Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Visit to the Tombs.

Reprinted from New York Herald, December 22, 1868.

A Visit to the Tombs.

An Interview with the Prisoners Committed for murder—What They Say and Think—Drink and Bad Company the Pathway to the Gallows—Pistol, Knife and Stiletto Freely Used.

The Tombs (NYPL)
The Tombs of New York has become as familiar to the people of America s the Bastille of Paris to the people of France. There the contrast ends. Once in the living tomb of the Bastile the victim might exclaim with Sterne’s Starling, “I can’t get out, I can’t get out;” for the grave was the only release to the poor victim of some petty tyrant’s hate whom a lettre de cachet swept from his path.

How different in the Tombs! Though human laws and the good society demand the punishment of criminals, it is divine to temper justice with mercy and kindness, and this, it is believed, is done there. The prisoners are treated kindly, allowed to partake of the sympathy of their friends, and even more substantial favors.

The exterior of the Tombs is massive, gloomy and imposing. Its interior, though watered with bitter tears of remorse and regret, is clean, orderly and well kept. At present it contains about 250 inmates, charged with various crimes, form simple drunkenness up to the high crime of murder.


The keys turned harshly in the bold and an iron door swung slowly back on the hinges, admitting to the men’s prison. The gates of Dante’s Inferno never treated more harshly upon its victim’s ears than these have upon many a hardened criminal’s. They were barriers that closed them in form the frenzied excitement of rude enjoyments of bacchanalian allurements.

This wing of the prison id divided into three tiers rising above each other. A flight of metal stairs leads to the second tier, where the prisoner for murder are confined the Cells are about eight feet by ten, with a grated iron door in front.


John Real who is charged with the murder of officer Smedick, in First avenue, last July, is a smart an rather intelligent looking young man. He states that he is twenty-eight years of age. He is of medium height, rather good looking and sports a very nobby mustache. John was well dressed, too, and keeps his cell scrupulously clean and neat. He has converted old newspapers int covers and carpets and thus tries to shut off the bareness of bare walls and floor. Some pictures, including a Madonna, hang on the walls, while several books lay upon a kind of shelf. He also had sharing his captivity a bull pup called Spot. Spot appeared as little please with prison life as his master, for he frequently jumped against the iron door. “Spot is great comfort to me.” Says the prisoner, in reply to some remark of mine; “he plays with me and keeps me form thinking, and you know that is a great relief.”

He talked freely about the murder of Smedick, says the public has heard only one side of the question and that he shot him in self-defense; that he had persecuted the prisoner and boated that if he ever got a chance he would kill him (Real). He even went so far as to try and get him discharged form several employments. He says that Smedick swore false against him before, when he charged him with attempting to fire at him. How it was he was with a party in Cook’s saloon; one of the party reported to Smedick that Real had a pistol to shoot him. Smedic rapped for other officers, and Real left the back way and gave himself up at the station house.

He was walking up first avenue last July somewhat under the influence of drink; when he approached the deceased he drew hid club as if to strike him. Some angry words passed between them when he shot the deceased. Real appears to be a young man who was given to sociable company. Thought there is nothing bad in his appearance, he is evidently impulsive and one who would resent injury.


Cell 64 is occupied by a German named Geprge Reinhardt, accused of being am accomplice of Gertrude Pfeiffer in the murder of her husband Jacob Pfeiffer. The prisoner is an old man, of a mild appearance, and anything but the picture of a gay Lothario. He speaks little or no English, and all we could get out of him was an expression, “Me no kill no man.”


John Carson occupies cell 61. He is charged with the murder of his wife, Rebecca Carson, in West Thirty-eighth street, on the 21st of November. John attributes all to whiskey. He says he did not kill her; that on the day of her death he had returned from work about six o’clock and found the door of the room closed. He called in a neighbor and opened the door; does not recollect what happened afterwards. He was very drunk at the time. His wife was seldom sober and had pawned her clothes at the time. Some little time before $300 was stolen from her while drunk. “Drink,” says he, “was all the trouble; drink brought her to her grave and me here.” Carson is not a hardened looking man. He is evidently an unfortunate victim of the base vice of drunkenness and is naturally passionate. He is about forty years of age, wears large, full whiskers and is not bad looking.


