The guillotine was a particularly French method of execution, made popular by the French Revolution and continuing until well into the 20th century. The guillotine offered the doomed convict a mercifully swift death relative to other execution methods, yet it was a gruesome spectacle. The crowds that gathered around a beheading were like those that attended a public hanging elsewhere in Europe and in the US, looking for something novel to see in the days when entertainment was hard to come by. But that wasn’t quite the reason. Mass media arose with movies and radio around the turn of the 20th century, yet people still clamored to see an execution for reasons ranging from the morbidly curious to the downright bloodthirsty.
On June 17, 1939, around 600 hundred people gathered at 4 AM to watch the execution by guillotine of convicted serial killer Eugen Weidmann in Versailles. The crowd left satisfied after Weidmann’s head was separated from his body. But there was a novel factor in this execution- a film crew had surreptitiously recorded it for posterity. Stills from the execution made the papers and caused an uproar in France.
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Read the story of Eugen Weidmann’s date with the guillotine and its fallout at Amusing Planet.