(Revamping the blog. Please excuse the odd headings. Working on it!)

Writing History & Mysteries

When I'm not delving into historical research, I'm planning a character's demise.

Friday, April 17, 2015

J is for JAIL

The brick building behind the monument to the left is the
clerk’s office. To the left of that (white building)  is the
jail. The illustration is from F. W. Beers, History of
Wyoming County (1880).
Sheriff Day entered the cell on Sunday, November 20, 1892, expecting to see James Collins. The sheriff had made arrangements to move Collins the next day to Auburn Prison, but he wasn’t to be found. The sheriff had originally planned to move him Saturday but decided to wait because the prisoner was allegedly not feeling well. After his court appearance the previous Thursday he felt faint and complained of heart pain. He was given some medicine which he said made him feel better and Collins said he hoped he would feel better by Monday. Because of his alleged weakened condition Sheriff Day postponed his transport to Auburn Prison. Collins escaped alone in the wee hours of the morning.
Village of Warsaw, NY 1861
A push broom that had been lying outside his cell on Saturday morning came up missing. With the use of his makeshift tools he pried up the floor boards underneath his cot. It was either luck or knowledge from former jail guests that this was an area that had been worked before and never fixed properly. A previous prisoner had made extensive headway cutting through joists of 12” x 12” timbers to make a larger crawl area. Nothing was done to fix that other than to replace the floor boards over top. This is an entirely different side of the lower floor of the jail than Robinson and Redner began cutting through in January of the same year.

Collins then tunneled nine feet and dug through the foundation wall which the newspapers described as, “seven feet of poorly constructed concrete masonry.” He stored the rubble under his cot and mattress which hadn’t been checked since Tuesday when they gave him a new mattress.  All of this he managed in only four days.

A year passed and on December 13, 1893 during the Board of Supervisors Annual Meeting, Mr. Matthews moved, “… that the county assume the responsibility and liability of the payment of the reward offered by E. A. Day sheriff, for the apprehension of James Collins, who escaped from the Wyoming County Jail, Nov. 19th, 1892.” The motion was carried. The man who called himself James Collins was never caught. Of course, clever and charming as he was, he no doubt reinvented himself with a new name and a new identity, as many of them did. 

Stay tuned for more history tidbits throughout the month of April!

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