Indianapolis, Pop Culture

“Monopoly: the Hoosier Connection. Part II”

Lizzie Magie.

Original publish date:  July 26, 2013 Reissue date: September 17, 2020

The game of Monopoly was patented 80 years ago this week on July 30, 1933. The official Parker Brothers line is that the popular board game was solely created by an unemployed salesman and heating engineer named Charles Darrow. Last week in part I, we learned that Hoosier Dan Layman claimed to have developed the game in the late 1920s while a student at Williams College in Reading, Pennsylvania. From Indianapolis the game traveled back to the East Coast through friends of Layman.
Ruth Hoskins brought the monopoly folk game to the Atlantic City after taking a teaching job at the Friends School. Although contrary to the “Monopoly” legend, she and Layman never met, Ruth was introduced to it by one of his friends. In 1929 Ruth Hoskins began playing Monopoly in Indianapolis with her brother James and his friend Robert Frost “Pete” Daggett Jr., who was a close friend of Dan Layman. Her story is appealing if only for the sweet religious reasoning that may have cost her a fortune.

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Ruth Hoskins was a core member of Quaker “Friends” meeting group which changed Layman’s capitalistic folk game to a Quaker based game she too called “Monopoly.” In October of 1929, ironically very near the date of the “Black Sunday” stock market crash, Ruth Hoskins began teaching her version of Monopoly to other teachers, students, and Quaker acquaintances. Layman’s manufactured game, Finance, was not yet on the market and certainly not available on the East Coast at that time. Though slight differences appeared in her regional version of the game, Ruth’s game was remarkably similar to the modern incarnation of Monopoly.
Ruth first change to Layman’s game was to purchase properties rather than auctioning them, as the Quakers did not believe in auctions. Apparently the Quakers, who, according to their original tenant, were required to avoid “impudent noisy indecent behaviour in Markets and other publick” simply didn’t like the noise of the auctioneering. Ruth’s most significant claim to authorship of Monopoly as we know it today is that after she relocated to her seaside New Jersey home, she changed Layman’s Indianapolis street names (one of which was “LaSalle Street”) to those of streets found in her adopted Atlantic City hometown. Eugene and Ruth Raiford, friends of Hoskins, showed the game to Charles E. Todd, a hotel manager in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Todd introduced Charles and Esther Darrow to the game. The Darrows were occasional hotel guests; Esther was Todd’s former neighbor.
Charles Todd claims that sometimes in 1931: “The first people we taught it to after learning it from the Raifords was Darrow and his wife Esther … It was entirely new to them. They had never seen anything like it before and showed a great deal of interest in it… Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations and I wrote them up and checked with Raiford to see if they were right and gave them to Darrow – he wanted two or three copies of the rules, which I gave him and gave Raiford and kept some myself.”

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Ruth Hoskins said, while testifying during the same 1974 trial as Dan Layman, in her pretrial deposition. “To the Harveys [Cyril and his wife Dorothy], who introduced it to the Raifords [Eugene and his wife Ruth, Jesse and his wife Dorothea] … Everybody made their own [board] … We asked everybody we knew that could to come play it, because it was such fun.” Since Ruth’s entire circle of friends consisted mainly of scrupulously moral Quakers, whenever the subject of commercializing the game arose, it was rejected.
“We weren’t business people,” Hoskins explained. “We were school teachers. It was a good game the way it was.” She went on to say that since the game was being played in Atlantic City, it no longer made any sense to have properties named after places in Indianapolis or parts of Pennsylvania. The discussion came up that the names were for the most part unknown to us … Why not use Atlantic City names? … We named them out in honor of people who belonged to our group. For instance, well, Boardwalk was first. Everybody knows that, Boardwalk. But the Jones’s were living on Park Place and the Claridge was being built across the street and the Marlborough Blenheim was right there. That was obviously a very expensive part of the town and one that we wanted to honor.

