Did the inventor of the electric chair shockingly write a comic opera?
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.
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.
Luckily, the following newspaper clipping of Tyler’s obituary was tucked away within the book. A keepsake. A clue.
“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.
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.
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.