Taxahol – A word Derived from a death poem by Thomas Grasso on his death chamber.
On Christmas eve Thomas Grasso strangled an 87-year-old woman to death, using her Christmas tree lights as a garrotte. He made off with an inexpensive television set and $12 cash. Some 6 months later Grasso murdered an 81-year-old man for his Social Security cheque.
Grasso was executed by lethal injection on March 20, 1995, after having halted all his appeals and declared that he wanted to die.
Grasso used his final hours to composed a poem entitled “A Visit with Mystery,” which he made public in the form of a press statement issued just 3 hours before his death. The poem, in its entirety, reads as follows:
Ready, willing, and waiting am I,
Asked for death but could not die.
Each sunrise is one day less,
I’ll endure this horrible mess.
When the last sun does sink,
Mr. E will serve a goodbye drink.
On the day our paths do cross it won’t take much to see it through,
Just a little toxic brew.
The warden will read my last creed,
And the deadly brew will flow.
As the poison drips into my veins,
And from my body life does drain,
I’ll know then once and for all
What “last call” means when serving Toxahol.
Grasso’s final meal consisted of steamed mussels, a burger, spaghetti with meatballs, a mango, a strawberry milkshake, and half a pumpkin pie.
Less than an hour before he died, he issued his fourth and final statement
), “I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this”.
Just before 1:00 a.m. (EST) on March 20, 1995, Grasso walked from his cell to the execution chamber. The witnesses, including Grasso’s lawyers and 12 reporters, sat in an adjoining room. About 1:00 a.m., with Grasso strapped to the gurney, warden Ron Ward picked up a phone in the witness room and spoke to Governor Keating, who granted permission to proceed from his official residence in Oklahoma City. Grasso was pronounced dead at 1:22 a.m.
Taxahol Symbol and Inspiration
I often base my arrangements off classic still life paintings and my composition of Grasso’s elaborate last meal is no exception. For this piece I drew considerably from a pieced entitled “Banquet Still Life” by Abraham van Beijeren.
The guiding principle of Beijeren’s composition seems to be the triangular arrangement of the various points of interest that guides the viewer’s eye from the bright table cloth and fruits at the base of the triangle, up towards the golden vase that serves as the top of the triangle.
The vase is, in some sense, the final destination of the image; it is the point that the composition is designed to guide us towards; it is the point where the viewer’s gaze finally rests. This pinnacle is so faintly illuminated that it nearly blends into the darkness beyond.
These kinds of geometric compositions were common in 17th century still life and, in particular, this kind of triangular arrangement is sometimes interpreted as having religious significance. (The logic here is that the 3 points of the triangle might refer to the holy trinity, while the fact that the triangle points upwards might remind the viewer of heaven.)
For my own work I borrowed Beijeren’s idea; the visual centre of my image is the well lighted mess of mussels and spaghetti and strawberries that threaten to spill over the edge of the table. (As always in still life, the precariously placed food items and tipped vessels are intended as a reminder of the fragility of life.) Grasso’s rotting mangos on the right side of the image are a stand-in for Beijeren’s crab, and the teapot next to these is a direct homage to the teapot in Beijeren’s work.
Finally, the tip of the triangle and the highest point of my arrangement is a candle holder, standing in for Beijeren’s vase. For me this occupies a bit more visual weight in the image (as compared to Beijeren’s work) and I couldn’t help dangling a few bits of rotting cow flesh, a reminder of death and transience.
I think that this choice of endpoint gives the piece a somewhat less reverent and more pessimistic meaning, which seems suiting to me.
Who was Thomas J. Grasso
Thomas J. Grasso was a 32-year-old male double murderer executed by lethal injection at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, McAlester, Oklahoma, United States, on March 20, 1995. He strangled
Hilda Johnson, an 87-year-old woman, using her Christmas tree lights on December 24, 1990, in her Tulsa home.