Court House IV
Life Span: 1853-1871
Location: LaSalle, Washington, Clark and Randolph Streets.
Architect: John M. Osdel
This Daguerreotype was taken on July 4, 1855, by Alexander Heser. Montgomery and Emmett Guards being addressed by John Wentworth. Note that the third floor and dome were not added yet (1858). The basement was above ground.
Is located in the centre of the square bounded by Clark, Randolph, La Salle, and Washington streets. It is constructed of stone brought from Lockport, New York, and was erected in 1848. The building is occupied by the various city and county courts, and also by the city government. The basement is used as the County Jail. A splendid view of the city and surrounding country may be obtained from the cupola, to which the visitor has access at any hour of the day. The erection of a City Hall is in contemplation for the exclusive use of the city offices.
1851 – Construction was started in September.
1853 – Completion and occupancy of the new structure.
1858 – Third floor and dome added to original building.
1869 – East and west wings added to original building.
Artist: Louis Kurz
Publisher: Jevne & Almini
Published: April 1866
Our view of the Court House is taken from the north-west corner of La Salle and Randolph streets, and unfortunately for the picture, from a point where a tree completely obscures the steps and entrance.
The style of the building is plain Italian, and the material is gray limestone, from Lockport, New York. At that time Chicago had not become fully informed that a better and handsomer stone was to be found in inexhaustible quantities at her own door.
The plan of the building is formed by a central one hundred feet square, having projections north and south, fifteen by sixty feet, and on each side similar projections, thirty-two by sixty feet—making the building from front to rear one hundred and thirty feet, and its breadth from east to west one hundred and sixty-four feet. The original building was completed in 1853, and comprised a basement (above ground) and two other stories. The basement, which was eleven feet high in the clear, was arranged for the county jail, sheriff’s offices, and city lockup, for which purposes, except the last, it is now used. The first story, sixteen feet high, contained a supervisors’ room, county court and clerk’s offices, office of recorder of deeds, debtors’ prison, jail hospital, mayor’s office, etc. The second story, twenty feet high, contained the circuit court room and city council room, each arranged with dome ceiling. The entrances, north and south, were approached by massive flights of stone steps twenty-two feet in length. The principal hall, fourteen feet wide, extends through the building, and is widened near the =centre, to admit two easy flights of stairs leading to the second story. The cost of the building originally was ninety-eight thousand dollars. John M. Van Osdell, Esquire, of Chicago, was the architect and superintendent; Peter Page, mason; John Sollitt, carpenter; F. Letz, iron worker; C. V. Dyer, F. C. Sherman, W. H. Davis, B. W. Everett, Joseph Filkins, and S. Anderson, building committee.
In 1856-7 the city of Chicago resorted to the necessary operation of raising the grades of the streets. The rise in adjoining streets was about five feet, when completed, left the Court House Square about that distance below the level of Randolph street. The filling of the Square put the basement half under ground, and destroyed the proportions of the building. In 1858, to meet these changes, a third story was added to the building, giving an additional height of twenty-five feet. A massive cupola was erected on the centre of the building, and a spiral iron starcase leading from the interior to the observatory balcony, the elevation of which is one hundred and twenty feet from the ground. The story is now occupied by the superior courts, the city council, law library, board of public works, and other city and county officers. The cost of the improvement was about eighty thousand dollars., including the improvements in raising the whole public square. A circular area surrounds the entire building with stone wall and iron railing. The building is admirably adapted for all purposes for which it was intended. The plan admits light from three sides into all the principal rooms, and from two sides in all the other rooms; and, considering that in the construction of the original building, as well as the addition and improvement, the architect was cramped by the most economical notions, he deserves great credit for his work. It is, perhaps, the best arranged and best built public building in the United States, of its size and material, constructed for the same amount of money.
The cut stone for the improvement was furnished by Messrs. Carpenter, of Lockport, New York. the mason work by N. Loberg, of Chicago; the carpenter work by Wilcox and Ballard, of Chicago, and Mr. J. M. Van Osdell was the architect and superintendent. The entire building is heated by steam.
