Sing Sing Prison Museum

Sing Sing Prison Museum (Ossining, New York)

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Sing Sing Your Life!
July 19, 2003

Since I had recently read the book Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House I decided that when I visited New York, I had to stop by Sing Sing and see the infamous prison for myself.  I knew that there was a derelict section which comprised the original 1825 prison block, and that was what I most wanted to see.  I also knew that it was inside the prison complex so I probably wouldn’t see much anyway.  But still… I had to pay a visit.

The town of Sing Sing isn’t called Sing Sing anymore – it’s called Ossining.  The boring people who live there changed the name to try and separate themselves from that infamous prison.  Of course, I don’t get that at all.  You’d think they’d want to celebrate their morbid claim to fame?  But then again, I’m “different” from most people.

Anyway, I drove around the prison, which is situated in a lovely location along the bank of the Hudson River, and took a few photographs. I didn’t realize at the time that taking photographs of active prisons is a no-no! I found that out when I got yelled at by a mean man up in a tower. I kinda figured that, you know, all the historic marker signs in the area meant that it was a historic place that we could document, but I guess that was my naivety showing.  In any event, I got a few shots in before he doused my fun with ice cold water just like they used to do to prisoners in the shower baths!

After I finished my abbreviated prison documentation, I drove up to the Ossining Visitor Center (aka the Caputo Community Center), where they have a little exhibit dedicated to the prison.  I have to admit, the exhibit disappointed me. There was a recreation of a modern prison cell, a replica of the infamous electric chair Old Sparky (dammit, I want my electric chair replete with the sizzled blood of the condemned on it!), and some exhibits showing old illustrations and photographs of the torture techniques perfected inside.  Two authentic displays were an iron door from one of the original 1820’s prison cells, and a display of shanks that had been confiscated from prisoners. Truly a study in human ingenuity!

There’s talk these days of turning the power house at Sing Sing into an expanded prison museum, and my fingers are crossed that this comes to fruition because Sing Sing deserves better than this little display.

Mount Hope Cemetery

Mount Hope Cemetery (Rochester, New York)

Karen sends the following recommendation:
“Check out Mt. Hope Cemetery if you’re ever in Rochester, NY. It is a very large and beautiful cemetery with a number of notable residents and some very interesting grave markers. If I remember correctly, there are guided tours every weekend during the summer and fall, including when the leaves start to change color.”  Indeed, the Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery offer free tours every Sunday afternoon at 2 and 3 pm from May to October. Special tours are also offered throughout the tour season.

North Brother Island

North Brother Island (New York City, New York)

From urbanlens: “At first it seems the island is nothing but an oasis greenery in the East River. Then you notice the buildings and smokestacks poking through the mess of vines and trees. These are the remains of a complex of buildings that once housed unfortunate victims of the most hideous contagious diseases of the 19th and 20th centuries, including tuberculosis, typhoid fever and smallpox. When these diseases were tamed, the island found a new use as a home for troubled and drug-addicted youth, but the program proved unsuccessful and funding for it vanished. After the program closed in the 1950s, the island was abandoned, and quickly claimed again by nature. Today the island is an informal sanctuary for birds. One must be cautious of the nests of eggs hidden on the ground in the dense growth covering the island. The birds have a truly fascinating home- an unpopulated island in the middle of New York City. An island once home to the infamous Typhoid Mary, an island that bore witness to a horrifying nautical disaster – the wreck of the General Slocum, and an island that occasionally has harbored escaped convicts from nearby Riker’s Island.” (Thanks to Kathleen for the suggestion.)


The Jekyll and Hyde Club

The Jekyll and Hyde Club (New York City, New York)

Recommended by Burleyque: “The Jekyll and Hyde Club in New York is aimed at kids, but its still very morbid, decorated with rotting skeletons, specimens, framed anatomical and insect drawings, talking gargoyles, ghostly widows, TVs playing old b&w scary movies and a bar on every floor for adults to ‘get into the spirit’ (and they’re watched over by deceased bartender ‘Max Gorey’ : “He served Dr. Jekyll and his companions for years, mixing such potent drinks as the ‘Cerebral Hemorrhage’ and the ‘Spine Smasher’. Max perished in an unfortunate blender accident. In the words of club member Lucifer Garrotte, ‘Max was a good bartender, but he was a great Daiquiri.'”  It’s the kind of sick place I’d take my kids if I had any, and I’d take my friends kids just to try and corrupt them.”

Apparently the same company has a couple of other bars in the city and a dance club.


Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood Cemetery (New York City, New York)

From Wikipedia: “Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in 1838 as a rural cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, several blocks west of Prospect Park. In the New York Times it was said to be the “ambition of the New Yorker to live upon the Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the Central Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood”. Inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where a cemetery in a naturalistic park-like landscape in the English manner was first established, Green-Wood was able to take advantage of the varied topography provided by glacial moraines. The cemetery was the idea of Henry Evelyn Pierrepoint, a Brooklyn social leader. It was a popular tourist attraction in the 1850s and was the place most famous New Yorkers who died during the second half of the nineteenth century were buried. It is still an operating cemetery with approximately 600,000 graves. The rolling hills and dales, several ponds and an on-site chapel provide an environment that still draws visitors. On weekends cars are allowed on cemetery grounds. There are several famous monuments located there, including a statue of DeWitt Clinton and a Civil War Memorial. During the Civil War, Green-Wood Cemetery created the “Soldiers’ Lot” for free veterans’ burials.” Suggested by Kathleen.


General Slocum Memorial

General Slocum Memorial (New York City, New York)

Kathleen recommends this memorial to a horrible riverboat fire which killed over 1,000 people in 1904: “The next time you’re in NYC you may want to stop by the General Slocum memorial in Tompkins Square Park. After the Slocum fire the entire East Village neighborhood changed radically. Most of the hundreds of children who died in the fire were the children of local German immigrants, and the surviving families, stricken with grief, moved en masse either uptown to Germantown or left the city entirely.”