The Discovery Channel has a fascinating new show called "I Shouldn't Be Alive." The program profiles people who found themselves in do-or-die situations and somehow managed to survive: a man who crashed his small airplane in an African desert... a family stranded in a blizzard in a remote area... travelers who got lost in the Amazon jungle.
But these stories pale in comparison to the tales of those people who managed to survive their executions.
One such story was recently relayed by The Scotsman, which tells the tale of "Half Hanged Maggie Dickson." She was found guilty of "concealment of pregnancy" in 1728 (and presumably committed infanticide as well). After she was hanged in the customary fashion and her body was on its way to the churchyard, she managed to return to life in her coffin. Under Scottish law, Maggie was considered dead, so she was free to go about her business thereafter. (Thanks to P.J. for the link.)
In a similar vein, author James Farr relayed a story in his recent book A Tale of Two Murders (which I recently reviewed and highly recommend). In a fascinating aside to his main story, Farr tells the tale of Helene Gillet, who was also convicted of infanticide but this time in 16th-century France. Since she was of noble blood, her fate was beheading and not hanging. But the executioner, trying to accomplish the bloody deed with a broadsword, swung -- and missed. He struck her shoulder. A second blow went high and slashed her head. The crowd went crazy. The executioner's wife leapt forward and tried to end Gillet's life with a garrotte, but by then the crowd was throwing stones in protest. The executioner's wife tried slashing Gillet's throat with a pair of scissors. Still the girl would not die. Finally the crowd -- sensing a miracle in the making -- rescued Gillet and rushed her to a surgeon. The capitally condemned woman eventually managed not only to survive her execution but to obtain a pardon from the king and retire to a convent.
Anne Greene was yet another woman condemned for infanticide who somehow managed to survive her hanging in Oxford in 1650. And the tale of another person half-hanged appears in a newspaper account from Bristol, 1736; Joshua Harding was hanged for an undescribed offense but miraculously came back to life only to be condemned to being "transported for 14 years." (Thanks to Sharon Howard for these links).
It's one thing to survive an awful situation when Mother Nature wants you dead. But when it is man who is determined to end your life -- and yet you somehow come out of it alive -- now that is an impressive story of survival against the odds.