RSS Feed

Category Archives: 1834 Jail

More About the Jail

When we last left our heroine (you know that’s me, right?), she was about to begin her blog post in the third person point of view.  But I changed my mind.

Sorry about that little bit of nonsense. I was about to write more about our visit to Herkimer’s 1834 Jail on Monday.  Steven and I were in the second group to go up the stairs with our guide, Jim Greiner.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Jail is famous as the place where Chester Gillette stayed while on trial for the murder of Grace Brown in 1906.  There was to be a talk on a newly revised book about the case by author Craig Brandon at the Court House across the street at seven that night.

Our first stop was the cell Gillette stayed in during his trial.  It is actually kind of a suite, two cell off a third, larger cell.  Photocopies of old magazine photos adorn the walls, because Gillette had decorated the cell with magazine clippings.

From there, we saw the men’s side of regular cells, with a shower at one end, then the women’s cells, with a claw-foot tub.  One woman was offended by the sexism of this, because the shower clearly offered more privacy than the tub.

Somebody asked about where Roxalana Druse was housed.  Druse was hanged behind the jail in 1887.  I mentioned yesterday that Greiner wrote a book about her.  He told us she was housed on the third floor, where offenders who were considered less dangerous were kept.  The third floor was, sadly, not part of the tour.  He told the story of how a fire broke out while she was there.  Druse refused to evacuate but formed part of the bucket brigade putting out the fire.  When Friends of Herkimer Jail took over the building, one member bravely went up to the attic and found where some burnt timbers remained.

We greatly enjoyed our tour.  I love living in a village that has such a rich local history as well as people who work to preserve and share it.


Only Through the Door of the Jail

It is well known (by people who know me) that I am a big fan of Herkimer’s 1834 Jail.  When Steven noticed tours would be available this past Monday, I was delighted.  I was even more delighted when we realized that Steven would also be available to participate.  The tours were in conjunction with a talk by Craig Brandon taking place across the street in the Herkimer County Courthouse.

Brandon wrote Murder in the Adirondacks, about the murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette in Moose Lake.  Gillette was housed in the jail and tried in the courthouse.  Brandon recently revised the book, adding new photos and information. I’m hoping Steven buys me a copy for my birthday.

Some people, when they have seen an historic site or other attraction, are done. I, on the other hand, am not that way, especially when it is something you can’t go to just any old time.  The 1834 Jail is in that category.  The Jail is an easy walk from our house, on Herkimer’s Historic Four Corners where Main Street meets Church Street.  We thought we had left in plenty of time, but people were already gathering in front of the jail when we arrived.  The door was open, so we went in.  We could hear voices upstairs.

Other people soon followed us in.  One lady noticed a place to sign in, but there was no pen.

“You can borrow my pen,” I said.  It was actually one of Steven’s pens.  He buys these cheap ballpoint pens to take to work, in case he hands one to a customer and doesn’t get it back.  That was a good thing, since I didn’t get it back.  Almost everybody wanted to sign in.

“Oh, look, there are the gallows they strung me up on,”  I said, pointing into the next room.  It was the replica of the Galloping Gallows, which were used to hang Roxalana Druse, who killed her husband in Warren County.  Herkimer B.O.C.E.S. built the replica for Herkimer County Historical Society when they presented the play Roxy at Ilion Little Theatre last September.  I played Roxy.  (In case anybody did not see the play and was concerned, they did not show me being strung up.  The audience was shown the gallows, but the actual execution took place offstage.)

Soon the group who had enjoyed the first tour came downstairs with their tour guide, Jim Greiner, who wrote Last Woman Hanged: Roxalana Druse.  Jim is a dynamic speaker and very knowledgeable about the jail and Herkimer County history.  Steven and I attended a talk he gave about his book, and I have taken a tour of the jail with him.  He greeted us new arrivals  as “Chester Gillette fans.”

“And Roxalana Druse fans,” I said, although truth be known I am a Gillette/Brown aficionado as well.

I must end my blog post here, at the beginning of our tour.  I have a rehearsal tonight for Much Ado About Nothing, and I’m not quite ready for it.  I hope to see you all on Lame Post Friday.


Go Directly to Jail

When I read the paper Saturday morning I discovered it was Museum Day. I love museums! I further discovered that Herkimer’s 1834 Jail would be open for tours. I love the 1834 Jail! I had a number of other things I was “supposed” to get done on Saturday. I put them on hold and headed for the Historic Four Corners.

I felt a little guilty walking there without my dog Tabby. I always feel guilty walking without my dog, but especially walking toward Herkimer’s Historic Four Corners, because she always pulls me there when I let her decide which direction to walk.

I arrived at the jail shortly after 10. Already some people were there (it was to be open from 10 to 2). A gentleman told me I could just wander or have a guided tour. I thought a guided tour would be fun.

I was very impressed with the progress that’s been made in fixing the jail up. I had last been on a tour there some years ago (alas, pre-blog days). At that time the first floor still looked like part of an abandoned building. Now the walls looked clean, nice and finished, except where they purposely let prior walls show through.

The front part of the jail was the sheriff’s living quarters, I was told. The guide also showed me where the sheriff could peek through at the inmates, since the sections were separate. Two other ladies joined the tour. They asked when the jail had stopped being used as a jail. 1977, our guide said.

“Oh, we would have been here!” one lady exclaimed, and I believe she meant they would have been inmates. They were fun.

We saw some displays on the history of the jail and of its two most famous inmates, Roxalana Druse and Chester Gilette. Jim Greiner, author of Last Woman Hanged: Roxalana Druse was on hand with his book. One of the fun ladies bought the other a copy. I, of course, already have one (must do a blog post book report on it).

Jim offered to take us on a tour of the upstairs. We couldn’t go up to the third floor, where Druse was housed before she was hanged. We admired the beautiful ceiling in the bathroom, which was revealed, Jim told us, when the drop ceiling was removed. It was a high ceiling. It seems like in these older buildings the ceilings are either so high you couldn’t heat the room or so low tall people couldn’t stand up (I never have that problem).

When we went to the section with the cells I remembered it very well from the previous tour and from a couple of haunted houses the jail hosted.

“I remember being here,” I started to say.

“Oh, you were here all right,” one of the fun ladies said, alluding to my evil past (how did she know?).

Of special note in the women’s section was a beautiful claw foot bathtub which could not be removed, because they had built the walls and door around it. Another highlight was the cell which had housed Chester Gilette. Gilette had apparently received some special treatment during his stay at the jail. Pretty nice for a guy that tossed his pregnant girlfriend into the lake.

The fun ladies had to leave before seeing the basement, but I went down with my first guide (whose name I stupidly forgot to ask). I saw the kitchen, where they had uncovered the original fireplace that had been used for cooking.

I was so glad I had noticed the jail was open Saturday. And I’m very pleased that such efforts are being made to preserve such a fascinating piece of local history.