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“We were living on Pennsylvania Avenue … The Copes lived on Virginia Avenue at the Morton Hotel … So it developed gradually. “… I know that there were the utilities and I know that the four railroads were there … We had ‘Free Parking’ and we had ‘Go to Jail’ and we had tickets to get out of jail and you got $200 as you passed ‘Go’.” The lawyers made a point to meticulously document Ruth’s story, street-by-street, because Parker Brothers’ last defense is that Charles Darrow put the Atlantic City streets on the board and therefore his game is different from other versions of Monopoly. Hoskins also suggested Connecticut, Vermont and Oriental Avenues. “All these I made up and then we discussed it with the group.” Other members of the group added New York Ave., Community Chest and Marven Gardens “because although it wasn’t a street, there was somebody living there”.
In spite of this evidence, Parker Brothers chose to promote the Charles Darrow version of the game, even though they knew that it was not Mr. Darrow’s creation. Parker Brothers officially sanctioned story claimed that “Charles Darrow as an unemployed salesman and inventor living in Germantown, Pennsylvania, who was struggling with odd jobs to support his family in the years following the great stock market crash of 1929. Charles Darrow remembering his summers spent in Atlantic City, New Jersey, spent his spare time drawing the streets of Atlantic City on his kitchen tablecloth, and using pieces of material and bits of paints, wood etc. contributed by local merchants for game pieces. A game was already forming in his mind as he built little hotels, houses and other tokens to go along with his painted streets.”
One glaring mistake pointed to as evidence of the theft of intellectual property can be seen in Darrow’s version to this day. Ruth’s original Marven Gardens designation, named for a residential area near Atlantic City, was misspelled by Darrow as Marvin Gardens. This, combined with the other similarities mentioned above, make it highly unlikely that Darrow’s claim to authorship of Monopoly is authentic. He seems to have simply been in the right place at the right time.
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Charles Darrow.

Although it is clear Charles Darrow was not the sole inventor of Monopoly, the game he patented was quickly becoming a best seller for Parker Brothers. Within one month of signing an agreement with Darrow in 1935, Parker Brothers started producing over 20,000 copies of the game per week, a game that Charles Darrow claimed was his “brainchild.” Parker Brothers most likely discovered the existence of other Monopoly games after buying the patent from Darrow, but by that time, it was evident that the game was going to be a huge success. According to the Parker Brothers, their best move was “to secure patents and copyrights.” Parker Brothers simply did what Rockefeller, Carnegie, Hearst and Edison did before them, they bought out, developed and published the acknowledged forerunners if Monopoly: The Landlord’s Game, Finance, Fortune, as well as Finance and Fortune.
Much of the true history of “Monopoly” remains a mystery, but what is known for certain is that Charles Darrow sold his ‘rights’ to Parker Brothers at age 46. And that’s a fact. The royalties from Monopoly made Charles Darrow a millionaire, the first game inventor to make that much money. In 1970, a few years after Darrow’s death, Atlantic City erected a commemorative plaque in his honor. It stands on the Boardwalk, near the corner of Park Place.
The city of Indianapolis is a mere footnote in the history of the board game Monopoly. You won’t find the names of Hoosier Dan Layman or Hoosier transplant Ruth Hoskins written in any history of the Parker Brothers company. But the next time you’re cursing the skies for the rotten luck of landing on Boardwalk with four houses AGAIN, you can now shake your fist in the air and personally thank the Hoosier men and women who put you there.

Indianapolis, Pop Culture

“Monopoly: the Hoosier Connection. Part I”

Hoosier Dan Layman with his invention.

Original publish date:  July 19, 2013 Reissue Date September 10, 2020

Last Winter, hundreds of thousands of voters in 180 countries elected a new “Monopoly” token that was added to the game earlier this year. The cat token won the race and replaced the iron, an original piece from 1933. By some estimates, more than 1 billion people have played “Monopoly” since its creation, with more than 275 million copies sold in 111 countries and 43 languages. But while the game’s success is indisputable, its origins are not. What we know is that the game of Monopoly was patented 80 years ago this month on July 30, 1933 by an unemployed salesman and heating engineer named Charles Darrow.
Darrow, reeling from the loss of his career during the Great Depression, enlisted his wife and son to design and hand-produce the very first games eight decades ago. Darrow drew the designs with a drafting pen on round pieces of oilcloth, and then his son and his wife helped fill in the spaces with colors and make the title deed cards and the Chance cards and Community Chest cards. Darrow called his game “Monopoly” and hand-painted one set per day, which he sold for $4.00 each. While Darrow received a copyright on his game in 1933, his original patent model and succeeding specimens have mysteriously disappeared from the files of the United States Copyright Office, though proof of its registration remains.
In 1935, Darrow licensed the game to Parker Brothers and quickly became the first millionaire game designer. When Darrow died in 1967, his New York Times obituary headline read “Charles B. Darrow Dies at 78; Inventor of Game of Monopoly.” That’s the official story line anyway, the real story is quite a bit more complicated.