There have been efforts made repeatedly to ornament the grounds around the building with trees and evergreens. Some few trees have struggled against adverse fate, and continue to put forth their verdure. There are four jets’-d eau, one near each angle of the Square. Unsuccessful attempts have been made, during many years, to induse the public to keep off the grass.
Previous to 1840, and for several years later, the courts and public offices of the city were held at various places, in rented apartment. In 1841 the courts were held in the brick building at the south-west corner of Wells and Randolph streets, which since then has been improved, and is now the Metropolitan Hotel. Subsequently, the county felt justified in building a Court House on the north-east corner of the Square, and a jail at the north-west corner; but those soon proved inadequate, and in time will have to give way, perhaps, to a marble edifice, covering the entire Square. The building is the property of Cook county.
James W. Sheehan
Andreas’ History of Chicago, Volume I, 1884
The splendid edifice was completed during the year 1853. The $111,000 expended upon it was borrowed upon the bonds of the county, having from seven to eighteen years to run, at ten per cent interest, payable semi-annually. Of this sum $60,000 was taken by R. K. Swift, of Chicago, the balance being furnished by Eastern capitalists. The walls of the structure were faced with gray marble, taken from the Lockport quarries, at a cost of $32,000. The building was three stories in height, with two domes and a cupola, the main part being one hundred feet square. There were projections from the north and south fronts, fifty by sixty feet each; also on the east and west fronts thirty-two by sixty feet each. As these projections were carried up the entire height of the building, its dimensions were one hundred and thirty feet north and south, and one hundred and sixty-four feet east and west. The stone steps at the north and south ends also added to the imposing appearance of the court-house, which covered an area of 17,000 square feet. In the basement of the building was the jail, and the jailor’s dwelling rooms, the Sheriff’s office, and the city watch-house. In the second story of the north and west corridors, were most of the city offices; the armory being in the east wing.
The Common Council room was in the third story, opposite the court-room. Its dimensions were fifty-six by sixty feet. The city arms surmounted the Mayor’s chair. The Court of Common Pleas first occupied the edifice in February. John M. Van Osdel was the architect and superintendent. This structure served the city until it was swept away by the great fire of 1871.
Photographer: John Carbutt, #17
Excerpted from Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1865
THE COURT HOUSE GALLOWS
In the extreme eastern corridor, a stairway leads to the floor above on which are the debtors’ and women’s rooms. Close beside this stairway is the trap door, through which the condemned will be allowed to fall. This trap is three feet and seven inches in its open width and five feet and three inches in length, affording sufficient and convenient space for two men to hang in the opening, without touching each other. Two trap doors, each hung by three strong hinges, meet in the centre, both very strong—solid as the surrounding floor. On the southern one of the two are arranged the triggers for slipping it, and this one; by a projecting edge, holds up the other. The triggers consist of of two levers of iron, each about one inch and a half in width, half an inch in thickness, and probably eighteen inches long. These work on pivots near the sides of the trap, and when the doors are set, project three-eights of an inch into steel guards at the sides. To the long ends of the two triggers, a cord is fastened, leading up through the floor to near the gallows frame, where it is looped ready for pulling. So delicate is the arrangement of these triggers that although the trap, when set, will bear the weight of all the men who can stand upon it, a pressure of half a pound upon the cord will allow the doors to fall.
On the sides of the trap, springs have been set to catch the door when they fall, and prevent their vibration, while at the ends, India-rubber packing will deaden the clashing noise and also hold them steadily in place. On the floor above stands the narrow hall, its ends resting on the casing of the doors of a room of the women’s prison on one side, and the debtor’s room on the other, is the gallows beam. It is the same beam from which depended Jackson (1857), Staub (1858) and McNamee (1859), the two former out on the prairie, the latter in the same place; and still are to be seen, standing out on its time-browned sides, the rusty bolts which formerly braced it to its supports or held in place the iron sheaves for the rope. From the beam, McNamee had his double fall, the rope breaking on the first attempt. Supporting it are two white pine supports, heavy scantling size, seven feet and six inches in length, from the floor up to the beam. The beam is directly over the trap, and a foot and a half on each side of the exact centre is bored a small hole through which will pass, from a solid knot above, the rope to the necks of the culprits, who will stand side by side upon the trap up to the moment of the opening. About four and a half feet of fall will be given to them quite enough for all practical purposes. Disagreeable as any portion of a prison always must be to inmates from necessity and not from choice, the events to-day will doubtless render this portion of the jail doubly horrible to the unfortunate women incarcerated here. Fifteen women and three debtors are upon this floor.
