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By David Lore The Columbus Dispatch October 28, 1984 Reprinted with permission from The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch
Today is the 150th birthday of the Ohio Penitentiary on Spring Street, but for these old walls the party is over, the celebrants are gone.
On October 28 and 29, 1834, 189 prisoners were marched under guard from a small frontier penitentiary on Scioto Street in Franklinton along the banks of the Scioto River to the partially finished new Ohio Penitentiary on Spring Street.
These pioneer convicts - a ragged chain of horse thieves, brawlers and robbers - started a felons' parade the likes of which Ohio will never see again. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners joined those ranks over 150 years, and thousands of them died, usually violently, behind the 24-foot-high walls built to separate right from wrong. A few names are history: Valentine Wagner, Gen. John H. Morgan, William Stanley Porter, Mary Garrett, "Big Liz" Carter, Harry Pierpont, Charles "Bugs" Moran, Yonnie Licavoli and Sam Shephard: but even these are now but dim sparks in the historical ash of this palace of penology.
"Ten thousand pages of History of the Ohio Penitentiary would not give one idea of the inward wretchedness of its 1,900 inmates," wrote prison superintendent Dan J. Morgan in an 1893 history. "The unwritten history of the Ohio Penitentiary is known only by God himself."
Several months ago, the parade ended as the last prisoners were loaded onto buses and taken through the massive Spring Street gate.
Condemned by reformers since the first days of the 20th century, the old penitentiary was finally ordered closed in 1979 by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Duncan. That order, the last execution to take place at the Ohio Penitentiary, was carried out September 20 when state correctional officials locked the doors and turned the keys over to property disposal experts in the Ohio Division of Public Works.[Back to top]
This ground, a place of penance and suffering and death since the first days of Ohio statehood, now will be exorcised by development: a state office complex perhaps, a shopping mall, maybe an amusement park or a football dome. Sections of the facade or the walls may be kept for architectural amusement, but the Ohio Penitentiary is now history.
In another age, the penitentiary was walled off from Columbus and yet part of it. But two decades ago, the politicians and jailers decided that prisoners should be banished from the state capital and moved to Lucasville, Ohio, the remote rural site of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. That banishment has now come full circle with the closing of the penitentiary itself.
The Spring Street prison was actually the second Ohio Penitentiary, the third state prison and the fourth jail in early Columbus. Jail-building began in Ohio River settlements during the 1790s and came to Franklinton in 1804 when the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas ordered construction of a two-story log stockade encircled by 13 whipping posts.
"Horrible stories are told about this primitive prison," related Dan Morgan in his lurid history, Lights and Shadows. "Not only men but women and children were brought there, stripped of their clothing, lashed to the cruel posts and whipped until their backs resembled 'raw beef;' then tied face downward on the cold ground while shovels of hot ashes and coals of fire were sprinkled on the raw and bleeding flesh. . ."
The first state prison was built between 1813 and 1815 on a 10-acre site fronting on Scioto Street (now 2nd Street) at Mound Street at or near the place where the Columbus Cultural Arts Center now stands. This simple structure, the ancestor of all the huge fortresses that followed, was only 60 by 30 feet, with prisoners housed in 13 cells on the third floor. It opened for business on August 8, 1815, with the incarceration of brothers Hank and Dale Evans from Pickaway County (or John and David Evans, according to another history) for assault with intent to murder. The Evans brothers were convicted under a new state law prescribing prison rather than whipping for assaults or thefts involving more than $10 in cash or goods.
The 1815 prison was full within the year, leading the General Assembly to commission a 54-cell institution on the same site, designed for 100 prisoners. Finished in 1818, this penitentiary provided unheated cells, hay mats on the floor and recurring cholera epidemics. This place of penance, complete with subterranean solitary-confinement "holes," was officially named the "Ohio Penitentiary" in 1822.
"In November, 1822, the prison population was 113 of whom 103 were white men, 9 were Negroes and one a white woman," related Denison University historian William T. Utter. Most were farmers and laborers, Utter said, convicted of horse-stealing or larceny.
This sets the stage for the main act, the construction of the second Ohio Penitentiary northwest of the city beginning in 1833. But there is one other fact worth mentioning about that first Ohio Penitentiary on Scioto Street, that crude slammer was later converted into a state armory before being razed in 1855.