In cell No. 64 we found Patrick Kerrigan, charged with killing Eliza Tracy, at No.. 14 Mulberry street, on the 25th of October. Thought Eliza was not Patrick’s lawful wife, he eschewed all ceremonies and lived with her as such for two years. They occasionally had a jolly time of it and now and then followed the example of married people, and quarreled. Quarrels will come to blows, and the fair Eliza came to her death on the 2th of October. Patrick was drunk at the time and, of course, knows nothing of how it occurred. She was also drunk when she died, and burned herself to death in Patrick’s belief. He is a middle aged man, with rather a sinister, dissipated look, who evidently imbibed hughly in his day.


Donato Magaldo, an Italian, occupies cell NO. 52, charged with the murder of John Ryland on the 4th of July. He and deceased quarreled on the day mentioned. After separating prisoner followed deceased and stabbed him in the back, killing him instantly. Magaldo is of strong, wiry build, dark complexion and hair, with a heavy mustache.


Cell No. 51 is occupied by Patrick Riely, charged with killing his wife on the 15th of last November. “Well, Riely, how to you feel?” we asked, by way of introduction. “Begor, glorious, sir; happy as a lord, for I am innocent.” “So you did not kill your wife?” “sorra a bit, sir. This is how it happened:—I went hoe one Saturday night a little tight myself, to be sure, and I found her dead drunk on the floor. I went to bed and she went out again, and when I woke up next day she was stretched on the floor; so I took and puts her on the bed, and in the morning when Mrs. Rice brought in a cup of tea to her she was stone cowld.” As Patrick would be admitted to bail if he could find sufficient bail, there may be some truth in his statement.


Cell 59 is occupied by John Siebert, charged with killing Jacob Stellwagen on the 18th of August. He lived in Fourteenth street, between avenues B and C; Stellwagen kept a saloon; was in there; recollects something about a quarrel, but was so drunk that he cannot say how it happened. He is rather a smart looing young man, with curled hair and is good looking. Whiskey and company keeping brought him into trouble.


Robert Tilman, a fine looking specimen negro, occupies cell 47, charged with killing another colored man named William Carey. Tilman was enjoying a drink with a few colored gentlemen in a saloon in Thirty-third street, when he asked the deceased to drink. Deceased refused, which riled Tilman. A quarrel ensued and Tilman left the saloon. Carney followed and attempted to stab him with a knife, when Telman drew his revolver and shot him. This, at least, is the substance of Tilman’s story.


Jeremiah Harrington occupies cell 41, charged with the murder of Mary Ann Robinson. He is an old offender, well known ta the Tombs. He was arrested on the 31st July, charged with the murder of Ann Callaghan, and by some quibble of law gout out on the 12th of August, while he is charged with murdering Anne Robinson on the 20th of October.


Margaret Brown, a low sized, squat, white advocate of miscegenation, is committed for cutting the throat of Upton Murray, her colored lover. She states that she was about leaving Murray when he threatened to cut her throat if she did; that she snapped the razor out of his hand and made a dahs at him, which cut his throat.


Gertrude Pheiffer is charged with the murder of her husband, Jacob Pfeiffer, in June last. She states that Reinhardt who is in as an accomplice, is quite innocent. To judge from appearances there is nothing romantic or lover like about the pair. Reinhardt is a harmless looking old man, while she looks so unwieldy that one would thing she was nursed on lager, bred on lager and at last became a huge lager barrel. Poor woman! She cries and sobs all the time.


The murder of officer McChesney by Margaret Walsh is fresh in the memories of our readers. She was tried, convicted and sentence to the State prison for live on the 23rd of December, 1857. On motion, by writ of error, a new trial was granted, and she was brought back to the Tombs and will be arraigned for trial again to-day. Margaret has been a fine looking woman , but her incarceration has considerably preyed upon her.


Eliza Johnson is charged with killing her husband, Norman Johnson of 178 Forsyth street. She state that her husband kept a disreputable house against her wish. This led to frequent quarrels. On the day of the murder he was in the front room with a woman. She looked into the room; he beat her. She snatched a razor and killed him. She appear to feel her position acutely and is evidently suffering much agony of mind.

"A Visit to the Tombs." New York Herald 22 Oct. 1868


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