Floyd Allen was overwrought, half crying and half praying, as he limped to the death chamber where he was to be electrocuted on March 28, 1913.
He and his son Claude received the death penalty for their part in the Hillsville Courthouse shootout that left several court officials dead and 32 fatherless children. Claude’s cell was in the immediate area. He would also face the electric chair as soon as the commonwealth was finished with his father.
Legal maneuverings by the Allen attorneys resulted in some dramatics on the morning they were to die. Lieutenant Governor Ellison called for an opinion from the Attorney General who asked the prison superintendent to delay the execution so they could contact the governor. Governor William H. Mann was on business in Philadelphia so the delay gave the Allens a ray of hope.
“Just after sunrise the Allens practically collapsed when informed of the delay,” the Roanoke Times reported.
Any hope the Allens had was short-lived as the governor was reached in Philadelphia and he immediately returned to Virginia. Governor Mann had repeatedly refused clemency to the Allens and was incensed when efforts were made to take advantage of his absence. The doomed men had no other alternative to pursue.
“When Governor Mann returned to Virginia soil, he was again in his official capacity and represented the final authority in the case,” the Roanoke Times wrote.
“I repeat that after the most careful examination of the evidence in this case, I have not the slightest doubt of the guilt of Floyd Allen and Claude Allen and I will not interfere,” Governor Mann wrote in his statement that was handed out by his secretary. “The law must take its course.”
Claude Allen maintained his composure during the months leading up to his appointment with death but on his final day there was a marked change in his composure. The hopeless and devastated appearance of his father in the cell across the hallway caused Claude to gasp for breath.
Two ministers visited the Allens regularly in the weeks leading up to their execution. They were with the father and son individually when the prison superintendent arrived and proceeded to read the death warrant required by Virginia law.
Floyd gave his son a tearful farewell and then followed the prison guards to the death chamber. He let a dreadful moan when he sat down in the electric chair and again as the electrodes were fastened to his body. He hated that his life had come to such an end and it bothered him even more to think his son would follow soon thereafter.
The electric current was turned on at 1:22 p.m. and after four minutes he was pronounced dead by an attending surgeon. His body was hastily removed to ready the chamber for his son. The prison officials tested the chair while the guards went to escort the trembling Claude Allen to the chamber.
“A trifle pale, Claude marched with measured strides, his head held high, his wonderful nerve remained with him to the end,” the Roanoke Times reported the following day. “As he took his seat, he moved his arms to assist the guards who were adjusting the straps, and like his father, he went silently and unafraid.”
The bodies of Floyd and Claude Allen were taken to Blyle’s Funeral Home for preparation for burial before being turned over to Victor Allen. Word passed throughout that part of the country and soon hundreds of people arrived, forming long lines around the funeral home. Victor Allen was bothered by the strangers staring and some making fun of the corpses. He complained to Police Chief Werner.
“Blyle’s undertaking establishment was a mecca for thousands of morbidly curious men, women and children this afternoon and tonight,” the Richmond, Virginia, newspaper reported. “Vast crowds gazed on the grim features of Floyd Allen and the gentler countenance of Claude, both expressionless in death. The throngs became so dense that a special force of police had to be sent to the scene to maintain order.
“A crowd estimated at 15,000 visited where the bodies were being prepared for burial. Some of the women who visited carried little babies in their arms, all unconscious of the grim presence of death in its most hideous and awful form. Later the school children came in great numbers with schoolbooks under their arms as they stopped while returning home from school. Tonight there was no letup as young women and their escorts, attired for the theatre, visited the funeral home and viewed the bodies.
“Early in the evening it became necessary for the police to stretch ropes around the funeral home to keep people out. When the police left the curiosity seekers again filed into the establishment. There was no letup until 11 o’clock when Victor Allen started out for his distant home in Carroll County with the bodies of his father and brother.”
They returned to Mt. Airy, N.C., by Southern Railway and were met by family members. The bodies were then transported by wagon to the Fancy Gap section of Carroll County where the family lived.
“Two strong and handsome Virginians were killed yesterday by decree of the courts and by the order of the State,” the Roanoke Times editorialized a couple days later.