In 1830, says researcher Henry Nitzsche, most of the prison workshops were destroyed by a "fire of incendiary origin." A century later, in 1930, a huge fire "of incendiary origin" destroyed not workshops but an entire cellblock and 322 lives at the Spring Street penitentiary - the worst fire in the history of American prisons.
"Columbus is honored by the presence of state institutional buildings with more pretensions to ornamental architecture, but the penitentiary stands alone in the imposing and massive grandeur of its severe and stately front - a silent and frowning warning to the observer of the majesty of the law and the consequences which are sure to follow and overtake those who insult or violate its imperial dignity and sovereign mandates."
That's how historian Marvin Fornshell described the place in 1909, 33 years before a 16-year-old teen-ager named Gentry Richardson arrived on Spring Street to begin a life term for murder.
"There's no drearier sight than to look up and see those walls," recalls Richardson, 58, interviewed earlier this year at the Hocking Correctional Facility. "We came through the main gate, all chained up at the ankles and waist and herded like a bunch of sheep. I didn't think you'd have found a concentration camp any worse." But this was not the Ohio Penitentiary in 1834, since only part of the 700-cell East and West cellblocks were completed when the first prisoners arrived.[Back to top]
Penitentiaries were for penance in those days; and, according to an official prison history, prisoners before the Civil War "labored in silence during the day and were locked in solitary confinement at night." Under the prison labor system then in effect, felons were used in factory shops behind the walls to make harnesses, shoes, tailored goods, barrels, brooms, silk hats, bolts, and other common goods not manufactured in Ohio.
The food, usually cornbread, bacon and beans, was served on "rust-eaten tin plates" and eaten with crude knives and forks lashed to bits of broom handles. Bedding continued to be hay sacks in the new penitentiary, although frame fold-down beds were installed before the Civil War. Blankets were issued only in the winter, and prisoners slept in their work clothes.
Whipping was the major form of discipline until 1844, when public protests forced the substitution of more subtle but no less cruel disciplines. These included, during the 19th century, such measures as dunking inmates in the dunking tub, hanging inmates by their wrists on bull rings, shocking them with "the hummingbird" or having inmates stand handcuffed for days inside sweat boxes.
Disease was a greater threat, because of the lack of medical facilities. An epidemic of Asiatic cholera killed 116 of the 423 prisoners in the penitentiary in 1849, causing guards to flee the grounds and prisoners to plead for pardons. But then, Ohioans weren't soft on crime and punishment in those days.
A 12-year-old arsonist spent 18 months in the first Ohio Penitentiary before being pardoned in 1834. Executions throughout most of the 19th century were conducted by county sheriffs and weren't moved behind the penitentiary walls until 1885, less than a century ago.[Back to top]
In Franklin County, the gallows were set up on Penitentiary Hill in a ravine near the present-day intersection of Mound Street and 2nd Street. In his book, 19th-century chronicler Daniel Morgan described the first Franklin county execution in 1844, involving the hanging of two convicts for murder behind the walls: "It was truly the greatest event in the history of Columbus and for years was computed by the elder inhabitants by referring to 'the year Clark was hung,' " Morgan wrote. It was a day of "noise, confusion, drunkenness and disorder" during which one bystander, Sullivan Sweet, was reportedly trampled by a horse. And, Morgan said, the violence didn't end with the hanging.
"Two sets of physicians were anxious to obtain (Clark's) remains," he wrote. "One set repaired to the grave and after exhuming the body were fired upon by the others. They ran off leaving the body to be taken possession of by the opposing party without the labor of throwing out the dirt. (Clark's) foot, for many years, was preserved in alcohol and kept as a relic by Drs. Jones and Little who then had an office on East Town Street, between High and Third streets."
Ohioans were proud of their great penitentiary, especially since it was deemed secure enough to hold federal prisoners, including Civil War raider John Hunt Morgan. As it turned out, the walls proved no match for the Confederate general and his men, according to a Confederate version of the escape published at the time in the Washington Capital newspaper. On the night of November 27, 1863, after four months of captivity, Morgan and 13 of his raiders used kitchen knives to chisel through the floors of their cells in the East Hall. The raiders then worked through a sewer and an inner wall to reach a courtyard at the southeast corner of the prison, the base camp for their final successful assault on the outer wall.
David Roth, publisher of the Columbus-based Blue & Gray magazine, said in a recent interview that Morgan's escape had no impact on the war, because Morgan was given command of only stragglers and deserters after his return to the Confederacy and wound up being assassinated in 1864. But the escape did produce one of the most intriguing mysteries of the war, since some historians believe it resulted not from the general's tunneling techniques as much as from the work of pro-Southern, "Copperhead" sympathizers on the penitentiary staff.