Image of a photograph of City Hall in Chicago taken in 1865 when the body of Abraham Lincoln was lying in state.
Chicago Daily News.
THE COURT HOUSE GHOST
Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1867
One night about six weeks ago, Deputy Sheriff Edward Langely was sitting at his watch in the office at the county jail. The prisoners had all been locked up in their cells long before, and most of them were fast asleep. The gas in the different wards was dim and indistinct. It was past 11 o’clock. The jail was hushed in stillness, save from one or two of the cells the noise of conversation was heard from those of the prisoners who had not yet gone to rest. The silence was oppressive, and rendered more so by the dull, heavy ticking of the clock which hung over the office desk. Now and then a rat, startled, scampered hastily across the floor. Suddenly there was a sound, of all sounds most unearthly and awful, that swept through the prison from one end to the other. Langley started and listened. All was still again. He listened long, but heard nothing, But he had not been mistaken—the sound had been too fearfully distinct for that. So he arose and went through the several wards to see whence the voice had proceeded. There was nothing, absolutely nothing. The gas still burned low and steadily. There was the sound of water dripping in the bath room, and of rats running helter skelter over the floor. That was all. The prisoners who were still up had ceased talking. They must be listening too. Langley inquired from them, and learned that they had heard the same strange noise. They were even more startled than he, and uneasiness was visible on the face of more than one. It was found that the sound had aroused the prisoners who had fallen asleep, nearly every one of whom was now awake and listening. Not a few of them were evidently frightened. Every one was listening with a painful, anxious interest. The same sound repeated itself soon after, and even more unearthly and distinctly. Anon it died away in a long, prolonged wailing that seemed pitiful to hear. So it continued until after midnight, repeating itself at irregular intervals.
Langley kept what he had heard to himself, for he was fearful that he might be laughed at for his trouble.
Two nights after he heard the sound again. He was sitting with Deputy Sheriff Merrill in the office when both were startled by a repetition of the same moaning, mysterious noise. The ward leading from the office terminates at the door of a vault, which is used as a water closet. The noise seemed to issue from this vault, and appeared to the listeners to proceed from a human being suffering from the direst agony. Langley believed that some one was in the vault,and he unlocked the door. As he did so the sound was heard, directly beneath the floor on which he was standing. Both he and Merrill paused, and that instant he heard in a tone which he says he will never forget, the words, “Oh, dear,” thrice repeated. Langley applied his ear to the floor, and immediately the sound was heard, louder and more frightful than ever from the eastern extremity of the jail. Langley and Merrill returned to the office and pondered, but with less and less satisfaction, upon what they had heard. The sound was repeated as before, at irregular intervals, during the first half of the night.
About a week after this Deputy Sheriff Tuttle and Simpson were on watch at the jail, when, about 10 o’clock, they both heard a repetition of the mysterious sound. It seemed to issue from the western end of the jail. Tuttle seized a light and traced the sound, as he supposed, to cell No. 18. He stationed himself at the door and was quietly listening, believing that one of the inmates of the cell had caused the sounds, when, as he stood, he heard the mournful wail directly under his feet, and so near to himthat he received a shock which he felt for many days after.