“It is horrible to have men of this kind led into a little dark room, strapped into a heavy chair and killed instantly by turning a deadly current of electricity on them. These two fine and brave men were killed justly in the interests of society, for the protection of the people and the vindication of the law. It is necessary that our people know they must obey and respect the law and the courts, revere human life, submit their quarrels and accusations against them to juries and judges and accept their verdicts and decisions.
“The Allens were brave men and they were good men, yet they disregarded and trampled the laws of the State. It was proven that the Allens began the shooting. Four dead men lay in that room to prove that the shooting was in earnest. Webb was killed with a toothpick in his mouth. Men do not go into battle picking their teeth.
“It is hard to have brave men killed by the law but it would he harder to have good, useful men shot down in the performance of their duties and those who killed them left living as heroes.
“Governor Mann was right to proceed with the sentences and will be commended by all the thinking people of the State of Virginia.”
An increased attention to safety procedures is being shown in the 21st century but still, occasional news reports flash of another courthouse tragedy. copyright 2017 Jadon Gibson
Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson is a widely read Appalachian writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read periodically at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single segment!
A Voice for God – A Voice for Good
My wife and I have been a radio disc jockey team since the late 1980’s. On our show this morning (8-26-2017) from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, I was inspired to play The Christmas Guest, a song narrated by Buck White on a Ricky Skaggs CD. It was out of season but it definitely has a strong message and I wanted to have it retold in this off-season.
A kindly old fellow was the last living member of his family so he gave Christmas little mind, that is until he heard the Lord’s voice saying that He was coming to visit him that evening. Anxiously he tidied his home and made preparations for his most special guest.
With each noise he arose to peer out his window. As time passed he thought he must have been dreaming or misunderstood but then he thought he heard something outside. All he saw was “a shabby beggar with tattered clothing and shoes ragged and worn.” He invited the beggar in to warm by the fire and gave him some old but good shoes, a warm coat, and sent him on his way.
He resumed his wait for the Lord, soon nodding off but became fully alert when a quiet knock came from his door. He found “a bent old lady with a shawl of black with a bundle of kindling piled on her back.” She asked simply for a place to rest and warm. He poured her a fresh cup and had her sit at his table and sup.”
When she returned on her way the kindly old man noticed it was getting late. The Lord hadn’t come as he said he would. He thought he must have been dreaming… or maybe he had misunderstood but then he heard the voice of a child crying from outside in the dark cold night.
“Help me! I’m lost and can’t find my way,” he heard as he opened his door.
It was a little girl who had wandered and gotten lost from her family. Though he was saddened that the Savior wasn’t coming he was intent on calming the young girl’s fears. He wiped away her tears and led her back to her home. Upon returning to his own home he knew the Lord wasn’t coming and knelt to pray.
“Lord, what kept You from coming to call on me? I wanted so much Your face to see.”
“Lift up your head,” a voice resonated from within the room. “I kept My word as I said I would. Three times My shadow crossed your floor and three times you let Me in. I was the beggar with bruised cold feet and I was the woman you gave something to eat. I was the child on the lonely street. Three times I knocked and three times I came in and each time I found the warmth of a friend.
“Of all the gifts, love is the best and I was honored to be your Christmas guest.” The Savior was touched by his kindness and generosity.
Some of us would dismiss some or all of the three guests on Christmas eve as inconsequential but this old man invited them in and catered to their needs… the shabby beggar with worn clothing and shoes, the bent old lady with kindling on her back and the frightened child who was lost from home.
Doesn’t He still walk amongst us today? Couldn’t a benefit of Heaven be to revisit unseen, family and friends on Earth? There is much more to life and death than what we see. Does the Lord Himself cross your path at times? Was He pleased with you?
A likely place the Lord may come calling is at church. His clothes may be ragged and his shoes worn. He may come as a bent old lady with the woes of life on her shoulders or as a young child who has heard about Jesus and is wanting to find out more.
Does your smile and kind word greet them as it would if you knew it was the Savior Himself? If it does visitors and guests alike will be overwhelmed by the friendliness and kindness and they’ll leave thinking, “This must be the friendliest church I’ve ever visited.”
Better yet, many will remember and come back.
My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me and He will be to you too if you keep Him in your heart.