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The Hangman's Craft



H anging as a form of execution has been around for ages, and has been gradually refined to an efficient form. Efforts were made to optimize the event, using the weight of the victim to guide the length of the drop. Underdropping would cause gradual suffocation and prolonged suffering. Overdropping would cause the head to be snapped off, creating a messy affair.

The ideal drop, imparting a force of 1,260-foot pounds, creates the hangman's fracture, the gap in neck vertebrae illustrated by the circle, below:

To achieve this end, tables mapping weight to drop were developed, apparently being refined from time to time.

British Drop Table, 1892

Richard Clark, The Process of Judicial Hanging
Weight of PrisonerDrop (feet/inches)
Under 1058' 0"
1107' 10"
1157' 3"
1207' 0"
1256' 9"
1306' 5"
1356' 2"
1406' 0"
1455' 9"
1505' 7"
1555' 5"
1605' 3"
1655' 1"
1704' 11"
1754' 9"
1804' 8"
1854' 7"
1904' 5"
1954' 4"
Over 2004' 2"



British Drop Table, 1913

Richard Clark, The Process of Judicial Hanging
Weight of PrisonerDrop (feet/inches)
Under 1188' 6"
1208' 4"
1258' 0"
1307' 8"
1357' 5"
1407' 2"
1456' 11"
1506' 8"
1556' 5"
1606' 3"
1656' 1"
1705' 10"
1755' 8"
1805' 7"
1855' 5"
1905' 3"
1955' 2"
Over 2005' 0"


Delaware Drop Table, More Recent

Tom Zeller, The Not-So-Fine Art of Hanging, 2007
Weight of PrisonerDrop (feet/inches)
Under 1208' 1"
1257' 10"
1307' 7"
1357' 4"
1407' 1"
1456' 9"
1506' 7"
1556' 6"
1606' 4"
1656' 2"
1706' 0"
1755' 11"
1805' 9"
1855' 7"
1905' 6"
1955' 5"
2005' 4"
2055' 2"
2105' 1"
Over 2205' 0"







M adame Emily Gerard, tireless collector of occult lore in the late 1800s, relates the following tale of a less than ideal hanging:

"On one occasion the individual to be hanged happening to be himself a gipsy, there was some difficulty in finding an executioner, and the only one produced was a feeble old man, quite unequal to the job. A table placed under a tree was to serve as scaffold, and with trembling fingers the old man proceeded to attach the rope round the neck of his victim. All his efforts were, however, vain to fix this rope to the branch above, and the doomed man, at last losing patience at the protracted delay, gave a vigorous box on the ear to his would-be hangman, which knocked him off the table. Instantly all the spectators, terrified, took to their heels; whereupon the culprit, securely fastening the rope to the branch above, proceeded unaided to hang himself in the most correct fashion."



From Blackwood's Edinburg magazine, Volume 43, January-June 1888, "The Land beyond the Forest" from "The Land beyond the Forest. Facts, Figures and Fancies from Transylvania. By E. Gerard. Two Volumes. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London: 1888.