Mayor launches civic dialog on the museum potential of Auburn's role in correction history and contacts NYCHS to discuss historical information and perspectives. The Citizen publishes a story and NYCHS letter's about it. The mayor thanks and updates NYCHS.
Excerpts from TheCitizen story of Jan. 13, 2002:
Mayor renews idea for museum of nation's penal system
[by] Craig Fox
AUBURN - Back in the 1800s, people were so fascinated with what life was like inside the old Auburn Prison they plunked down a quarter to go in and watch the prisoners.
Instead, Carnicelli would like to see the city open a prison museum in Auburn based on the facility's 186-year history.
Without a formal proposal at this point, Carnicelli said she would like the city to examine the feasibility of a prison museum project. Carnicelli unveiled her plans as part of a list of ideas she would like to work on this year.
"It's in the embryonic stage. It's an idea that I had in my head, and something that I would like the city to begin discussions on," Carnicelli said. . . .
Carol Kammen, the Tompkins County historian and a lecturer at Cornell University, gave Carnicelli the idea. In two recent visits to Auburn, Kammen has talked to the mayor about a prison museum.
Last month, Kammen gave a lecture at Willard Chapel about the importance of developing local historic sites, in which she mentioned using the prison as bait for tourists to complement the Harriet Tubman house, Willard Chapel and the Seward House, she said.
"You have one thing that no one wants to talk about and it's right in front of you. It's this white elephant that could be turned into an opportunity," Kammen said.
She suggested the museum have a "campy" atmosphere featuring historic pieces that would "fascinate and show the awful," Kammen said. "It would show how we've progressed over time and how prisons changed. It would have marvelous, oddball things that would be a wonderful draw."
City resident John Miskell, a retired deputy superintendent for programs at the facility from 1947 to 1980, likes the idea. "It's one of the oldest institutions in the city, and it contributed to the growth of the city in many, many ways," Miskell said. . . . .
As part of her research, Carnicelli also called Thomas McCarthy, general secretary of the New York Correction History Society, a group devoted to promoting the state's correction history. McCarthy, former public information officer for the [NYC] corrections department, welcomes the mayor's idea.
McCarthy said . . . Other communities have developed the same kind of museums. The New York Corrections Academy in Albany has a collection of artifacts in a small room on display, including the electric chairs from Sing Sing and Clinton prisons.
The village of Ossining in Westchester County has space in a visitors center with artifacts from Sing Sing, McCarthy said. Because Greenwich Village was the site of the first state prison, New York City is also interested in developing a museum, McCarthy said.
"But you have a great story in Auburn," McCarthy said. "There's the strong connection with the Auburn System and to prison reform."
The idea for a prison surfaced when local leaders lobbied for it after a prisoner of war camp was built along Owasco Lake for British soldiers during the War of 1812, he said. The lobbying worked, and it ended up the second prison in the state system, preceding even the more well-known Sing Sing Prison, McCarthy said.
Mary and Mike Dwyer, former owners of Swaby's Kangaroo Court, had a museum of sorts at the North Street bar. Swaby's included a simulated death chamber. He still owns about 10,000 documents, photos and memorabilia from the prison. . . .
"When she's getting things together for the museum and wants something to complete the collection, have her give us a call," Dwyer said.