The Landlord’s Game Board from 1904.

Some say that Lizzie J. Magie’s “The Landlord’s Game”, patented in 1904, was the first real monopoly game. Others claim it was a Reading, Pennsylvania college student, Dan Layman, and his pal, Louis Thun, created a game called “Finance” (that his friends called “Monopoly”) in the late 1920s. Or was it Ruth Hoskins? She learned how to play the game from a friend of Layman’s in Indianapolis. Yes, the game of Monopoly was created here in Indianapolis!
Originally titled “The Fascinating Game of Finance or Finance and Fortune” and later shortened to “Finance” for the sake of brevity, the board game was based on Ms. Magie’s “The Landlord’s Game”. The game featured the now familiar movement of pieces around the handmade board, the use of cards, properties that can be purchased, and houses that can be erected on them. The published board featured four railroads (one per side), Chance and Community Chest cards and spaces, and properties grouped by symbol, rather than color. Sound Familiar?
Hoosier Dan Layman developed his game while a student at Williams College in Reading, Pennsylvania in the late 1920s. In January 1975 during one of the many patent trials challenging the rights to the popular & profitable game, Dan Layman facetiously opined in his deposition that: “They forgot to mention that when Darrow died, he was working on the invention of the wheel.” The deposition insisted that Layman and his college fraternity brothers were playing Monopoly six years before Darrow ever saw it and he had copyrighted and published the first set of rules for the game in its modern form.
In an episode that must’ve foreshadowed the Zuckerberg / Winklevoss facebook controversy of this century, Layman created his version of Monopoly after being introduced to it by two of his Williams College Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity brothers, Frederick and Louis Thun. After leaving college, Layman returned to his hometown of Indianapolis and in his spare time he taught Monopoly to a variety of friends who made their own boards. Eventually Layman got the idea of marketing the game. So, he drew up formal rules (including: “Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.00 dollars, Ownership of a series entitles one to collect double rent on all the properties of that series, paying $50 to the bank, one may leave the jail the first time his turn comes around again…), and got a company called Electronic Laboratories, Inc., to make the board, cards, money and pieces (hotels, houses, markers).

In 1932, the board game “Finance” was first sold by the L. S. Ayres & Co department store chain. Initially, the game was sold in small black boxes (some of which came with poker chips for money) with four different versions of the rules and properties were auctioned rather than sold. Otherwise, it is almost identical to Monopoly including Chance and Community Chest cards. With L. S. Ayres & Co. and Electronics Laboratories producing and L.S. Ayres selling his version, Lyman published the game for a year before selling it to Knapp Electric for $200. Although Layman first intended to call his new creation “Monopoly”, the name was changed for trademark reasons. Some clarity to the Monopoly rights controversy can be found in the General Mills Fun Group (buyers of Parker Brothers and Monopoly) lawsuit against Ralph Anspach and his Anti-Monopoly® game in 1974. Dan Layman testified: “I understood from various attorney friends of mine that because Monopoly had been used as the name of this exact game, both in Indianapolis and in Reading and in Williamstown, Massachusetts, that it was, therefore, in public domain and that I couldn’t protect it in any way. So, I changed the name in order to have some protection.”
According to a Time Magazine article dated February 17th, 1936: “I wrote the entire rulebook for the game of Finance in 1931 (copyrighted 1932) and simplified the old game of Monopoly for manufacturing purposes…” said Dan Layman, “Almost exactly this same game as played at Williams was put on the market in Indianapolis early in 1932 through L. S. Ayres & Co.” This was the only article published which contradicted what would become Parker Brothers’ assertion that it had published the original Monopoly, and that Layman’s version was a spin-off. Layman had forced the retraction by Time in 1936, when an article two weeks earlier had published an article titled “Monopoly and Politics.”
What was unknown to Time was that Layman had sold the rights to the game to a small games manufacturer, David W. Knapp, the originator of the popular 1930s game “Krazy-Ikes.” Knapp was eventually bought out by Parker Brothers for $10,000- a significant sum at the time. But it was a far cry from the Millions in Royalties that were paid to Charles Darrow. Parker Brothers eventually published the game Finance, after simplifying the rules for easier play and marketing it as a separate entity. So much for Dan Layman’s claims.
Although the game company virtually ignored Hoosier Dan Layman’s virtual paternity claim as the “Father” of Monopoly, in the spring of 1935, Parker Brothers paid Layman’s old college fraternity brother Luis Thun a visit and offered to buy any remaining boards of their Monopoly game for $50 each. Thun said that he told the Parker Brothers representative “…it wasn’t at all clear to me how Mr. Darrow could be the inventor of a game… we’d played since 1925.” But $50 each for an obsolete board game at the height of the Great Depression proved too rich an offer to refuse and Thun caved, thus ending all claims to authorship of Parker Brothers’ best selling board game.
But Hoosier ties to the game of “Monopoly” does not end there. There is another historical footnote that binds Monopoly to our fair city.