"There were a multitude of mysteries about the war, and Morgan's
escape happens to be one of them," says Roth. It has, in fact,
become something of a "cult issue" for some Ohioans, he says.
Cell 21 in the old East cellblock, Morgan's escape cell, remained a high point of the Ohio Penitentiary tour until new cells were installed in 1909. The Dispatch reported on August 5, 1909, that the Morgan cell, weighing several tons, was purchased from the state by Columbus businessman John A. Kelley for shipment to the Morgan memorial in Lexington, Kentucky. But officials at the John Hunt Morgan house in Lexington express surprise at that report, saying they know nothing of the lost lock-up.
Ohio Penitentiary officials, however, did hold on to a lock that they claim was the one from Morgan's cells. That lock remained on display in the warden's office for 75 years before being moved last summer to the Corrections Training Academy at the Orient Correctional Complex. Roth, however, says he's convinced that this lock is not from Morgan's tenure but was installed on the cell later in the 19th century. That's why a key located by the magazine last year didn't work, he says. "Prison officials think they have the right lock, but I think we had the right key. So that's where it stands."[Back to top]
The golden age for the Spring Street prison, however, was the era of Warden E. G. Coffin, 1886 through 1900. "As a Penal Institution, the Ohio Penitentiary is at present the undisputed Model Prison of the United States," said an official 1888 history, The Ohio Penitentiary and Prisoners. Many flattering books were written about the institution during this era, and visitors behind the walls could buy picture souvenir books showing convicts in military formation smartly crossing the lushly landscaped prison yard.
"It is to Mr. Coffin's revolutionary methods of inaugurating, perfecting and successfully establishing humane for repressive methods in the management of the prison that the Ohio Penitentiary owes it world-wide celebrity," said the souvenir book.
Columbus newspapers reported on Christmas Day, 1888, Coffin's decision to do away with punishments such as the ducking tub and the bull rings. "A hard box to sleep on and bread and water to eat will cause them to behave themselves," said Coffin. "It may not be so speedy but it is more humane."
Ohio legislators, responding to a national reform effort, had recast state penal codes by 1884, and by 1893 a convict could tell a reporter that "the Ohio State Prison is a paradise compared to others I have heard of." But the 1890s penitentiary was certainly no convict country club by modern-day standards.
A Dispatch reporter in 1894 discovered prisoners still being locked in sweat boxes for punishment, leading the newspaper to denounce the state for "a partial return to the dark ages when the stocks and pillory were used for punishment." The ball-and-chain and hummingbird were still in use; and inmates complained about bad food and about political graft that resulted in poor inmates being blindfolded and tortured with water hoses, while well-connected inmates on "Bankers' Row" were given large, airy cells and special privileges. And, of course, this was the very same era when the Death House was brought within the walls.
Starting with Valentine Wagner in 1885, 28 men, including 16-year-old Otto Lueth, swung from the gallows in the grisly Annex at the east end of East Hall. The electric chair replace the gallows in the Annex in 1897 and, according to a turn-of-the-century description, "stands directly under the trap of the old scaffold."[Back to top]
In those days, the electric chair was viewed as a humane instrument, however. Death came in seconds, said advocates, as compared to the five- to 28-minute death struggle on the end of a rope.
Three hundred fifteen men and women died in the electric chair until the practice was ended, as least temporarily, two decades ago. Today, the electric chair is at the Lucasville Penitentiary, awaiting the judgment of the courts on the constitutionality of Ohio's current death statute. Ohio has seen no executions since Donald Reinbolt died at the Ohio Penitentiary in 1963.
The whole apparatus of execution - Death Row, the Long Walk,
the Death House and the electric chair - has in this century
eclipsed other aspects of prison life, creating a sensational
folklore that distorts public understanding of everyday life
behind the walls. On the whole, prisoners and guards want just
to get through each day, hating the finality of the death sentence
and the dispassionate violence of the execution.
"I tried to block my mind of all of them," remembers Corrections Major Grover Powell, who spent 31 years at the Ohio Penitentiary. "Nobody ever really wanted to work the executions, nobody ever volunteered." Death House duties, such as staying with the prisoner during the last meal, fastening the straps or pushing the buttons, were rotated. The warden would get $75 overtime pay to split among the attending officers, but "some of the brass would say, 'I don't want it - throw it in the river or something,'" recalls Powell.
