Getty Images
Getty Images

Too Big to Fail: The Murderer Who Tried to Eat His Way Off Death Row

Getty Images
Getty Images

In the early 1950s, Donald Snyder was serving time in New York’s Green Haven Correctional Facility for auto theft. He escaped, but police were almost immediately on his trail. Snyder decided he would take a hostage that he could use to bargain his way out of going back to jail, and he kidnapped a 9-year-old girl.

In a standoff, police surrounded Snyder and fired at him, and the criminal stabbed his hostage in the abdomen, killing her. He was recaptured, convicted of murder and sent to Sing Sing to await execution by the electric chair.

Snyder knew he wouldn’t be able to escape from Sing Sing’s death row, so he came up with a new plan: He would eat his way out of execution.

He figured that if he was too fat to squeeze into the electric chair, the state couldn’t execute him and they’d have to commute his sentence to life in prison.

Diet Plan

He began to eat everything he could get his hands on, and ballooned from 150 pounds to more than 300. The day of execution came, and when the guards asked him what he wanted for his last meal, Snyder enthusiastically said, “Pork chops and eggs, and plenty of ‘em.” He spent his last few hours speculating with a guard on what the newspapers would say when it turned out that he was too fat to electrocute.

Snyder's eating efforts turned out to be wasted. Some sources say that the existing chair was big enough to accommodate his girth, while others claim that a larger chair had to be rigged up. But the outcome was the same: According to the Encyclopedia of American Prisons, a New York City reporter covering the execution wrote that whatever chair Snyder wound up in “fitted him as though it had been made to order.”

The executioner flipped the switch and Donald Snyder died a fat man.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Central Press/Getty Images
Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
4 Movies, 1 Thing In Common II
iStock
iStock

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios