Random Facts About … Strange Requests for Last Meals

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By David Martin – 
We lost our appetite when we opened our internet tubes this week and out came all sorts of bizarre information about last meals requested by people condemned to be executed. According to a paper written by a Mercer University School of Law, Georgia, faculty member, the practice of last meals predates Christianity. The paper said that, in Ancient Greece, “you had to feed the person who was going to be executed, so that they could cross the River Styx into the underworld, and not come back as a hungry ghost.” 

Or maybe a last meal is just a courtesy given to someone who is about to die. In some countries, alcohol and cigarettes have been offered as part of a last meal, but those items are usually not allowed in the United States. In fact, some states don’t accept special requests for a last meal; the condemned gets what is on the prison menu. Even in those states that do entertain last-meal requests, there are limits such as monetary (maximum of $40 in Florida, $15 in Louisiana and Oklahoma) and locality (foods must be available locally). 

Probably the most expensive last meal was ordered in 2005 by Robert Dale Conklin, who was put to death by Georgia for murder. Conklin ordered filet mignon wrapped in bacon; shrimp; loaded baked potato; asparagus with hollandaise sauce; French bread; goat cheese; cantaloupe; and apple pie with ice cream. Although Conklin was thin, he ate everything, cleaning two plates. 

Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed in Texas in 2011, ordered a similarly extravagant last meal with 20-plus items. Then, when all that food arrived, he refused to touch a bite. Texas responded by disallowing future requests for special last meals. John Whitmire, the state senator who was behind ending the practice of giving last meals, said “If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him.” 

Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that can make a last meal disappointing for the condemned. Thomas Grasso, executed in Texas in 1995 before the last-meal ban, ordered mussels, clams, spareribs, cheeseburger, milkshakes (plural), pumpkin pie, and strawberries. But here’s the key: Grasso also wanted SpaghettiOs with meatballs served at room temperature. He got everything he wanted … except regular spaghetti was substituted for the SpaghettiOs. You’d think he’d be grateful for the substitution but, no, Grasso issued a statement before his execution: “I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.” 

John Wayne Gacy, executed in 1994 for murdering more than 33 people, requested strawberries and then a lot of fried food: shrimp, KFC chicken, and french fries. Gacy had managed three KFC franchises in Waterloo, Iowa. 

The average calorie count of a last meal, not including those super-extravagant ones, is 2,756 calories. KFC and other fried chicken meals, along with chicken-fried steak, are among the top main-dish foods ordered in last meals. But the overall, number one most-ordered item is ice cream — comfort food right until the bitter end.

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