The visit here is done by tour, beginning in what once was the warden’s apartment. The last warden to use the apartment moved out in 1970. The space was later used by guards and the upstairs space was used by convicts on day-release programs. The tour takes the visitor everywhere--to the dungeon area, the basement really, a dank area housing the heating system and the isolation cells, a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. Upstairs is the gallery with two tiers of cells. Some of the cells were used as showers and laundry, but it is the structure at the end that makes this jail different than those you may have seen before. It is a gallows, but not just any gallows. It's a gallows suitable for the hanging of four men at once. Although this gallows is a reconstruction, it reminds the visitor of the terrible injustice once done in this place.
The coal miners of this area were immigrants, many of them Irish. They worked for little money and at the end of the day had to buy their necessities from the company store. As a consequence they were constantly in debt to their employers who kept private police to keep this situation in place. When the miners, most of whom were members of the Hibernian Society, formed the Workers’ Benevolent Association in order to seek better working conditions they were branded "The Molly Maguires". A number were prosecuted for crimes they did not commit in a courtroom run not by the state, but by the mining companies. The jury was not a jury of peers, there were no Irish Catholics on it and although the burden of proof was not met, the Molly Maguires were sentenced to death. Four of them were hanged at the same time in the Old Jail in 1877 in front of a large crowd. Before he was hanged, one of them placed his hand on the wall of his cell and declared that his handprint would stay there forever as proof of his innocence. It is there to this day even though the entire section of wall was once removed. Spooky?
The jail the, is more than just a jail… it has an interesting story behind it about conditions in the area in the last half of the nineteenth century. The building is interesting, the story moreso.
Riverview, New Brunswick
September 29, 2003
From journal Travelling in Eastern Pennsylvania