Since then the ghost, or spirit, to which the origin of the sounds was ascribed, has been the leading topic of discussion among the prisoners and other inmates of the building. Among the former the superstition is prevalent that the ghost of Fleming, who was hung nearly two years since, with Corbett, for the murder of Mahoney, haunts uneasily the place where he suffered the penalty of his awful crime. The effect on the various prisoners confirmed in the jail is very great. Very many of them are remarkably ignorant, and as a consequence are superstitious to the last degree. They all believe in the genuineness of the “ghost,” and make no concealment of the uneasiness which they feel regarding the mystery. Some of them assert that they have actually seen the spirit. One of them, a colored man named William Jones, says he awoke one night in his cell and saw the figure of a man hanging with a strap around his neck to the grating which opens into the ventilator from the ceiling. He says that the fright overcame him to such an extent that he fainted. Within the past few weeks the Deputy Sheriffs who have been on watch have on several nights been called to the cells of prisoners whom they found in paroxysms of fear and horror, asserting that the Presence had appeared to them.
George Hughes and George Phillips, who have occupied cell No. 28 for the last four weeks stated that every night since their confinement except two, they have heard the noises spoken of, though they have seen nothing. They describe the noises as something awful., They seemed to be the crics of some being in the most dreadful distress. At one timne they seemed to be directly opposite their cell, at another a long distance off, rising and falling alternately, awfully distinct at one time at another barely audible.
Joseph Sheldon, Charles Selinger, Powell Steinbeck and Henry Schoelle, have been confined in cell No. 32 for the last two weeks. Sheldon tells the following, which was attested to by his companions:
A week ago last Monday night, they all lay down to rest in the bunk at the back of the cell, and soon soon after they fell asleep. After sleeping they cannot tell how long, the presence of an indefinable something in the cell caused them all simultaneously to start from their sleep. Each felt a painful sense of oppression that was as mysterious to them as it was horrible. Neither was conscious of anything definite, and yet they were all aware aware of the proximity of a something which made them tremble with horror, and caused the perspiration to roll each of them like rain. As they sat up in bed, each too much frightened to utter a word, they felt a cold, rushing wind swept through the cell, chilling each to his very bones. at the same instant the cell door (the inner door, which is enclosed in a heavy outer door of wood), shook and rattled, seemed to swing violently open and then shut again. Then all was still. The four men set bolt upright, listening for several moments. But they heard no more. They lay down, wondering at the vague cause of their alarm, which they connected with the “ghost,” of which they had heard from their fellow prisoners. Every night since they have heard the peculiar moaning sound which has been noticed by every inmate of the jail.
Richard Rainforth, the life insurance conspirator, who has been confined in the jail for several months for contempt of court, stated that for the past six weeks heard strange noises in the wards outside of his cell. The noises were heard by him between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock at night. They were peculiar noises, a king of moaning. The sounds were so pitiful and so strange that he did not believe them to be human. At one time he heard the wall close to his cell; at another the sounds seemed to be fully two miles away; now it was loud enough to be heard through the entire prison, and now it fell suddenly into a low morning, which gradually died away only to be resumed after a short interval.
Last night the writer, in company with several prominent gentlemen of this city, repaired to the jail to await the recurrence of the mysterious sound. After waiting patiently, at 13 minutes of 10 o’clock, the ear heard a sound which seemed to proceed from the western end of the jail. Those who heard it hastened out into the ward, where for two hours they heard the sound repeated now faintly and again distinctly, now close at hand, overhead, underneath, seemingly from within the walls on either side, and again from the far off distance. At midnight the sound died away and was heard no more. It was a peculiar kind of moaning, like that described in the statements of the prisoners given above. One thing was certain; the sounds heard were of no human being. The y mnay be produced by the wind, ringing the changes of an Æolian harp in some portion of the building, but they are different, from those ever produced by a ventriloquist.
Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1867
THE COURT HOUSE GHOST
Supervisor Dolton, of the Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred the report inquiring whether the ghost now said to be haunting the Court House, is a county ghost or not, reported that they had taken the matter under advisement and come to the conclusion that it was not a county ghost, and that the Sheriff should be authorized to eject it.
The report on this important matter was referred back to the committee for further consideration.
Last evening there was a large attendance at the Court House. A majority of the visitors desired to see or hear “the Court House ghost.” An inveterate joker sold many of those who came within the precincts of the establishment by furnishing them with tickets of admission, which were of course “bogus.” Some of these tickets stated upon their face that they are good for this evening. It is but fair to inform the recipients that there is an outer door to the jail, and even a loud nock upon it can hardly be heard within the bailiwick of the “spook.” The jailer does not acknowledge any such passes.
