painful and ugly one. I don't want to get too graphic but anyo0ne who has ever butchered animals knows that this isn't a trivial task. A super sharp blade makes it easier but that kind of edge is easily dulled, chipped and blunted. The Guillotine's blade is angled which helps matters as the cut is more of a slicing cut rather than a chopping cut as much as possible.

Squink
01-18-2005, 04:55 PM
I'm not sure what this cite is worth (http://www.keratin.com/didyouknow.shtml), but it claims: Hair fiber is as strong as copper wire of the same diameter. It has a tensile strength of around 1.6 x10-9 N / m2 (one point 6 times ten to the power minus nine newtons per meter square of hair cross section diameter).

Danalan
01-18-2005, 05:01 PM
Hair is quite resilient, and spreads to both sides of the neck. It may be trapped by the blade, rather than cut. This could result in the head not properly falling straight into the basket -- it may dangle by a few hairs, or be pulled to the side, thus rolling into the crowd.

Verminary
01-18-2005, 05:03 PM
Despite any "interference" by thick locks of hair, wouldn't the impact of the blade still kill you or at least knock you unconscious? I just do not see how hair (unless it was Rapunzel's!) could possibly save you from a guillotine blade! Please enlighten me if I am wrong...
I don't know about saving you, since a botched strike simply meant you survived (in agony or otherwise) until the executioner managed to finish the job. In Geoffry Abbot's The Book of Execution (Headline Book Publishing, 1994), a case of hair partially stopping the blade is detailed. According to the account, in 1806 a young woman named Isabella Herman was left with her long hair uncut and falling across her neck. "When the blade fell, it did not sever her head, which remained full of life. [...] The executioner raised the blade a second time, but it proved unable to detach her head until finally, at a third stroke, it was severed from her body." Nasty.

It's possible this blunder was due to improper maintenance of the guillotine -- the machine was tilted, the grooves were corroded or blocked, yadda yadda -- but since the observer in this case specifically cited the victim's hair as the issue, it has to make you wonder.

(And that makes me wonder whether they shaved the sheep occasionally used to demonstrate the machine's workings...)

Verminary
01-18-2005, 05:05 PM
In Geoffry Abbot's The Book of Execution (Headline Book Publishing, 1994)
Geoffrey Abbott, sorry. Damn my stubby fingers.

Kizarvexius
01-18-2005, 05:56 PM
I have read in one or two sources (sorry, no cite) that the edge of the guillotine blade dulled rather quickly. In a mass execution, the first two or three victims would get a swift, "painless" death, but the further along the line you were, the better your chances of surviving a chop or two.

[shudder]

IF this were true, it would make sense for the executioners to move aside anything that might dull the blade more than necessary -- hair, jewelry, layers of fabric, what have you.

Squink
01-18-2005, 06:15 PM
Geoffrey Abbott, sorry. Damn my stubby fingers.
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:Here (http://aol.bartleby.com/108/41/9.html#43)
Maybe with a little guillotine? :)

Tripler
01-18-2005, 06:19 PM
Secondary benefit: If the condemned would actually escape before the execution, wouldn't that make it somewhat easier to identify an escapee?

I don't doubt for a second the hair would dull the impact of the blow, but hey, there could be other things too.

Tripler
Mom always said I had a good head on my shoulders--and I'd like to keep it that way.

silenus
01-18-2005, 06:34 PM
The thing to remember is that during the Reign of Terror, only 17,000 were executed by guillotine. Over 23, 000 were either shot, drowned, or, in Lyon, blown to bits by cannon.

A dull blade is not a good thing. At the very least, it will break your neck. They aren't just going to let you go, you know. :D

Speaker for the Dead
01-18-2005, 09:45 PM
Over 23, 000 were either shot, drowned, or, in Lyon, blown to bits by cannon.

My bolding.

Were they blown to bits British-mutineer style? Or are there other ways to blow someone to bits with a cannon? I'm curious, is all.

Slithy Tove
01-18-2005, 10:26 PM
Ann Miller (http://ann.star-wisher.com/pics9.htm)'s hair not only could have stopped a guillotine, it would have bounced the blade right back up to the top!

"Oh, I'm sorry, Miss Mansfield, that time slot is already booked by Ann Miller. Perhaps we could reschedule when you return from Louisiana?"

silenus
01-18-2005, 10:33 PM
Were they blown to bits British-mutineer style? Or are there other ways to blow someone to bits with a cannon? I'm curious, is all.

IIRC, they were forced to stand by open mass graves, and shredded by grapeshot.

Not quite the way the British dealt with the Sepoy mutineers, but ugly enough in its own way.

SkeptiJess
01-19-2005, 05:41 AM
See, I always assumed that the hair was cut, or put up, or pulled aside to allow the neck to be properly aligned on the block -- with hair down the neck, they might get the victim too high or too low, so that the blade bites into the thickest part of the neck, down by the upper back/ shoulders, or :gulp: into the base of the skull. Messy. Same with beheading by ax or sword -- they'd need a clear view of the neck to be able to aim the weapon at the narrowest point of the neck.

Eats_Crayons
01-19-2005, 07:13 AM
Hair is quite resilient, and spreads to both sides of the neck. It may be trapped by the blade, rather than cut. This could result in the head not properly falling straight into the basket -- it may dangle by a few hairs, or be pulled to the side, thus rolling into the crowd.Then you get people fighting in the stands over who gets to keep the foul head.

Eve
01-19-2005, 09:07 AM
"Oh, I'm sorry, Miss Mansfield, that time slot is already booked by Ann Miller. Perhaps we could reschedule when you return from Louisiana?"

Yeah, like they would've been able to tie Jayne Mansafield face-down on the pallet anyway . . .

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