Dominic Marzano, an inmate barber at the penitentiary during
the 1940s, recalls a Death Row inmate still too young to shave.
"He was only 15 years old, from some rural county, and I'd take candy, funny books in to him because I took pity on him," recalls Marzano. "I'd get him up on the (barber) chair and he'd start crying. They asked (Gov.) Bricker for a commutation, but Bricker turned it down. He was 17 years old when he went, just a little kid, too. What was that little kid doing on death row?"
The women's building, at the southeast corner of the penitentiary,
was always a prison within a prison. Completed in 1837, it housed
many of those on the Ohio Penitentiary's murderers' row, including
250-pound "Big Liz" Carter, whose size attracted considerable
comment in 1890, and Mary Garrett, who dazzled the public in
1888 by bringing her baby with her to the execution chamber.
"It was a sorrowful and touching sight to see the mother and babe enter the execution room," reported the Ohio State Journal. "The little babe simply cooed as it passed the scaffold and the warden conducted the mother to a chair in the Annex cage."
The final act was never played out, however, because Garrett,
sentenced to death for murdering two adult retarded stepchildren,
won a gubernatorial commutation and a life sentence.
The female department was a big attraction throughout the 19th century, and entry cost another dime on the 25-cent Ohio Penitentiary tour during the 1890s. Women remained in the prison until the construction of the Ohio State Reformatory for Women at Marysville in 1913.
Nothing in the old penitentiary's history, not even the macabre
machinery in the Annex, matched the carnage of April 21, 1930,
the Easter Monday fire.
It began as a candle flame in oily rags on the roof of the so-called "Big" or "West" Block on the west flank of the prison, paralleling Neil Avenue. Authorities later said that three prisoners had set the blaze to burst forth at 4:30 p.m. as a diversionary incident when prisoners were still in the dining hall. It smoldered too long, however, erupting at 5:30 p.m., just after iron gates had caged hundreds of prisoners into the six-story cellblock.
Most of the 322 inmates who died that night perished from
poisonous smoke given off from green lumber being used in construction
scaffolding on one part of the cellblock. But pictures of the
debris attest to the incredible heat of the fire, which turned
a tower of catwalks and bars and locks into a tangle of scorched
and twisted metal.
It was the worst fire in Ohio history and the worst in the history of American prisons. Concern about penitentiary crowding had been mounting since 1908, and the Easter Monday fire put in searing perspective the problem of packing 4,500 men into the century-old prison. The fire led to repeal of judicial control over minimum sentences (the Norwood law), which had contributed to overcrowding. A package of new laws in 1931 established the Ohio Parole Board and established parole procedures which by 1932 had released 2,346 prisoners from the Ohio Penitentiary alone.
Officially, the fire was blamed on three inmates, two of
whom committed suicide in the months following the tragedy.
Others felt that the fire was accidental and that prison officials
accused the trio just to cover up their own incompetence in
But only a historian with a taste for the twilight zone might find it interesting that fire, exactly a century before, had swept through the first Ohio Penitentiary on Scioto Street. Or that the doomed West cellblock, added to the original structure in 1875, had been built on ground previously used as a prison cemetery. But the Easter Monday fire was just the first of the big, bold headlines erupting from the Ohio Penitentiary during the 1930s.
"MAKLEY DIES, PIERPONT SHOT IN PEN BREAK," screamed the 8-column headline across the front page of The Dispatch on September 22, 1934. As chance would have it, a dozen newspapermen, seeking quite another story, had been in Warden Preston Thomas' office that morning when the two superthugs, principals in the John Dillinger gang, tried to escape. Or as The Dispatch that day reported it:
"Gambling their lives against gunfire in a bold stroke to beat the electric chair, Charles Makley and Harry Pierpont, famed Dillinger aides, lost in an escape attempt at the Ohio Penitentiary Saturday. . . like their gang chieftain, they attempted to bluff their way with fake pistols. They fell under a stream of lead, less than 100 feet from the cells which they have occupied the past five months."
