The Ohio State Penitentiary was an American prison which was operated for one hundred and fifty years, between 1834 and 1984. The prison which housed more than five hundred prisoners was built in Columbus at a place referred to as the Arena District. The prison conditions have been infamously described as “primitive” and “inhumane”. Credible sources show that in April 1955, the prison housed about five thousand two hundred and thirty-five prisoners, an all-time high. A majority of the prisoners were removed from the facility in 1972 (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction the Ohio Penitentiary – History, n.d.). The Penitentiary held famous inmates such as O. Henry, General John Morgan and Sam Sheppard. Eventually, the prison walls were brought down in the year 1998. This paper serves as a short research study of the Old Ohio State Penitentiary during the 1930-1950s period. This report covers details of the prison’s conditions, events and architectural building plan.
An Architectural and Planning View of the Prison
The original plan that formed the architectural design base for the development of the Old Ohio State Penitentiary plan was drawn by master architect John Haviland. In John Haviland’s plan for the prison structure, the prison comprised of seven blocks that spanned from a central rotunda. The radial plan allowed a single guard standing at the rotunda’s centre great vision spanning all the cellblock corridors. The prison plan also had decorative flourishes similar to those found in traditional churches. Such decorative items included turrets, barrel vaults and balusters made of cast iron. Below is an architectural and planning view of the Eastern State Penitentiary as shown on the Appendix website which served as the model for the construction of the Old Ohio State Penitentiary.
Below is a representation from the Old Historical Society website, of the complete building structure of the Old Ohio State Penitentiary.
The Fire of April 1930
One of the most unforgettable of occurrences in the history of the United States of America is the fire of the Old State Penitentiary of 21st April 1930. The carnage occurred on an Easter Monday, mercilessly claiming the lives of about 322 inmates. The fire had begun in the form of a candle flame on the “West Block” rooftop near Neil Avenue. The prison authorities later on claimed that three prisoners on an escape mission were responsible for the incident (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction the Ohio Penitentiary – History, n.d.). The prisoners had lit the candle flame to burst forth at half past four, but the same smoldered for so long that it eventually erupted at 5.30 p.m. The gates and walls of the prison were impassable, and as such the prisoners in the cells of the affected block couldn’t escape.
According to Lore, a newspaper reported in the following morning after the night of 21st April 1930, “Gambling their lives against gunfire in a bold stroke to beat the electric chair, Charles Makley and Harry Pierpont, famed Dillinger aides, lost in an escape attempt at the Ohio Penitentiary Saturday…like their gang chieftain, they attempted to bluff their way with fake pistols. They fell under a stream of lead, less than 100 feet from the cells which they have occupied the past five months.” (Lore, 1984). It is believed that one of the most famous prisoners at the Old State Penitentiary, Harry Pierpont was executed in an electric chair on October 17th, 1934 (Dillinger Gang`s Buried Loot Still An Alluring Legend, 1988).
Conditions in the Penitentiary
History has it that during the 1930s, the prison was not