There are certain events that we always associate with fixed periods in history, like the Great Depression was in the 1930s, Woodstock was in 1969 and the brief window when men were allowed to get perms was in the fall of 1983. Any grade school history book can tell you that.
But sometimes old habits die harder than you think, and you find out that stuff you only thought existed in grainy old pictures continued until just a few years ago. You know, things like ...
6Executions by Guillotine
A guillotine execution (aka where they drop a huge blade on your neck and your severed head falls into a basket) probably ranks among the five worst things that can happen to you. It's the perfect symbol of a terrifying practice from a barbaric, primitive era.
Selling tickets to executions. That's how we can fund our schools!
It's easy to forget that the entire point of the method was that it was considered humane; the alternative execution method for French nobility was usually getting their heads chopped off with a sword or ax, which sometimes took several painful whacks. And commoners just got hanged, which sucked even harder. So even though we imagine that the walk to the guillotine was pretty nerve-racking, getting your head lopped off in one swift blow was mercifully brief compared to the torturous alternatives.
That's not to say that the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, which ended with over 16,000 heads, is up for a retroactive Amnesty International award for employing a relatively mild form of capital punishment. But hey, at least they weren't 16,000 disembowelments. And it's all ancient history anyway -- in a world where most countries have done away with executions completely, beheadings have to be the stuff of the powdered wig era.
Most of history was just folks passing time, waiting for the Internet to be invented.
But Actually ...
Death by guillotine was the official method of execution in France until capital punishment was banned ... in freaking 1981.
The Guillotine Headquarters
The last public guillotining was in 1939. Then "morality" stepped in and ruined public murder for everyone.
No, they didn't always do it in the town square in front of a crowd -- they had the decency to switch to private executions in 1939. Between 1940 and 1977, dozens of criminals were executed by the National Razor, just in the privacy of their prisons, rather than in front of bloodthirsty onlookers. The last French execution by guillotine was in 1977. So around the same time that Star Wars was playing in the theaters and Apple Computer was getting its start, a convicted murderer could still get the old head chop.
And that was just in France. The Nazis managed over 16,000 beheadings during their reign. You'd think the fact that "Oh, now that's a Nazi thing" would be the end of guillotine altogether. Not if one Georgia legislator had his way. As late as 1996, Doug Teper proposed replacing the electric chair with the guillotine as the official method of execution for the state of Georgia, but only so the state could harvest criminal organs after their deaths. See? Humane.