Chicago Tribune, March 5, 1868
RETURN OF THE COURT HOUSE GHOST
Between one and two months ago the celebrated Court House ghost disappeared and there was an end to the moan and groans that had been sounding through the jail. Why it went no one knew. Some mourned over its departure, while others rejoiced. It appears now, however, that its departure was not a permanent one. On Saturday night it took up its old quarters in the jail and made as of old all sorts of unpleasant noises. During Sunday and Monday nights the ghost made more noise even than usual. Tuesday night the sounds were more subdued than on the two previous nights.
Hahn, one of the prisoners at the jail, states that he saw the ghost Monday night. It came to his cell and looked through the hole. The ghost’s head was covered with a black hood, while the remainder of its raiment was of a spotless white. Hahn had no conversation with the ghost, and it soon left.
While some may regret the return of the ghost, it is probably for the best that it should be here. It is well to have a standing ghost which we can show to friends from other cities. It will be another evidence of the enterprise of Chicago.
Courthouse with the county wings just added in 1870. One of the urn-like capstones of the new wings was removed by a wealthy souvenir collector named Seth Wadhams. The capstone now is displayed in the southwest corner of Wilder Park in suburban Elmhurst, IL.
The Courthouse IV
City of Chicago
Surveyed by Henry Hart
The Courthouse IV
The Inter Ocean, September 5, 1874
The stone walls of the old “County wing” are now all that is left standing of the old Court House building. These, too are being demolished; and those great, gray slabs that, if there ever were sermons in stones, must be crammed with discourses on the follies, guilt, and remorse of human kind, may soon be doing duty as plain paving stones, and with faces upturned will meet the gaze of passers-by with an open blankness almost as indicative of guiltlessness of knowledge of evil, and not unlike that which adorns the countenance of a Clark street roper about to take in an unexpected granger. Perhaps it is as well that in this era of sensations and scandals, those self-same, grimy, whitewashed slabs, with the indescribable odor of the prison yet clinging to them, are not gifted with tongues; yet to the reporter, doomed ever to be on the alert for items, and indeed is the reflection that it is impossible to interview such.
REPOSOTORIES OF SENSATIONS, HORRORS, AND HOMILIES.
In the years of their public service, the grated doors of those stone cells were locked upon more than 10,000 members of, and recruits for, what are vaguely styled the criminal classes—birds of prey in human form, besotted men, lost women, keen-witted knaves, and brutal; wretches, leering hags, and bright-eyed girls, the precocious products of Satan’s hot-beds of vice and the results of a life’s service with the devil; fools, unfortunater and guilty, who are the scourge, the pest, the terror of society, and to put whom out of the way jails, workhouses, penitentiaries, and scaffolds are built. And those grated doors have opened for them to go to the Bridewell of Penitentiary to take the higher degrees in their criminal course; they have opened that the prisoners might be set free, having served out their terms, or slipped through the meshes of the law only to go back into the world to be caught and caged again; and those grated doors have opened for the condemned wretch to go forth and reduce by one the member of the criminal classes, by being strangled at the rope’s end.
Cells remaining standing along the low corridor where in a space of less than twelve feet in the perpendicular, was built the scaffold from which Driver, the wife-murderer, was “launched into eternity”—in plain English, dropped from a trap on which he stood with his head touching the ceiling, with a running noose round his neck, and just short enough shrift of rope to keep his toes off the floor.
Near by is the cell which was occupied by Rafferty, to whom, as he was led out to his death, Driver, in horrible travesty of the misery that loves company, croaked the dismal warning:
PREPARE YOURSELF, YOU WILL FOLLOW ME
and the hulking, cowardly wretch to whom it was addressed, threw himself upon his berth and buried his head under the blanket, as though to shut out the echoings in his own conscience of those words of ill-omen. The cell in which Rafferty passed his last night in Chicago is still standing—the cell, the narrow limits of which, with fierce sullenness, he paced like a caged beast beset by thickening shadows of death, and, with all his savage instincts, longing as a trapped tiger might fo a chance to fight for his life. In the silent watches of the night, when iron nerves gave way and despair seized upon him, he dropped upon his knees there and prayed aloud, offering up, not the tearful supplications, glad through repentant, that comes from a contrite heart, but the abject petitions for mercy that brutal natures cringing before power superior to their utmost ever pour out. Sneak thieves, burglars, pickpockets, and ruffians in the other cells listened, and in the awful stillness broken only by his voice, shared the nameless horror that filled his soul when brought face to face with his Maker.
