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.

From Our Fans: 15 Favorite Pure Michigan Memories to Kick Off 2015

With the new year officially underway, we asked our fans to take a moment to reflect on their favorite memories from 2014. After a stroll down memory lane, here are 15 unforgettable Pure Michigan moments from days gone by to inspire your travels in 2015. 

Waterfall watching while vacationing in the U.P. from Sherry Stiles

Vacationing in the UP Sherry Stiles

Seeing the Mighty Mac all lit up on a warm August evening from John Stine

Mighty Mac on a Warm August Evening John Stine

 A trip to Arch Rock while visiting Mackinac Island from Wiona Porath

Wiona Porath Arch Rock

A visit to the amazing ice caves off the shores of Leelanau from Janeen M Wardle

Amazing Ice Caves off the shore of Leelanau Janeen M Wardle

Watching the crackling Frankfort fireworks from Jeanine Offer Krupp

Frankfort Fireworks Jeanine Offer Krupp

 Long Lake Michigan beach days from Mark Titus

Mark Titus Beach Days

Summertime trips to the Farmers Market from Leslie Layton Coslet

Leslie Layton Coslet Farmers Market Frankfort

Peaceful moments spent with nature from MavaMarie Vendervennet

Peaceful Moments MavaMarie Vendervennet

Fishing and a fiery sunset over Brevort Lake from Ben Stefanic

Fishing Brevort Lake Ben Stefanic

Walking on frozen water in South Haven from Jennifer Schoenfield Osborn

Walking on Frozen water in South Haven Jennifer Schoenfeld Osborn

Witnessing unforgettable sunsets from Donna Pratt-Owens

Donna Pratt-Owens Frankfort sunset Lake Michigan

Spectacular fall color viewing at the Porcupine Mountains from Patti Potts

Patti Potts Fall Colors Porcupine Mountains

Plenty of Pure Michigan snow days from Ry Meyer

Ry Meyer Snow Days

The Presque Isle scenery from UP Serenity Photography

UP Serenity Photography Presque Isle Park

Wrapping up the year with celebratory fireworks in Ludington from Todd and Brad Reed Photography

NYE Ludington Brad Reed

Where in Pure Michigan will 2015 take you? 

Knock the Snow from Your Boots with Unique Winter Events in Ann Arbor

From January through March, there are a number of special events in the Ann Arbor area perfect for a wintry weekend getaway! No need to hibernate this year. Check out these exciting opportunities.

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week (January 18-23)

Bar

John Steinbeck wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” Winter can be very sweet on its own, especially when you can explore Ann Arbor’s overabundance of foodie goodness during Restaurant Week! This celebration of dining includes 45 restaurants featuring one-price menus — $15 for lunch and $28 for dinner — or save even more with two-for-one specials at select restaurants! The newest restaurant to join the ranks is the delicious Mezzevino .  While you’re there, be sure to ask for a small bowl of the crispy chickpeas!

U-M Ice Carving Extravaganza (January 23-25)

Join us for a weekend of chainsaws, ice picks and flame throwers! Stand back while the University of Michigan Ice Carving team members display their talents and masterpieces along Main Street with custom designs inspired by the city, its shops and restaurants, and more!

38th Annual Folk Festival (January 30-31)

Wait! This isn’t your parents’ folk music … Or maybe it is! The appealing element of folk music, and it’s a philosophy so perfectly embodied by the festival, is that there are as many styles as there are artists! Join us for the two-night event and show your support for one of the top music clubs in the world — The Ark — celebrating 50 years of presenting, preserving and encouraging folk, roots and ethnic music and related arts. This year’s festival features Amos Lee, Ani DiFranco, Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell. Get ready to find your folk!

Michigan Theater with Couple2

53rd Ann Arbor Film Festival (March 24-29)

Visit Ann Arbor and the historic Michigan Theater to experience the longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America. Internationally recognized as a premiere forum for independent filmmakers and artists, the Ann Arbor Film Festival engages audiences with remarkable cinematic experiences. The six-day festival presents 40 programs with more than 180 films from over 20 countries of all lengths and genres, including experimental, animation, documentary, fiction, and performance-based works.

FoolMoon and FestiFools (April 10-April 12)

FestiFools

Night time revelry and larger-than-life puppets make up this weekend of foolish amusement.  Friday night kicks things off with FoolMoon— an after dark extravaganza of lightshows, music and a delicious event-inspired microbrew from our friends at Grizzly Peak. On Sunday, watch as magnificent and bizarre human-powered papier-mache puppets amble along Main Street to the sound of beating drums, brassy horns, and the cheers of our Foolish friends! Go from being a spectator to participant by building your creations and joining in the fun!

What is your favorite thing to do in the Ann Arbor area?