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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.


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