When it comes to the guillotine there is one tale that I’ve told (and been told) time and time again… I’ll be the first to admit the details (and the ending) of the story do have a tendency to change according to the whims of the teller (or the number of drinks that they have consumed) but the basic story goes that during the French Revolution a man attended the execution of a friend and seconds after the guillotine dropped the man picked up his friend’s head and asked a series of questions. Legend has it that through a system of blinking the victim allegedly communicated a message back to his friend.
Add to this legend, the story of renowned Chemist Antoine Lavoisier, one of France’s greatest scientists who discovered oxygen and helped lay the groundwork for modern chemistry. Sadly he ran afoul of the French revolutionary government and was sentenced to death. Lavoisier had heard stories of disembodied heads saying prayers, looking around, and otherwise showing signs of life for short periods after decapitation. Ever the scientist, he decided that as his last experiment, he would try to demonstrate whether a head could continue to be alive after beheading, and for how long. He told a friend, “Watch my eyes after the blade comes down. I will continue blinking as long as I retain consciousness.” The results of the experiment? Lavoisier blinked for about 15 seconds.
While he didn’t live up to Andy Warhol’s claim that “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” Lavoiser did manage to get in his 15 seconds (wink, wink or should I say… blink, blink).