After his execution the more timorous of them nervously anticipated visitation from his
But his shade revisited not the darkened corridors to frighten or break their slumbers. In fact, the one thing in connection with the jail lacking to complete the melodramatic interest is a well-authenticated interest ghost—a ghost that could stand modern skepticism and be proof against scientific investigation. But ghosts of that sort are becoming rare nowadays. Once, indeed, the jail was haunted. After the execution in 1865 of Corbett and Fleming, who were hanged in the “old” jail, as the cells under the main building were styled, in the midnight gloom, the prisoners would wake conscience-stricken to listen to unearthly moans and wailings proceeding from the cell in which Cobbett and Fleming had passed their last night on earth. Night after night did these horrid sounds salute the ears of the inmates of the jail, till turnkeys and prisoners alike began to dread the approach of darkness, and the stoutest of the watchmen would feel cold chills running down his spinal column and his hair bristling with terror when the clock struck twelve. Not only were there those blood-curling wails to set one’s teeth chattering, but more than once had awe-stricken prisoner or watchman distinctly felt the icy-touch of the ghost as it fitted through the dimly-lighted halls on its nightly vigils. Yet no human eye had the ghost revealed itself, and the occupants of the jail were subjected to that most horrible of horrors, visitation from the other world by the unseen, yet felt and heard. After all the scientific tests had been exhausted, and it was ascertained that there were no cheat about it, and spells to lay the perturbed spirit had failed, somebody discovered that the noises all proceeded from the ventilators, being due to their peculiar construction and location. So the ghost was forever laid—a circumstance much to be deplored, since it hah had a most salutary effect upon prisoners and keepers alike.
They had their romances there, too, as well as their tragedies, did those jail birds, and those stone walls have been no strangers to
LOVE-MAKINGS AND MARRIAGES.
The turnkeys tell how when “Bill” Dunn, one of the most notorious of roughs and members of the swell mob (the same who attempted to jump his bail and was shot and recaptured by Roger Plant, his bondsman), made love to the sister of his cell-mate, an honest, handsome girl who visited the jail to see her brother. Ruffian, blackguard, and confirmed rogue as he was, Bill stole the girl’s heart, and the very day he departed for Joliet to serve out his sentence for robbery was, through the magisterial offices of Chief Justice Banyon, united in the bonds of holy matrimony to his cell-mate’s sister. Bill is in the Penitentiary doing the State service, and his wife is still in the city waiting patiently till he shall have paid the law’s penalty, when, as she has planned it all out in true wifely fashion, and tells him in her letters, couched in terms of simple, loving faith, they will seek a new home, where a new life, free from the taint of the prison, will open before them, full of happiness. And if there be the possibility of his redemption, such wifely love must redeem him.
In the jail, also, was Riley, another confidence man, under sentence to the penitentiary, married to “Topsy,” the Van Buren street pretty cigar girl. Riley went to Joliet after the wedding, where he has some three years yet to serve, and “Topsy” returned to her cigar store, and since then has passed out of sight—where, nobody knows, but the chances of her waiting in disconsolate grass-widowhood for her Riley to serve out his term are few and far between.
Other marriages, quite a number of them, have been celebrated in jail, and there doubtless will marriages be celebrated until jails are no more, for never a rascal gets into the lock-up but that some woman is interested in him. The worse the case against him, the more dedicated is the woman, as in the case of the notorious “Dr.” Earle, who was visited by throngs of women who vied with each other in their attentions to him. And invariably, if the prisoner be an uncommon rascal, there are several women interested in him, as whoever chooses may see for himself or herself by sitting in the jail office for a hour on visiting day,m and taking note of the crowd of young women and girls calling on the prisoners, always with some present, if only a piece of ginger bread or a clean handkerchief. The morning newspaper and the flash journals always figure prominently among the offering of the female devotees of the caged thieves and burglars.
