Sunday, 15 February 2009


Perhaps the least austere of the New York City prisons, has to be the Ludlow Street Jail (above right), formerly at the corner of Ludlow and Broome, opened in 1862 and sat for many years smack in the middle of a stretch of residential tenements. Originally a debtors prison, the red-bricked jail complex, with its 87 cells and an open courtyard, later kept county detainees, some of whom could pay to receive better accommodations as though it were a hotel. The 'extras' were access to a reading room (above left), a billiards room, and an 'upgraded' cell and facilities. Inmates were also allowed to wear their own clothes and top hats were very common. All-in-all it was more like a rather exclusive 'gentleman's club'.

The two most famous inmates were Boss Tweed and Victoria Woodhull.

William Magear (Boss) Tweed (1823-1878) (above), a politician and head of Tammany Hall, the name given to the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in NYC politics from the 1790's to the 1960's. After being arrested for bilking the city out of millions of dollars, Tweed jumped bail and was apprehended in Spain. He was subsequently delivered to authorities in NYC in November 1876. He was imprisoned in the Ludlow Street Jail, occupying the warden's parlour for $75.00 a week. He died two years after being imprisoned at the age of 55.

Victoria Woodhall (above), the free-love advocate who became the first woman to run for president, spent her 1872 election day together with her sister Tennessee, in a jail here for sending obscene material through the mail, documenting the alleged womanizing of Plymouth Church's Henry Ward Beecher. The event incited questions about censorship and government persecution. The sisters were found not guilty six months later, but the arrest prevented Victoria from being present during the 1872 presidential election.

In 1929, the block was cleared to make way for what many would consider a new form of incarceration - the new Seward Park High School - now shared by five new smaller high schools. The original High School was notable for poor performing students and an alarming amount of dropouts and was eventually closed in 2006. Former 'inmates' of this institution include Tony Curtis, Estelle Getty, and Jerry Stiller.

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