Auctions, Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Indianapolis, Medicine, Music, Pop Culture

Elvis Presley — are you kidding?

Elvis Presley Autopsy Tools.

Original publish date August 10, 2010 Reissue date: August 27, 2020

Recently the Leslie Hindman auction house in Chicago caused a flap when it was announced that they would be auctioning off the instruments used to embalm Elvis Presley after his untimely death at the age of 42. The auction house was planning to sell the macabre Elvis relics in two separate lots: one with a pre-sale value of $4,000 to $6,000, and the other estimated at $6,000 to $8,000. Elvis may have left the building, but the man’s ability to get people “all shook up” has not diminished as the announcement sent shock waves through the media and wrought havoc among fans, collectors, historians and auctioneers alike.
The items in question, which included a comb, eye liner, rubber gloves, forceps, needle injectors, an arterial tube, aneurysm hooks, and a toe tag, came from an unidentified former employee who worked for the Memphis funeral home where Elvis’ body was last attended to. They were used only once — to embalm Elvis’ body, apply makeup to his face, and dye his graying hair to the jet-black color his fans knew so well. The replacement toe tag, marked “John Doe,” was attached to the King’s body after an eager fan stole Elvis’s original tag during the chaos at the hospital where he was taken. Other items in the grouping include the coffin shipping invoice, autopsy room preparation paperwork and the hanger that Elvis Presley’s funeral suit and tie arrived on.


Elvis Presley’s last concert at MSA in Indianapolis.

According to the auction house, the items were used to prepare the King’s body for a private viewing for family and friends only in the morning after his death. Presley died August 16, 1977, in the bathroom of his Graceland estate of an irregular heartbeat. “The senior embalmer at the Memphis Funeral Home at the time of Presley’s death saved the items for the last 33 years and decided to sell them after he realized someone might value them,” said Mary Williams, director of books and manuscripts for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.
Presley’s autopsy involved draining all body fluids and removal of all vital organs which were then sent to a pathology lab for testing to ascertain the cause of death. The coroner, Dr. Jerry Francisco, along with Dr. Eric Muirhead and Dr. Noel Florredo, presided over the autopsy of Presley. The trio initially concealed the facts by attributing the cause of death to a massive heart attack. They later claimed their motive “was not to tarnish the image by a scandal of a drug habit.” For decades, when asked about the rumors that Elvis is not dead, Francisco consistently replied, “If Elvis is NOT dead, he’s walking around without his major organs as Elvis’ brain and heart are still in storage at Memphis Memorial Hospital.”
When the sale was announced, a spokesman for the auction house admitted the auction may be controversial as some people “are going to be disappointed” by the sale of these items. However, Elvis memorabilia remains in strong demand with a lock of his hair selling for $18,300, a red ultra-suede shirt worn by Elvis in publicity photos garnering a $34,000 bid, and an inscribed record sleeve selling for $10,370 at a Hindman’s auction in October 2009. The proposed sale of these creepy collectibles combined with the fact that he’s been dead for 33 years, keeps Presley intact as one of the highest grossing celebrities, bringing in $55 million in 2009 according to Forbes.com. Presley’s posthumous popularity notwithstanding, why would anyone want to buy these things?


