For 51 years, a family in upstate New York has guarded an unusual secret, says the Village Voice: Its late patriarch, Dow B. Hover, was New York State’s executioner. Hover held the job in the 1950s and 1960s and was the last man in the state to activate the electric chair. Hover took extreme precautions to conceal his identity. He worked in the infamous Sing Sing death house, where 614 people perished between 1891 and 1963–more than at any other prison in the nation during that time.
New York’s last execution took place almost 42 years ago, yet the debate over the death penalty continues. Last summer, the Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional, and legislators are considing whether it can be reinstated. The voices and stories of the people who carry out executions are almost never heard, says the Voice. The newspaper profiles Hover, in part through talking to his children, who are now in their seventies. Hover was a trained electrician and a deputy sheriff. He earned $150 every time he put on a suit, made the 160-mile round-trip to Sing Sing, and pulled the switch for the electric chair. (Adjusted for inflation, this $150 payment is equivalent to about $1,000 today.) During Hover’s tenure, 44 people died in Sing Sing’s death house, nine in 1954.