Sunday, May 31, 2009

Old Sparky

Old Sparky, 2005

It really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a state that executes convicted murderers at a rate unparalleled in the western world would have a prison museum. Located in a tidy brick building not far from the famous Walls prison in Huntsville, the Texas Prison Museum is staffed by a surprisingly cheery bunch, most of them former prison guards and staff.

The Museum houses all manner of prison paraphernalia. There are exhibits about the once famous Texas Prison Rodeo, dioramas about famous prison riots and break-outs, burnt flags left behind by death penalty protesters, and displays of weapons made by prisoners from soap, crushed bugs and belly button lint. And pictures galore: a hanging; a popular warden; a chain gang; famous Texas prisoners such as rocker David Crosby, Woody Harrelson’s dad, Carla Faye Tucker, and Kenneth Allen McDuff, who killed at least 14 people and whose likening of the murder of a woman to that of a chicken warrants its own display at the Museum, but is so crude that it will be described no further here. There’s even a cell and costumes where for $3 visitors can be photographed in prison stripes.

The Museum’s leading attraction, and most problematic one, is “Old Sparky,” the prison's first modern electric chair. Even an iron rail and Plexiglas shield cannot keep visitors from trying to sit in the Sparky’s eternal embrace. 

“We used to have a video camera pointed at Sparky and I was forever having to come back and get the kids out of the chair,” said my guide, a retired prison nurse who spoke as proudly of having once been asked to sit in Old Sparky so its restraints could be adjusted for a female execution as other ladies might brag about their prize dahlias or a special cake recipe. 

“Ain’t that something? People just don’t have respect for nothing these days.”

1 comment:

  1. I'm excited you're starting a blog--I know it will be entertaining, Chris! I'll look forward to your posts with glee, I know.

    I'm envisioning that lady telling you about sitting in the chair so that they could adjust it. Gives me shivers.