Wow Photo Wednesday ~ Cañon City Penitentiary

1900 Convicts in line

Convicts in line
Wow ~ “And I turned 21 in prison, doin’ life without parole.”
Our collection includes some 350 photographs taken at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City, Colorado – and talk about “double takes,” the human drama imparted by these images is at times quite arresting, pun intended. Staring intensely into the camera, prison inmates communicate their resentful submission to their fate as convicts, or barely contained fury at being caught after attempted escapes.
Built in 1868 before Colorado was a state, Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility – known as “Old Max” – received its first prisoner in 1871, and has housed such famous criminals as Alferd Packer, Colorado’s cannibal, and later, Ted Kazynski – “The Unibomber.”
Convicts in prison stripes and shackles walk in lock step, epitomizing the concept of “chain gang.” Dramatic lighting illuminates unforgiving steel and concrete cell blocks, and handlebar mustaches hearken to days of long ago, when discipline included corporal punishment on the “Old Gray Mare.”
Collapsed, burned roofs and blood on the floor give silent testimony to the 1929 riot, which took the lives of eight guards and six prisoners. Convicts mill in the yard during a lockdown,  and the prison psychiatrist bristles with tension in his position as confessor to the unwilling tenants of his domain.

[between 1930 and 1939?] Extension tower 9 side angle from north gate

Extension tower 9 side angle from north gate
We see a man being strapped into the gas chamber, in a glowing public relations demonstration of the equipment, used for the last time in 1967. Emotion fills the face of a man with a visitor, and a woman kisses her pet bird by the bars of her cell.
Among the photos from the Prison in the database, many are more disturbing than those shown here, and as a group they tell all kinds of stories about the inmates and the keepers in Colorado’s famous “Old Max.”  
Cañon City’s prison is featured in numerous movies and books, and we even have photos of prisoners watching a sneak preview of a romanticized interpretation of their own lives.
Victoria R. Newman’s excellent 2008 book “Prisons of Cañon City” is richly illustrated with photographs, many of which are also in our collection, as well as numerous previously unpublished images drawn from the Museum of Colorado Prisons collection.
Silver Dollar Tabor’s 1911 “Star of Blood” also features Cañon City’s prison, in its fictionalized [some would say “sensationalized”] biography of convict Allen Hence Downan.
The Library’s collection includes all kinds of materials, books, and photographs that can provide a deeper look into this fascinating corner of Colorado History. Here are all of our digitized Cañon City Penitentiary photographs, and be sure and check out our gallery below, showing a selection of photos on that subject.
“That leaves only me to blame, ’cause Mama tried.”
“Wow Photo Wednesday” celebrates photographs in the Denver Public Library’s Digital Collections that have “The Wow Factor” and that highlight the myriad delightful nuggets in our database.

Photo NewsCañon City PenitentiaryPrisonjailprisonerscrimecorrectionsPhoto Gallery: 

Cell house #1
[between 1950 and 1960?]

1st bldg.

A.H. Davis alias James Harris, Albert Davis and Albert Harvey.
[between 1930 and 1940?]

Bakery had capacity of 1200 loaves of bread a day
Full size imageca. 1900

Bird in a gilded cage
Full size image1959

Captain at lock-up box State Prison
Full size image[between 1910 and 1930?]

After the battle
Full size image1929

State prison cell block showing damage after 1929 riot
Full size image1929

Colorado pen riots corridor where convicts committed suicide
Full size image1929

Colorado penitentiary break 1947
Full size image1947

Colorado Penitentiary break 1947 Werner Schwarzmiller, convict
Full size image1948

Colorado penitentiary escapes
Full size image1947

Colorado Penitentiary escapes
Full size image1962

Colorado penitentiary interior
Full size image1918

Colorado prisoners break 12/31/47
Full size image1947

Colorado State Penitentiary
Full size image[between 1900 and 1910?]

Electric eye search
Full size image[between 1920 and 1930?]

Gas chamber
Full size image1966

Ready for execution
Full size image1966

George Levy, M.A. CSP psychologist
Full size image1966

Hanging cells
Full size image[between 1920 and 1930?]

Marching in line
Full size image1937

Old gray mare
Full size image1890?

Old Gray Mare
Full size image[between 1920 and 1930?]

Picking potatoes : washing & packing 1920’s
Full size image[between 1920 and 1930?]

Prison auditorium
Full size image[betsween 1890 and 1900?]

Prison band
Full size image[between 1900 and 1910?]

Prison band leader
Full size image[between 1890 and 1900?]

Prison festivities
Full size image[between 1920 and 1940?]

Prison visiting area
Full size image[between 1930 and 1950?]

Prisoner in cell at state prison
Full size image[between 1920 and 1930?]

Prisoners frisked in yard
Full size image1937

Richard F. Heilman
Full size image1948

State prison boiler room : prisoners doing laundry and playing cards
Full size image[between 1920 and 1930?]

State Prison exercise yard
Full size image[between 1920 and 1930?]

Typical cell
Full size image1944

Warden Wayne K. Patterson and Sylester Garrison
Full size image1966

Werner Carl Schwartzmiller : the convict who kidnapped Guard Capt. Chet Wms. Yeo
Full size image1948

West gate
Full size image1900

Artillery used during prison riot 75 millimeter fielpiece.
Full size image1929

Cañon City Penitentiary