Very different is it in this regard as to the women who get into jail. No long procession of anxious lovers are seen visiting day, waiting admission to present them with dainties for dinner, or clean linen, or pocket-money, or even kindly greeting. But perhaps that is because no really handsome woman ever gets in jail—there is always somebody ready to go bail for the appearance of a handsome woman, and as a rule the women who get into jail are blear-eyed hags, sodden-faced, and bloated whose destination is the work-house , and thence—the Potter’s field. The only handsome woman—that is, really handsome woman whom the guards and turnkeys agree was such—that ever was a prisoner in the cells under the old Court House was
who some years since shot her paramour, George Trussell, a well-known gambler in the ante-fire days. Even to this day the guards and turnkeys of that era, some of whom are grey-headedold fellows now, grow eloquent when they describe her lustrous eyes, her wondrous delicate complexion, her superb figure, and queenly carriage. “The handsomest woman ever in the jail or in any other jail, either,” the oldest of them told the reporter. Her rare beauty couldn’t keep her out of jail, for the indictment was for murder, which is not a bailable offense; but it saved her neck, and secured her pardon after she had been sentenced to the Penitentiary for one year. And now, in the Police Court of San Francisco, appears periodically in the dock among the chronic drunks and “boys,” a creature yet retaining some semblance to womanhood, who turns a bloated face toward the bench, and fixes her dull, blood-shot eyes on the Judge, when, in the list of prisoners, the name of “Mollie Trussell” is called.
As a rule, there have been few great criminals among the hundreds of women who have tenanted those cells; the worse that most of them had to answer for being petty thieving. The notable exception, however, is that of the
WICKEDEST WOMAN EVER IN JAIL,
as the officers of that institution have named Louisa Boyce, who was indicted for the murder of Calvert H. Johnson, before the fire, at No. 94 West Madison street, where he had taken lodgings of her. Johnson was found dead in his bed one morning, with nothing to indicate the manner of his death. A post motem was made, which disclosed nothing, and the remains were shipped to Cleveland, where his father lived. After a most elaborate post mortem examination was made, which established he had been killed by choking, and a blow or blows over the heart. The murdered man had on his person a large amount of bonds, some of which were traced to the possession of the woman Boyce. His family expended large sums to aid the Prosecuting Attorney in procuring testimony, employed distinguished counsel, and did all that money could do to bring punishment his murderers. But all their efforts were baffled by her coolness and cunning which they encountered at every step. Who killed Johnson, how it was done—it was impossible that the woman could have accomplished it alone—remain undisclosed to this day, though the jury found enough in the testimony criminating her to lead them to bring in a verdict of manslaughter, on which she was sentenced to the Penitentiary for five years.
of panel-house notoriety, was a handsome woman, too, with wickedly bright eyes and voluptuous figure; but Mollie’s charms were of the grosser sort, and her style, though invincible to country merchants come to town to replenish their socks and refresh their morals, was not such as would ensnare a city youth of ordinary discretion. Mollie was sent to the panel game, but being found to be enciente, was soon after pardoned, and since disappeared from the ken of the police.
Notwithstanding the vast mob of burglars, thieves, and ticket-of-leave men who sojourned there, but once was an escape effected from the wing of the jail now being demolished. That occurred in 1872, when Johnny Lee, William Bulger, Mike Galvin, and Ryan, as detailed by Jailer Stone, made a murderous assault upon him, secured the keys, and opening the jail door, walked out. There were so many apocryphal circumstances connected with this escape—as for instance, that each of the precious quartet had been furnished with heavy revolvers, that the jailor wasn’t seriously hurt, the delay in pursuit, and in raising the alarm, etc.,—that it is yet an open question whether the men, who were notorious desperados all, found the door opened for their exit, had only to walk out, or whether the terrific combat told of by the jailer ever occurred. It did them little good, however, Lee, Bulger, and Ryan returning to the city, were recently sent to the Penitentiary for long terms, and Galvin some months since was shot dead while committing a burglary at Detroit.
