The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

June 23, 2014

Sing Sing's power plant could become prison museum

OSSINING, N.Y. — An old power plant at Sing Sing that once supplied the juice for the electric chair is being eyed as the site for a museum dedicated to the infamous prison.

Supporters envision thousands of tourists streaming “up the river” from New York to see artifacts including “Old Sparky,” as the chair was known; a metal “head cage” used when prisoners were transported; and a display of prisoners’ weapons, from axes made in metal shop to shivs fashioned from plastic forks.

“Sing Sing is a brand name,” said John Wunderlich, president of the Ossining Historical Society Museum. “You go anywhere in this country, in Europe even, everybody’s heard of Sing Sing.”

The prison’s fame stems from the many criminals who ended up at Sing Sing and, in some cases, never came back. They included Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 on espionage charges related to passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

The prison was also the last stop for many members of the notorious of Murder Incorporated, which acted as a contract killing squad for the Mafia in the 1930s and ‘40s. And it was where prolific bank robber Willie Sutton used a makeshift ladder to escape in 1932.

Sing Sing’s reputation was burnished by Hollywood, which used it as a setting for such 1930s movies as “The Big House” and “Angels With Dirty Faces.” The lockup 30 miles up the Hudson from New York City also inspired the saying now synonymous with incarceration: “up the river.”

“It’s full of history, that’s for sure,” said Arthur Wolpinsky, a correction officer at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility since 1971 and the prison historian. “Electrocutions, riots, escape attempts. And so much has changed over the years. Inmates can have cable TV in their cells now.”

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