History Buffs Will Love These Six Fascinating Stories from Jackson’s Past

Jackson’s history is closely tied to prison history. The prison made Jackson a wealthy industrial town during the Industrial Revolution by providing valuable, cheap labor in the factories. Today, guest blogger Rebecca Calkins from Experience Jackson shares six fascinating stories from the city’s past. 

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

Prison history is not just important to Jackson, it’s important to Michigan and the United States. Michigan’s most notable criminals, from Kevorkian to the infamous Purple Gang, have passed through those walls. In the 1880s, prison reformers of Europe looked to the reports of American reformers. The appeal of a prison story is nothing new. Whether it’s Shawshank Redemption or Orange is the New Black, stories of crime and redemption have always fascinated us.

Jackson Robber Gang
The first mass break out in 1840 freed ten convicts from the prison walls, then made of wood. They fled to Spring Arbor where they terrorized the area for two years until all but two of them were caught.  

Prisoner Sarah Havilland
Female prisoners were at the Michigan State Prison with the men up until 1882. Sarah Havilland poisoned her own children because she couldn’t feed them. Yet inside the prison she became the much beloved caregiver to the warden’s children, who at the time lived onsite.

Night Keeper John H. Purves 
Civil War hero, Night Keeper John H. Purves was one of the first true prison reformers. Although firm with punishments, he also believed in rewards to incentivize good behavior. He kept a journal published in 1882 “The Nightkeeper’s Reports” which provided the country inspiration for prison reform. The book is sold in The Original Jackson Historic Prison Tour Gift Shop.

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

The Purple Gang, Jackson Prison and State Sen. Warren G. Hooper Murder 
About to testify before a grand jury, State Sen. Warren G. Hooper was shot on Jan. 11, 1945 on his way home to Albion, Mich. It was believed to be a professional hit by Detroit’s infamous Purple Gang, who at the time virtually had their way in the Jackson prison. Attorney General John R. Dethmers, theorized that Hooper’s murderer had been slipped out of the prison to commit the crime and returned to rest easy with a perfect alibi. 

Prison Handicraft: From Wedding Dresses to Leather Purses 
At Michigan’s First State Prison women bought their wedding dresses from the prison tailor shop. At the new Southern Michigan Correctional Facility, the Hobbycraft Sales shop was filled with finely crafted leather and woodworking items. Some of their handiwork can be seen at the Cell Block 7 Prison Museum.

Filming of the movie Stone with Robert DeNiro 
In 2009, the newest guests of the prison were Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich and Robert DeNiro. After 2007 when the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility was finally closed, several film crews used the old cell blocks including Stone, Conviction (starring Hilary Swank), and Street Boss.

Jackson has two opportunities to experience prison history. Spend time visiting both of the one-time largest walled prisons in the world.

The Original Historic Prison Tours
517-817-8960
HistoricPrisonTours.com

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

The Original Historic Prison Tours takes you through Michigan’s First State Prison, now Armory Arts Village, and covers Jackson’s prison history from 1839 through present-day. Judy Gail Krasnow, Owner and Operator shares her favorite tale.

“Our Original Historic Prison Tour is filled with amazing stories such as the clever use of the huge cockroaches. Inmates tied a smuggled cigar on the insect’s back. The first inmate lifted the bug and took his puff. Then, putting the bug down, he held the string. The insect scurried, but could only reach the next cell. There the next inmate enjoyed his puff and so-on down the row until one unlucky inmate just got the “roach”.”

Cell Block 7 Prison Museum
517-787-2320
CellBlock7.org

The only prison exhibit within the walls of an operating penitentiary, Cell Block 7 is not just a replica; it’s a real prison, where thousands of convicts have done hard time. You’ll inhabit the same cells, walk the same corridors, pass by the same gun towers as some of the most hardened criminals in Michigan’s history. The difference is, when you’re ready, you can just walk out the door.

Headshot 1 originalRebecca Calkins is the Communications Director for Experience Jackson. She grew up in Jackson and returned after attending college at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. When not working, Rebecca enjoys cooking and traveling, always looking for the next culinary or cultural adventure.

A Peek Inside Jackson County’s Historic Mann House

Today, guest blogger Mary Dettloff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources gives us a quick look inside Jackson County’s historic Mann House.

The Mann House, Concord Michigan.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Historical Museum

The historic Mann House in the small farming community of Concord in Jackson County recently was repainted to more accurately reflect the Victorian-era paint scheme it likely had, but that’s not all that’s new at the house.

A recent partnership between the Michigan Historical Center (MHC) and Eastern Michigan University’s historical preservation program now places three graduate students at the state historic site each summer to operate and maintain it. The students also perform research there in between greeting visitors and giving interpretive tours.