Pierpont, Dillinger's mentor in crime, had been brought to the penitentiary under National Guard escort for his part in the murder of Sheriff Jess Sarber during Dillinger's 1933 jail break from the Allen County Jail. On October 17, 1934, dapper Harry Pierpont became the 183rd felon to die in the Ohio electric chair.[Back to top]
Pierpont was just one of the mob of racketeers who crowded into the Ohio Penitentiary during the 1930s, although few ever went to the chair. Thomas "Yonnie" Licavoli of Toledo and Detroit came to Spring Street in 1934 with associates such as Joe "Wop" English and Sarafina Sinatra. Then there was Solly Hart, one-time Public Enemy No. 1 in Cleveland, who took a gangland enemy for a fatal ride and wound of serving 20 years as a warden's chauffeur.
The best-known mobster ever to come to Spring Street was George "Bugs" Moran of Chicago, Al Capone's lucky rival who arrived too later to be mowed down during Chicago's 1929 St. Valentine's Day massacre. Moran, however, didn't come to Spring Street until the 1940s, when he served 10 years for bank burglary.
"I worked on the psych range for seven years with old George Moran and Yonnie Licavoli," remembers Dominic Marzano, the former inmate barber at the prison. "We were there to keep them (psychopaths) from getting hurt . . . so the guards wouldn't get to them." Convicts with mob credentials were in those days an important part of the prison power structure, respected by both guards and inmates. "They didn't bother anybody, and nobody bothered them," says Marzano.
"There was no more perfect gentlemen than the Wop, Joe Sinatra and Bugs Moran," says Marion Koloski, a former warden. "When they were in charge of the psychiatric range, you didn't have any inmates diddling anyone." But the penitentiary in the 1930s was much more than an old-boy convict club. "By 1930," says a prison history, "the growth of the 'rackets' and general disrespect for law and order which gained momentum in the 1920s resulted in an upsurge of criminal commitments that filled all available prisons to overflowing." One-man cells on Spring Street were converted to handle three or more inmates, and the average daily count topped 4,100 by the end of the decade.
"As late as 1939, inmates at the Ohio Penitentiary were subjected to ruthless authoritarianism where officials could exercise power indiscriminately and without restraint," said historian John Resch in his study in the early 1970s of Ohio corrections. "Prisoners existed in a regime whose operations might have been drawn from a 19th century manual. The lock step and a quasi silent system were used to maintain control, order, discipline and regimentation. The shower bath continued to be used as punishment and the degrading stripes were still worn."[Back to top]
In 1939, Warden William Amrine once more recommended the construction of a new prison, telling Gov. John Bricker that "conditions at the Ohio Penitentiary are a disgrace to the State of Ohio." That didn't happen, of course, but World War II marked a turning point for the old prison.
"The 1930s were horrendous, but the transformation came during
the war because of need for inmates to produce goods," says
Koloski. "Convict labor was important, and it was then that
penal servitude disappeared."
Warden Ralph "Red" Alvis, 1948-1959, is credited with the major reforms of the post-war era, eliminating the lock-step march, the strict requirements for silence in formation and the old cross-stripe prison clothing.
"When the war started, the food got bad, and it didn't get
any better until 1952," recalls Marzano.
"They would give us butter beans with a piece of fat sowbelly in there with hair on it, big hairs up to an inch long," says Gentry Richardson, the man who first saw those prison walls as a teen-ager in 1942. Bad food, in fact, was a reason for the 1952 Ohio Penitentiary riot, the first of three to fire the institution over the next two decades.
"Alvis expanded recreation programs, and his administration assumed a more humane posture through his determination to 'treat (each) man as a man' and to encourage a sense of dignity among the inmates," wrote Resch, the historian. Still, he noted, crowding became more acute, reaching an all-time record of 5,235 in April 1955. "Idleness was rampant and programs were a sham as classrooms and visiting areas had to be used for dormitories," Resch said. A Cleveland judge described the prison as "a dungeon from the Middle Ages without the moat"; but Gov. Frank Lausche dismissed plans to relocate the prison as a "folly" and an "extravagance," though he did support spending to increase the size of other state prisons.
Koloski, however, says that too much attention is often paid
to crowding in prisons and not enough to other factors more
important to inmate morale. The worst riots in the prison's
history, for example, came during the long hot summer of 1968
when the prison population was only about 2,800. Despite crowding
during the 1940s and 1950s, he says, the prison was a community.
"I still remember, for example, the coal company which wore steel shoes, and when they marched, everybody in the whole penitentiary could hear them. . . they were a proud bunch."
Holiday boxing and wrestling matches were introduced as early as 1940, and a bandstand was erected on the "O. Henry" athletic field, the home of the "Hurricanes" inmate baseball team.