Luckily, that question will remain unanswered because these sad rock-n-roll souvenirs were removed from the August 12th auction after doubts were raised about their provenance and authenticity. According to the auction house, the items have been given back to the Memphis Funeral Home, following a dispute between the home and the potential consignor. “Due to questions of ownership, the retired embalmer and his son have decided to turn over the property to the Memphis Funeral Home and its parent company, Service Corporation International, with the intention of donation,” Hindman said in a post on their Web site.
Shortly after the auction was announced, the Memphis Funeral Home claimed that those tools were taken without the home’s consent. The funeral home thought the embalmer was dead, but he’s not. He’s in his 80s. The funeral home contacted the elderly man and told him he can’t sell the items and if they were not returned, legal steps would be taken to reclaim them. According to funeral home president E.C. Daves, “We are awaiting word from the Elvis Presley estate on its preferences for the items. The items could be donated to a funeral history museum in Houston or they could be destroyed. Either way, the funeral home is not going to do anything until the Presley estate agrees with it.”


Now, maybe you’re thinking, “But you never answered the question, who would buy this stuff?” Well, before the items were pulled from the sale, Hindman’s auction house specialist Williams explained, “It’s really about owning a piece of the celebrity themselves… and how much closer can you get than the actual embalming instruments?” Okay that’s a creepy statement. However, I can help add some clarity to the issue for you. If you’ve been paying attention to past columns, you’ve learned that I’ve been an antique dealer for 30 years and a memorabilia collector for even longer than that. As with many collectors, I’ve bought, traded and sold many collections over the years.


One of those collections was a group of crime related autographs, artwork and paintings featuring infamous names like serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, Manson family members Charles Manson, Tex Watson and Squeaky Fromme and political assassins James Earl Ray, Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Charles Guiteau. I have owned signatures of Bob Ford, the “dirty little coward” who killed Jesse James and a personal check signed and written out by Bruce Lee made payable to and endorsed by his hairstylist Jay Sebring, who died alongside Sharon Tate in the Manson family massacre. Most of these items lost their appeal to me as I grew older but the urge of the infamous and their misdeeds never fully went away, for I still own a signed photo of John Wilkes Booth and a few other assorted macabre mementos from our country’s history.
I have seen many similar grisly relics offered for sale in the past, and held many of these macabre items in my hands including several items connected to the Lincoln assassination conspirators, the blood stained glasses that John Lennon wore the night he was murdered, the “Double Fantasy” record album Lennon signed for Mark David Chapman just a short time before Chapman killed Lennon, the watch that was in Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne’s pocket when he died in a plane crash, the watch Buddy Holly wore on his wrist when he likewise perished in a plane crash, and countless locks of hair and death masks from celebrities in every field across the board. Within the “hobby” they are commonly known as “blood relics” and they are in high demand. Whether you agree or disagree with their relevance, there exists a lucrative market for these sad souvenirs.
Collecting is an addiction. There is the thrill of the chase, the negotiation for acquisition, the elaborate planning for display and the final realization that you now possess the object of your desired search. For those collectors whose fandom goes beyond collecting rare records, signed merchandise and other conventional methods of capturing a performer’s essence, it’s only natural that they would be interested in something that would bring them a little closer to the performer. And friends, it doesn’t get much “closer” than this. So ask yourself: if you had the chance to own, possess or simply handle one of these unique items, what would you do?

Criminals, Indianapolis, Museums, National Park Service, Pop Culture

A Hoosier Guard on Alcatraz PART IV

Albright Part IV
The author and Jim Albright at the Albright family home in Terre Haute.

Original publish date:  July 30, 2020

I asked guard Jim Albright what he remembers about the closing of Alcatraz prison in March of 1963, in particular the visit by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. “Oh yeah. I remember. He toured the island and had about 50 bodyguards all around him. He didn’t want any of those bad guys to get near him.” Jim can still recall the names and numbers of the infamous inmates on the island when he was there. “Whitey Bulger # 1428, Alvin Creepy Karpis # 325. Alvin was the lowest number left when I was there. Alvin did more time on the island than any other convict. He did just straight at 26 years.” Jim recalls both Bulger and Karpis as “good cons”, both were “quiet and respectful when they spoke to you.” However Jim does say this about Karpis, a notorious kidnapper with the Ma Barker gang, “He was creepy, oh yeah, he was creepy.” Jim states, “I always treated them like I would have wanted to be treated had I been the convict. My job was not to punish them, my job was security.”z ce unnamed
Jim recalls, “Everybody talks about that escape in the Clint Eastwood movie, but I was on duty for the last escape from Alcatraz. John Paul Scott # 1503. December 16, 1962. That was 25 years, almost to the day from the first escape. I was in the control center. I got the call on the red phone, that’s the emergency phone, and you ‘dial the deuces’ as they call it, 222. ‘Jim get me some help, I got a couple missing from the kitchen basement’ was all I heard.” It was Jim Albright’s responsibility to call out the news, order the boat and man the towers for that final escape. Once again displaying his amazing recall after nearly 60 years, Jim says, “Darrel and Don Pickens, they were from Arizona, and they were both red haired and red freckles, red faced…I put them out in # 2 and # 3 towers and every thing’s going along and pretty soon they’re yelling.” They had found Scott’s fellow escapee Daryl D. Parker clinging for life on “Little Alcatraz” (a small rock in San Francisco Bay roughly 80 yards off the northwest side of the Island). Scott, by now naked and battered senseless, came to rest on a rocky outcropping in the bay near Fort Point. He was brought back to the Rock.z JOHN PAUL SCOTT L

