Did the inventor of the electric chair shockingly write a comic opera?

Worn Over Time
Dec 11, 2016 · 3 min read

I recently bought an old copy of a comic opera on eBay. The seller listed the item as 1914 Tuneful Liar Comic Opera Harry Tyler Corning N.Y Electric Chair Execution. “Electric Chair Execution” — what the what?! That’s so bizarre and hard to believe. It would fit right in with my collection of unusual objects.

1/2 cloth with stiff paper cover. 228 pages. Measures 9” x 11 ¾”.
An original musical opera of 29 humorous songs about medicine and doctors with cast of 18 characters and a chorus.

It appears to be a gift copy from the author with his photograph, signature, and signed letter pasted to the inner front cover and blank front endpaper.

This copy was for Marguerite, daughter of Nora, of 3495 Broadway, New York 81.

Luckily, the following newspaper clipping of Tyler’s obituary was tucked away within the book. A keepsake. A clue.

Subtitle reads, “Noted For Musical and Electrical Ability.”

“Harry Linwood Tyler [prominent Corning resident] with no opportunities except those he created for himself and no more formal education became widely known as a musician and composer; was the man those scientific knowledge assisted in perfecting the electric chair…”

To the internet! The first electric chair was produced by Harold P. Brown and Arthur Kennelly who worked for Thomas Edison.

A June 30, 1888 Scientific American illustration of what the electric chair suggested by the Gerry Commission might look like. (Photo: Public Domain)

However, the next iteration and most widely known was designed and patented by Edwin Davis and Harry L. Tyler, of Corning, NY. Tyler noted that dry electrodes burned the skin during tests in 1890. The inventors improved conductivity of the connections at the head and leg using sponges soaked with saline solution.

The first person to die under New York’s new electrocution law was William Kemmler, a convicted murderer, on August 6, 1890 (Photo: Public Domain)

During the early phases of development, Tyler tested the electric chair on himself with less-than-fatal voltages. Tyler described the sensation as “…not at all an unpleasant one.” He described it as follows:

The brain feels numb. Bright lights dance and flash. Your head feels abnormally large. A heavy weight appears to bear down on your head. You feel as if you were treading on air, with everything around you a blank. You are alone — the only being, the only object, the only tangible thing in the universe. You gradually sink into insensibility.

Harry Linwood Tyler was published in several electrical engineering journals and reviews in the late 1890s. These additional primary documents further establish Tyler’s profession beyond musical theatre. So without a doubt, the inventor of the electric chair shockingly wrote a comic opera. Amazing.

If it wasn’t for the obituary clipping, we would’ve never known. I believe we have “Dear Marguerite” to thank for that.

Author, inventor, badass.

Worn Over Time

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