The only other occasion on which the jail doors were opened for the release en masse of the prisoners, was on the night of the great fire, when the only alternative being to leave them to roast or to free all except a few of the great criminals, the jail authorities had to turn loose ninety-five of them. How, despite this they were roasted and broiled in the burning jail can be learned in detail, with all the ghostly particulars, from the files of any country paper about that time. Many of them were subsequently arrested, but the destruction of the records generally made their prosecution impossible, and they went unpunished.
THE CELEBRATED CHARACTERS
in the annals of crime who passed through the jail are like the virtues of Tommy Dodd, “too numerous to mention.” There was Colonel Cross, the most skillful counterfeiter on the continent, whose adventures alone would fill a volume; and Barron, the railroad gang thief; Tuttle, the bank robber; Maggie O’Brien, and latter the “pretty little frauds” of the West Side, in the shop-lifting line, Charles Allen and Hattie Allen, “pals” of Mollie Knox in the panel game; the murderers Pertreet, Peri, Driver, Stoup, McNamara, Fleming, Corbett, and Hopps, the wife-murderer, who had several trials and was finally acquitted on the ground of “emotional insanity.” Besides these there were those other criminal notabilities, the aldermen, against whom the indignation was turned, not because they were especially worse thieves than aldermen were before, and have been since, but because the people who, after the fire, had nothing left which thieves could steal, grew indignant at the thought of what had been stolen and “went for” the thieves who had plundered when they (the people) had something to be plundered of. If the curious observer can yet discover among, the ruins where cells 45, 46, and 47 stood, there he may know is where the convicted aldermen passed their hours of penance and formed virtuous resolves, that when they stole again they would take care not to be caught.
Nor should it be omitted in reckoning the most celebrated of the celebrities, those guiltless ones, the little innocents
BORN IN JAIL
of whom there were several, the latest being a lusty, chubby-faced fellow, handsome as handsome could be, as the female prisoners united in declaring. His mother was a deserted wife, who stole rather than starve, and, of course, straightaway fell in the clutches of the outraged law, and was made an example of. Happily after the expiration of her sentence she found friends who aided her to an honest living, and to-day both mother and child enjoy as bright prospects as though the prison gloom had fallen on neither.
Then, despite bolts and bars and guards, there were those who escaped,
CREATED JUSTICE OF HER DUE,
set judges and juries at naught, eluded remorse and shame, and sought refuge all human laws forever in death. There was Greene, the wife-poisoner, who was wont, in the discharge of his duties as a “trusty,” to go through the corridors smiling, and with a hop-skip-and-a-jump, like a glad-hearted schoolboy, who one night swung himself off his bunk with one end of his handkerchief tied in the grating and the other about his neck, and whose toes were within am inch of the floor when his remains were cut down the next morning. That was twenty-two years ago. Twenty years later, Woodward, arrested for felonious assault, hanged himself in the samne manner in cell 6. There was another, a young man who came to the city ion his wedding tour, fell into the hands of the three-card monte man, was plundered of all, and in sheer desperation robbed a till, was caught in the act, and was, of course, seized upon remorselessly by blind justice. There was yet others of whom, if the reader fancies entertainment of that sort, the veteran turnkeys will talk by the hour, telling how they “croaked,” and how in the morning, with blackened faces and starting eyes and protruding tongues, they were found stark and cold.
But of all the tragedies, in all their horrible realism, enacted within those walls, who can write the history? The crumbling brick and mortar that is being carted away inclosed a little world of itself—a world filled with guilt, as is the great world outside bolts and bars, and peopled by men and women sharing the weaknesses and follies and wickedness common in all ages, to all men and women, only in varying degree, dependent more perhaps upon accidental surroundings than on all else. And those same sins and follies to which the old jail was a monument, will outlive all monuments and histories.
West Entrance to the Court House after the Fire
Copelin & Hine, 1871