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Frank Weatherman & Jim Albright (far right)

“I escorted the last inmate off the island, Frank Weatherman # 1576. We never had reporters, they were never allowed on the island but that day (of the closing) we probably had 250 of ’em, from all walks of news. One of ’em almost got in line as we’re heading out and asked me ‘what do you think about this?’ as we’re walking and I said, ‘Hey! I’m still working. My job is going on right now. The biggest thing I gotta watch right now is that one of you damned idiots don’t give ’em something they can escape with. Afterwards, I thought, Jim, keep your big mouth shut.” I asked Cathy where she was during that final prisoner walk down to the dock and she answered, “I was on the balcony watching. I was filming it.” Jim says, “We took the film to get it developed, but never got it back.” Cathy answers, “Somebody’s got it but we don’t.” Cathy also notes, “Well the inmates did not want Alcatraz to close. Some of them cried when they left because where they were going they might have to go to a 4-or-5-man cell, Alcatraz was single cells and they liked that.” Jim adds, “Some of them went, and Creepy Karpis was one of em, to McNeil Island in Washington and they had 10-man cells up there. Creepy, for 25, 26 years almost was used to a one man cell. They finally paroled him and deported him to Canada…from there he went to Spain. I guess he couldn’t take being free, cause he hung himself.”

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Inmate # 594: Robert Stroud aka The Birdman of Alcatraz.

Jim missed Robert Stroud, the infamous “Birdman of Alcatraz”, by just a few days. “I went there in August and he left in July. But I heard all the stories about him,” Jim recalls. “He was not liked by inmates or staff, either one. You talk about somebody no good, that was him…He was a weird old, nasty guy.” Jim and Cathy remained on the island for three months after that last inmate was escorted onto the boat by Officer Albright himself. It was only afterwards that the couple allowed themselves a little luxury, “We were there March to June. We moved from 64 building over across the parade ground to the city side…They had what they called B & C apartments, these were nicer apartments, they had fireplaces in them.” Jim smiles as he recalls Alcatraz historian and author Jerry Champion jokingly asking, “You had a fireplace did ya? Where’d you get your firewood?” (There are no trees on Alcatraz island).

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Jim Albright returns to Alcatraz.

Jim guesses that there may be a “half a dozen or less” Alcatraz guards still living, and “two of them are in wheelchairs” and the former guard estimates the same for the former convicts. Cathy notes that the inmates used to come to the reunions too and Jim recalls that it took awhile for the inmates to show up because “they were ashamed of what the guards would think, ya know.” But spend five minutes with Jim Albright and you quickly realize that he was never one to hold a grudge. Officer Albright is simply not the judging kind. Jim Albright is a people person. He enjoys meeting people and loves to see their reactions when he shares his story, especially when he reveals that they lived on the island. “As soon as I tell them that and point to my wife, it’s “FWEET!” (he says with a whistle and grin), they go right over to her and I’ve lost ’em.”
For many years, Jim and Cathy traveled by train from Terre Haute to San Francisco, a 2 1/4 day’s travel from nearby Galesburg, Illinois. “There used to be 150 people come out to those reunions, but then it got down to 30 cause there’s just nobody left.” Because of the current situation with Covid-19, the couple’s trip has been postponed. Cathy admits, “Well, we’re all getting older” and Jim chimes in, “And that’s the thing about not going in August, that means that last August was probably our last time going out there. The odds are against us.” Jim and Cathy fear that the alumni association will soon be no more. “There’s just not enough of ’em left,” Cathy says.
z DYwvoC_VAAABixRA week after our visit to Jim and Cathy Albright, the United States Supreme Court lifted the ban on executions at the Terre Haute penitentiary located a mere three miles from their front door. At the time of this writing, there had been three executions in four days. While there were never any State sanctioned executions at Alcatraz, there was not much rehabilitation taking place there either. Convicts were different back then, some actually viewed it as a profession. When asked about the convicts of today, Jim simply shakes his head and says, “They were more like professional convicts ya know ‘I did the crime, I’ll do the time’. It’s just not the same. It’s a different world now.”
In his book, Jim wrote quite eloquently of his feelings on that last day, “Emotions of prison personnel were very strong and it was hard to accept that all the convicts were gone…I boarded the boat for the last time as a guard on Alcatraz. I though to myself, what an experience I had just completed, and how fast the time went by. I felt tears grow in my eyes as the boat went across the water to Fort Mason.” I asked the couple individually, if they could make one statement about the Rock, what would it be? Cathy answered, “Well, I really liked the place. I did not want to leave. It was one big family… It was something special. It was home.” Jim reflected for a few moments, titled his head back as if looking through the mist of time, and replied, “A very enjoyable life living on the island and a very safe place to raise our children.”

