A little more than a century ago, a horrendous description of an Adirondack village appeared in newspapers, including the Mail and Express published in New York City. At issue was the placement of a yet-to-be-built tubercular sanitarium. Feelings ran so high at the time, you’d swear they were selecting the next Supreme Court justice. But taking sides is nothing new, as proved by use of the written word back then to describe one of the candidate locations. As you’ll see, it’s hard to believe they were talking about the same place. [Read more…] about The Most Negative Sales Pitch Ever: An Adirondack Story
clinton correctional facility
Prison In the Woods: Environment & Incarceration in Northern NY
The Adirondacks in Northern New York covers approximately 5,000 square miles. Widely known for its natural beauty, recreation opportunities and tourism, it may surprise many of those travelers to learn that the Adirondacks’ trails and amenities are intrinsically connected to New York’s carceral history.
In A Prison In the Woods: Environment and Incarceration in New York’s North Country (Univ. of Mass. Press, 2020), Clarence Jefferson Hall Jr. traces the planning, construction, and operation of penitentiaries in five Adirondack communities – Dannemora, Ray Brook, Gabriels, Lyon Mountain, and Tupper Lake – between 1840 and the early 2010s to show the intersections between the environment and mass incarceration.
Hall’s own personal history adds an interesting aspect to his narrative. His father worked for the New York prison system from 1973 to 1998, mostly at the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. He states that “the rhythms of the prison system became natural to our family, just as they did for so many other families in towns and villages across the Adirondacks.” [Read more…] about Prison In the Woods: Environment & Incarceration in Northern NY
Taffy Dumbleton: Troy’s ‘Terror of the Town’
You could see Charles F. Dumbleton coming for blocks. Although he wasn’t exactly well-dressed, he held his head high and had a swagger that said “I’m coming to YOU.” This despite his uncertain gait, a limp supported by his ever present crutches, which confirmed from a distance it was Taffy – the name given to one of the most notorious men in the city of Troy in the mid-nineteenth century.
He wasn’t always notorious. He had built that reputation over years of street fights, petty thievery and bullying his betters. He was a frequenter of bawdy houses, a bartender, a saloon operator, a gambler and political operative. He was one of the leaders of a band of men. Newspapers and night watchmen called them a gang – “a terror of the town,” but loyal friends on the make is a more accurate description. [Read more…] about Taffy Dumbleton: Troy’s ‘Terror of the Town’
The 1892 Troy Murder of William Wesson
On the evening of June 27, 1892, in a St. John’s Street boarding house in South Troy, New York, 66-year-old Thomas Jones was nearing the end of a three-day bender. He was fond of drawing a .32-caliber pistol and showing it off, something Jones had done repeatedly that day, much to the alarm of others. He hadn’t been on the job for several days at the Burden iron works, and had argued repeatedly with a coworker and co-resident of the boarding house, 22-year-old William Wesson, even offering to fight him in a duel. It was dismissed as nothing more than the ramblings of an old, annoying drunk. [Read more…] about The 1892 Troy Murder of William Wesson
Gerald Chapman: Clinton Prison Alum, America’s First ‘Super-Crook’
Near the end of his twenty-two-year career, Gerald Chapman’s several reputations came together in headlines touting him as a Spectacular Mail Bandit, Jail Breaker, and Criminal Extraordinaire. But above all, he was most often referred to as a “super-crook,” placing him beyond the level of most American criminals, one whose exploits were followed closely by the public. A worldwide manhunt finally resulted in his capture in 1925, but a decade earlier, he had done hard time at Clinton Prison.
Chapman, whose real name was believed to be George Chartres, or Charters, first ran into trouble in New York in 1908 and served a three-year stint in Sing Sing. After release, he was again arrested for grand larceny, and in January 1912 returned to Sing Sing, this time for ten years. As a brilliant criminal, and a handful to keep track of in any prison, he was sent north to the state’s most secure facility, Clinton Prison at Dannemora, where he quickly assumed a gang leadership position. As the source of many problems for guards and administration, he was finally relegated to an isolation cell, which at Clinton offered a very stark existence. [Read more…] about Gerald Chapman: Clinton Prison Alum, America’s First ‘Super-Crook’
Dannemora Escapee Jack Williams: At First, Too Big to Succeed
The one-year anniversary of the infamous Dannemora prison break recently passed, so here’s the story of an inmate linked to a pair of unusual breakouts, excerpted from my book, Escape from Dannemora.
Despite media stories claiming early on that Richard Matt and David Sweat were the first-ever escapees from Clinton Prison, some in the past did it in even more spectacular fashion, and overall, hundreds managed to escape under various circumstances. Among them was Jack Williams, a participant in two Clinton exits involving unusual components featured in no other Dannemora escapes. [Read more…] about Dannemora Escapee Jack Williams: At First, Too Big to Succeed
The Dannemora Prison Break of 1928
On July 29, 1928, Herbert R. Mackie, an inmate at what was then known as Clinton Prison (today called the Clinton Correctional Facility) in Dannemora was being escorted to a practice session for the prison’s band. He told an officer that he had forgotten something, and asked for permission to return to his cell. He was not seen again by prison staff for six weeks.
He was not at liberty during most of that time, however. He was still within the facility, busily digging a tunnel that would be a key part in what seems to have been a carefully planned plot for Mackie to escape the prison with fellow inmate Otto Sanford. [Read more…] about The Dannemora Prison Break of 1928
The Dannemora Prison Break and Extreme Tourism
The hunt by law enforcement officials for two escaped convicts from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora became a nonstop reality show in the media. For several weeks, each and every movement of the convict hunters was chronicled. When one was killed and the other wounded and captures, the show was over. So was the economic windfall. [Read more…] about The Dannemora Prison Break and Extreme Tourism
Chicken Theives: History’s Low-Down Dirty Crooks
Among the several dozen correctional institutions in New York State, Dannemora (officially Clinton Correctional Facility) is the largest maximum-security prison. It is located in northern Clinton County, where the cold winter weather led to a variety of nicknames incorporating the word “Siberia.” It is also known as home to the worst of the worst, housing many of our most dangerous criminals.
For more than 160 years, the North Country’s famous lockup has confined inmates guilty of the most heinous crimes: murder, rape, arson, assault, bank robbery, serial killing … and chicken theft.
Chicken theft? About now, you might find that cool Sesame Street song going through your head: “One of these things is not like the others ….” But any crime is serious, especially if you’re the victim, and the seriousness of stealing chickens was once elevated in stature for a few reasons. [Read more…] about Chicken Theives: History’s Low-Down Dirty Crooks