Posted Jun 10, 2016
From the Quill of Elizabeth Thornburg
“Go straight & be merry; Go crooked & regret it:”
How Jail Cell Graffiti Tells a Story.
Doing Time: Above, Troy Township’s original jail cell, dressed to look similar to how it may have in the early days.
Let’s go behind the ropes, to the Township Hall jail cell. Located in the basement of our main building, its’ windowless walls are three feet thick and directly below the town vault, thus harder to escape from.
When Troy was a much smaller place, and the town judge, supervisor and clerk all shared a single building; small-time offenders were held in thetown’s most escape-proof basement. Because the town was served by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department prior to the establishment of a permanent Police force, small-time criminals were held here until the Sherriff arrived. Surviving records on these short-term prisoners are limited to what inmates scrawled or scratched into the walls. There were, of course, repeat offenders – one gentleman frequented the jail cell so much he etched his name three and a half times over four years.
Reading History: Above, volunteer Tammy G assists in deciphering 90-year-old jail graffiti.
Several apple thieves and joy riders left interesting messages about their crimes and sentences, like “Riding with a dumb nut who wrecked a stolen car,” or, “FOR APPLES 10 DAYS– Joe, Aug 27, 1938.” Other graffiti has been lost to time, building renovation, and vandalism. The stories seen on the brick walls are not unlike those expressed by prisoners of today; they express remorse, brag about their crimes or caution others from repeating their mistakes.
These little things can tell us big stories. This Saturday from 12-2pm, I will be taking visitors behind the scenes during our annual “Art, Mix, Mingle” Art Amble. Together we will examine 19th century decorative arts pieces that help to tell the story of our city and community. I invite you to join me. Tickets may be purchased through our website or at the Troy Historic Village Gift Shop.