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The Rock.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary has been closed for over 57 years now. During that time it has become more myth than reality. Alcatraz Island encompasses a total of 22 acres in the center of San Francisco Bay. It opened to the public in fall 1973 and since that time has hosted millions of people from every corner of the world. The flood of people who once lived on the island during the time it was the world’s most famous prison has trickled to a slow drip. However, there remains one couple living on the western edge of the Hoosier state who know that sometimes, even if they don’t consider themselves as such, legends are real and history is the foundation of all that is worthy in life.

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Criminals, Indianapolis, Museums, National Park Service, Pop Culture, Travel

A Hoosier Guard on Alcatraz PART II

Albright Part II
Cathy and Jim Albright

Original publish date:  July 16, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, with Covid-19 restrictions finally easing up, I traveled west on the National Road to Terre Haute with my wife Rhonda and friends Kris and Roger Branch to see a couple of Hoosier legends that I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. Jim and Cathy Albright welcomed our little band of intrepid historians into their home to catch up and listen to stories as only they could tell them. Jim was the last guard off the Island prison in San Francisco Bay known as Alcatraz. No, it doesn’t mean that Jim was the last man to board the final boat off the island when it closed on March 21, 1963, rather, Jim and his wife Cathy remained living on Alcatraz for weeks after it’s closing. As detailed in part one of this series last week, when the prison closed, the Albright’s daughter Donna Sue was only 11 days old and suffering from a foot abnormality that required surgery. The child could not be moved in her fragile condition, so the family remained on the island for 3 more months before leaving on June 22, 1963.
Social distancing guidelines and masks in place, we sat down for a talk about “The Rock.” Ironically, the couple celebrated their 65th anniversary in April during Indiana’s stay at home lockdown period. And Jim Albright knows a thing or tow about lockdown. On their 60th anniversary the couple renewed their vows on Alcatraz, “The biggest surprise I had when we got remarried out there was that she said yes the second time,” Jim says with a smile. Cathy recalls that she can still gaze up at their old apartment in Building 64 and see the curtains she made hanging in the window, although, “You can’t go into the building now, the floors and stairs are all falling apart and it’s not safe,” Cathy says.

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Building 64 at Alcatraz.

From time-to-time, the couple still visit different civic organizations and talk about their years at Alcatraz. “You name the organization, we’ve spoken to ’em.” Jim says, “We have been going back to Alcatraz every year in August for a long time now. (Cathy recalls that first visit was on the 35th anniversary of the prison’s closing-“to the day”-she says) We take the train out but we are going to cancel this year because of the virus.” Jim recalled his first visit to his old island home so many years ago, “John Cantwell (NPS Ranger) offered to escort us around the island and it turned out to be a six-and-a-half hour tour.” To which Cathy laughs and says, “That’s because you were talking so much.” Jim’s recall of events on the island is remarkable. During that first tour, Jim shared details which Ranger Cantwell had never heard before. According to the former guard, Cantwell remarked, “Jim, we’ve had a lot of guys come back here, but they don’t remember the things that you do.” Jim continued, “That’s because wherever I went on the island, and we went EVERYWHERE; the east gun gallery, up on the roof, the old officer’s dining room, every time that I go somewhere, when I step in it seems to trigger something, and I remember…”

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The New Industries Building at Alcatraz.