"They played AAA softball, and they were one of the best,"
says ex-OP Major Grover Powell. "They played clean and hard,
real hard. Softball teams came from all over, from Keysport,
Pa., from Dayton Cash Register Inc.; everybody wanted to come
and play these people, see if they could beat them. They had
some teams in here."
"Some inmates, you could beat the ___ out of them and they still wouldn't conform to the rules," says Koloski. "But you make them an umpire in a baseball game and they wouldn't bend a single rule in the rulebook, no matter what. I never could figure that out."
For decades, the Ohio Penitentiary drew artists and celebrities
that Columbus couldn't match: fighters Joe Lewis, Billy Conn,
Gene Fulmer and Jack Dempsey, and entertainers such as Lionel
Hampton. Ohio State University students performed light opera
behind the walls, pilots from Lockbourne Air Force Base led
literary discussions, and Coach Woody Hayes even once offered
to suit up an inmate football team.
The high point of the year, however, was always the inmate Christmas show, an extravaganza staged and performed by the prisoners to packed houses. A few outsiders were allowed in each year for the show, and these tickets were always in great demand, says Powell.
It was a big brawling prison in those days, dangerous but not out of control. "I saw a lot of men die in the Walls," says Marzano. "How many? I can't even remember half of them, but there was a lot of killing." "But you really had to bother a man," adds Richardson. "Nobody was really looking for trouble."
"In those days, they were older men, more mature," says Powell. "They wanted to work, to do something to occupy their minds. It was a different breed of inmate." But on June 24, 1968, the worst series of riots in the penitentiary's history began in the prison print shop, forcing a series of political decisions that was to culminate in the closing of the penitentiary 16 years later.
The initial June rioting involved at least $1 million in
fire damage, including the destruction of nine buildings and
damage to six others.
Tensions continued through July, however, leading up to the more deadly riots of August 20-21, when prisoners not only set fires but took nine guards hostage, forcing a 28-hour stand-off between convict leaders and authorities. It ended in a bloody invasion by law enforcement officers on August 21 through holes blown in the south wall and roof of the old penitentiary. Five convicts were killed, but the guards were freed.
The 1968 violence convinced civic officials that the old
prison could no longer be part of the Downtown skyline in a
developing and image-conscious city.
Gov. James A. Rhodes ordered a replacement maximum-security prison built in remote Lucasville, Ohio; and the tough new warden, Harold Cardwell, chopped down the magnificent trees in the old prison yard to improve security. The Christmas shows, the teams, the exhibitions, all were canceled.
Most prisoners were removed from the prison by 1972 with
the completion of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, leaving
only the sick and infirm, the psychotic and the troublemakers.
The fire-gutted buildings were left to leak and rot as corrections
chiefs spent their dollars elsewhere, leaving the old pen to
die by attrition.
"I was back in 1982, the first time back since 1963, and it looked like a demolition site," remembers Richardson.
"It was more of a shock to go in and see the place then than
it had been in 1942. It was so bleak-looking. It didn't look
like a place inhabited by the human race."
In 1979, Judge Duncan ordered the old prison closed as of December 31, 1983. There was one brief eight-month reprieve, but last August the remaining prisoners boarded buses in the yard, leaving the Ohio Penitentiary empty and calm for the first time in 150 years.
There's talk now at City Hall of turning what was once the world's greatest prison into an amusement park or a shopping mall. The Annex, where 343 men and women died by the noose or in the electric chair, may someday be reopened as a wine-and-cheese shop in a fashionable bazaar.
A hotel or restaurant may rise along the Neil Avenue wall
to camouflage the scar where 322 men were lost in smoke and
flame on that Easter Monday 54 years ago.
In the prison yard, where Death Row inmates took that last lonely walk to the electric chair, children may someday scamper, whining for ice cream cones.
Former warden Koloski, for one, has no objection. "Everything
changes," he says. "In its present state, the only thing to
do is tear it down. "If it had been maintained after the (1968)
riot, that might have been something else, but all of the industrial
section we allowed to deteriorate, and that was sad."
And developers need not fear: There don't appear to be any ghosts in residence. The execution chamber, the fire, stabbings and shootings and quiet, desperate suicides snuffed out thousands of lives behind those walls, but haunts seem to be the only horror spared the place.
There are no ghosts in the histories, the stories, the memories of the place. Even ghosts, it would seem, don't care to tarry on Spring Street one moment more than necessary.