Monday, September 22, 2008

A skeleton in the closet?

During a mental meandering while replying to a comment a while back, I mentioned that my maternal grandmother grew up in the Ohio Penitentiary. I am told that some of her playmates were, in fact, also inmates and guests of the state of Ohio.

(From Google Images)

Evidence abounds, though not unequivocal, of this fact. Between my mother's home and mine there are more than a few family heirlooms that at one time belonged to grandma Gertrude, gifts to her crafted by obscure and unnamed convicts.

One item in my possession is a crystal radio constructed out a small snuff box or perhaps compact. My mother has on the mantle above her fireplace a pair of brass candelabras forged in the pen's own foundry and stamped with an "R" for the family name, Reed.

What offense did she commit to find herself on the inside? Nothing. Her father, the Reverend Thomas Reed, was the chaplain for the Ohio Penitentiary in the late 1920s and, so I'm told, she would sometimes accompany him to his "office" though I personally find this improbable if not impossible.

I enjoy history and so I queried my mother about her grandfather. When was he employed there? How long did he stay? Whatever happened to him?

The answers to those questions disappeared a generation or two ago. As my mother puts it, "We didn't talk about Grandpa Reed." He got caught with his hand in somebody elses cookie jar and for a Presbyterian minister back then (or any reverend for that matter) that was an invitation to a new vocation - or at least a new location!

Gertrude as a child with her mother and father, Lucile and the Rev. Thomas Reed

The Ohio Penitentiary was built in 1834 and finally closed in 1984. Ten years later the site was sold to the city of Columbus and now the parking lot for the Nationwide Arena, home to an NHL hockey team covers the site.

The surrounding acres are covered with buildings with apartments for rent and whose landlords command $900 for a studio, 1 bath to $2,000 for 2 bedroom 2 bath townhouse every month for those that call them home.

Mom has a piece of Columbus limestone that was once mortared into part of the east wall of the penitentiary and she keeps it near some other collectibles because its part of her mother's history. The only difference between this chunk of limestone and any other is a piece of paper telling of its history and certifying it authenticity. A very capital way to own a piece of the past.

Interesting? Perhaps. That, along with 8 bits, will get you a cup of coffee. A small coffee from one of the shops in the district that once housed the Ohio Penitentiary.


Conchscooter said...

Puts me in mind of Mrs Soffel, which I grant you was set in Pennsylvania I think, but close enough, in movie making terms to Ohio. I think. Which is my way of not commenting on the reverend with the cookie jar.

Doug C said...

I'd say you skillfully maneuver that potential minefield with nary a scratch!

irondad said...

A colorful history is always so much more fun, don't you think? Of course, I'm an outlaw at heart.

Doug C said...

Irondad - Just imagine the stories your grandkids and their kids will be telling! It's a great thing you're doing, adding color to the family history.