Cantwell took them to the old Industries building where there were “Great big, probably 8 foot by 10 foot, photographs of the prison and Jim was in several of them, so that was neat to go see that.” Jim says with a chuckle. Cathy adds, “He says he remembers stuff all the time, brings it up, he used to be able to tell you every inmate that was in there when he was there…their name, number, where they worked, where they lived.” Jim chimes in, “But I can’t anymore. It’s all gotten away. When I went there on August 24, 1959, that was my original starting date, and the low number of the inmates at that time was a guy named Clark, number 242, and of course when I left, 1576, Frank Weatherman was the high number. So we had not quite that many inmates cause if you came back, you got another number, I can think of one inmate who was there three different times under three different numbers. I come in August of 1959 and left the island June 22 of ’63.”
I asked Jim if he still had relics and souvenirs from his time as a guard and he shared that he still had his uniform but not the jacket. “I had to turn that in. I don’t know why, I was the only one left on the island and I shoulda kept it.” To which Cathy replied, “Then he found out later that they took all of those coats and stuff like that and dumped it out in the bay.” Jim adds, “Lt. Robbins came on the boat with a whole box of keys and dumped ’em into the bay. Fortunately, I was working the control center when it closed up so I have a key to the main gate. Being in the right place at the right time…I’ve also got a key to the main visiting room.”

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Jim Albright leading the “last line” of prisoners out of Alcatraz.

And, since we we all seated in the Albright’s living room, I recalled that Jim had once told me that they also bought much of the de-accessioned furniture from Alcatraz. Cathy giggles as Jim reveals that the chair he is seated in, and that from which Kris was filming from, were all once located in the furnished apartments for guards and officials on the island. Jim points out, “that magazine rack, is off the island.” Cathy reports, “We bought most of it out of the warden’s house, they were selling it, when they closed the island, you could go up there and buy it and we did.” Cathy notes that the furniture is marked with a small metal tag reading “USP Alcatraz Survey” on the bottom. Jim further reports, “that tag has a number stamped on it and they had a book that they could tell exactly what that was and where it was.” He points over his shoulder and states, “That one bedroom down there, most of the furniture is Alcatraz, two or three items in our bedroom are all Alcatraz, the dining room table and chairs, a couple items out here and on the back porch. Red Ball moving company came to the island moved it for us. Everything had to go by barge over to Fort Mason”

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Jim Albright seated in one of the original Alcatraz chairs.

Jim recalls that his duties were light during the three months he remained on Alcatraz as the last guard. “There were others there, we weren’t alone on the island. There was a caretaker, a few maintenance workers and the lighthouse operators. I still spent my time patrolling the island with my bullhorn cause everybody wanted to board that island so I ran around yelling ‘you gotta stay off, this is Government property.'” When Jim left Alcatraz, he went to Marion, Illinois. “That was one of the seven places,” Cathy replies. The couple settled in Terre Haute and Jim retired here. “Three miles from my door to the prison gate. Last April I’m retired 35 years and I enjoy every minute of it.” he states. When I asked if his Alcatraz service helped him later on in his career, Jim said, “Because I had worked at Alcatraz, they didn’t even question what I did or how I did it. You know, it really helped as I went to different places.”

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The Warden’s house on Alcatraz as it once looked (right) and as it looks today (left).

I asked how Alcatraz compared to other duty, especially considering that the guards lived with their families alongside the prisoners. Cathy replied, “Well, we could go anywhere but ‘up top’ that’s what we called where the cellhouse was located. The only time we ever went up there was when the warden’s wife had a party and then we were escorted up there and when the party was done, we were escorted back down.” Cathy further stated that the families could travel into San Francisco whenever they wanted. “When we’d go to the grocery store, if they found out we were from Alcatraz, people would just back away from you. They had a big park there and our son would want to go so I’d let him run all over there. When the women found out that we lived on Alcatraz, he couldn’t play with them anymore. The kids didn’t care what the moms said, they’d just play, you know.” Jim recalls, “there was like twelve boats a day” going into San Francisco, “somewhere around here I still have the boat schedule. The last boat ran back at 12:20 am for the guys working midnight shift, if you missed that boat, you were in town all night.”

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