The partnership is a boon for the MHC because it provides fresh insights and research on the property, and EMU benefits by providing students with the opportunity to have hands-on experience operating a historic site that is really a small museum.

The Mann House, Concord Michigan.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Historical Museum

The house, built in 1883 by Daniel and Ellen Mann, is a near-perfectly preserved Victorian-era home. The Manns’ two daughters, Mary Ida and Jessie Ellen, were taught to value education and life-long learning, which ultimately led them to preserve their family’s nearly unaltered home and its furnishings. Visitors touring the house today are immersed in the family life and Victorian culture that shaped this pair of independent women.

Last summer, the graduate students from EMU who worked at the Mann House did research on the Mann family and the community of Concord, and developed a new house tour for visitors. Among the things they learned were that sisters Mary Ida and Jessie Ellen were ahead of their time when it came to being independent women.

Ellen Mann and her daughters all graduated from Michigan State Normal School (now EMU), which was unusual for the time. The Mann sisters traveled the world – throughout the United States, Europe and Asia – before it was common for women to travel alone. Several items that they acquired on their world travels are on display in the Mann House today. Also on display are some vintage clothing, items from the 1840s that belonged to Daniel and Ellen Mann’s parents, furniture from the 1870s the couple acquired when they married in 1873 and furnishings from the mid-1880s when they moved into the house.

The Mann House, Concord Michigan.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Historical Museum

This summer, the EMU fellows working at the site will continue researching the community, the house and the family who lived there. One student is focusing on gardening and foods of the late 19th and early 20th century. Another is looking at various modes of transportation available in Concord at the time the family lived there. A third student is returning for her second summer at the Mann House, and is continuing her research on the lives of Jessie and Mary Ida Mann to introduce more aspects of the sisters into the house.

The Mann House is located at 205 Hanover St. in Concord. Admission is free, and visitors should know that the Mann House is not a universally accessible site. The Mann House is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Aug. 31. Visitors should allow about one hour to tour the house, grounds and carriage house.

Mary Dettloff is a northern Michigan native and currently works as a senior communications advisor for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 

Experience Tradition at the Jackson Hot Air Jubilee

The Jackson Hot Air Jubilee is happening this weekend, July 19 – 21, where hot air balloons will fill the sky during both a morning and evening launch each day. Today, Rebecca Calkins of Experience Jackson fills us in on what event goers can expect this year.

A passion for ballooning is a tradition that is often passed down from generation to generation. Balloonist Tyler Jaques has been flying the Sugar Bear hot air balloon for six years, but he grew up immersed in the ballooning community.  One large part of this upbringing has been the tradition of the Jackson Hot Air Jubilee.

In it’s 30th year, this tradition is better than ever this summer. This Jackson institution is a favorite of residents and visitors alike. Festival goers faithfully gather around the launch field each day for both a morning and evening launch. Watching the brightly colored balloons fill with 105,000 cubic feet of air and lift off into the sky is an awe-inspiring sight for the whole family. All sizes, shapes and colors of balloons can be seen filling the blue skies of Jackson each July.

Although the festival has been held in many different locations around Jackson throughout the years, it has finally found its home at Ella Sharp Park. This picturesque 500-acre park lends this event a unique spot to enjoy the beauty of over 20 hot air balloons taking flight. Once the balloons are in flight, however, there are plenty of activities for the family to enjoy on the ground. Kid’s Kingdom crafts, carnival rides, live entertainment, an arts & crafts marketplace and an auto show offer a variety of entertainment choices sure to interest all ages. Being at the park also provides attendees with the opportunity to enjoy Ella Sharp Museum of Art and History and Peter F. Hurst Planetarium laser shows, as well as the park’s golf and mini-golf courses. You could be playing golf with hot air balloons overhead!

In addition to watching the balloons take flight at the morning and evening launches, you can also enjoy the view of the nightglow on Friday and Saturday night, during which the balloons line up tethered to the ground to light their burners in unison, giving off a picturesque glow to end the day.

Don’t miss a single day of this 3-day festival July 19, 20 & 21. Book your Jackson hotel and enjoy all three days. $10 parking on-site. Free parking is also available at the nearby Middle School at Parkside.

This event is free to the public thanks to wonderful corporate sponsors, including Tripp’s Auto Shop and Collision, Flagstar Bank, P&T Fitness, Napoleon Feed Mill, Inc., DeVaughn’s Popcorn, and Phelps Towing, Inc., among many others.

Rebecca Calkins is the Events and Marketing Assistant for Experience Jackson. She manages the social media on Facebook and Twitter as well as a monthly eNewsletter. She grew up in Jackson and has returned after attending college at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.  When not working she enjoys cooking and traveling, always looking for the next culinary or cultural adventure.