As It Happens

Why is there a guillotine on this Brooklyn rooftop?

Hannah Champagne has no idea why someone set up what looks like a real-life guillotine on the roof of a neighbouring building across from where she works in Brooklyn.

Hannah Champagne spotted the execution device on the rooftop across from where she works

Hannah Champagne spotted what looks like a fully operational guillotine on the rooftop across from her building in Brooklyn, New York. (Hannah Champagne/Twitter)
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Update: After this story was published, Vice News discovered that photographer and artist James Schieberl is behind the guillotine. Called Free Healthcare, the art installation is meant to symbolize problems with the U.S. private health-care system, especially for those who can't afford insurance. 


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If you're lucky enough to have a window-facing desk at your office you might know the pleasure of stealing a moment to gaze out the window and indulge in something daydreamy. 

But when Hannah Champagne looked out her office window earlier this week, she saw something out of a nightmare. On the rooftop of the building across from her office she spotted a massive guillotine.

"I saw it out the window and thought well that's very ominous," Champagne told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Champagne was leaving her office on Monday evening when she noticed the execution device. And, so far, it's a complete mystery as to why it's there.

There are often television and movie shoots in the Brooklyn, New York City, neighbourhood where Champagne works. But she says she rarely sees anyone on that roof of that particular building — certainly no one setting up a guillotine.

"I mean, I haven't seen it used. But everything about it, as you can kind of see in the photo, is pretty realistic looking."

The guillotine is situated near the edge of the roof and it looks to be in working order. But from her limited vantage point across the street, Champagne doesn't have many other clues to work with.

"There could be heads there and I'm just not able to see them right now." Champagne said, with a laugh. "There's a bit of a lip, so they would just kind of roll and collect on the roof, I suppose." 

After posting a photo of the guillotine on Twitter, Champagne set out on foot and started asking strangers on the street if they knew anything. But she didn't have much luck.

"They seemed completely nonplussed. They weren't like, 'What are you talking about?'" Champagne said.

"They were like, 'Oh. We don't know. There's a photo studio in the building, maybe that's them.'"

Hannah Champagne has no clue why someone set up a guillotine on the rooftop of the building across from where she works. (Submitted by Hannah Champagne)

There's also a chocolate shop located in the unit below where the guillotine is situated. But when Champagne asked someone who works there about it they didn't have a clue either.

"I was like, um, I have a very strange question," Champagne said.

"I had to kind of explain to her, you know, the French Revolution, the blade, it chops peoples' heads off — I felt absolutely ridiculous trying to explain it."

Execution by guillotine in Paris during the French Revolution. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Champagne admits that strange things happen in Brooklyn all the time and quips that people might be, "too jaded to care about a medieval, old, torture and killing device on the roof."

Online some people have suggested that it might be an elaborate Halloween display or prank. But Champagne points out that it's hard to see the guillotine from the street. Champagne says she will continue to investigate and jokes that if the revolution is nigh, there's a few people she might escort to the rooftop. 

"I certainly have a list of public figures and maybe a few personal acquaintances as well — that's really why I have to find out about this, you know."

Written by John McGill. Produced by Chris Harbord.