Thursday, June 11, 2015
Oliver Curtis Perry
Speaking of the prison at Dannemora….. Several years ago I received a telephone call from Dr. Tamsin Spargo, a professor at John Moores University, Liverpool, England. She was researching the upstate New York train robber, Oliver Curtis Perry. As it turned out, Perry had ties to the Irish Settlement, just north of us in Fulton County. Eventually, Dr. Spargo came to the US and Marta and I assisted her with her local research for her book which was published in 2004 as Wanted Man the Forgotten Story of Oliver Curtis Perry, An American Outlaw. At the time of its publication Publishers Weekly had this to say about the book. “Captivated by a photograph of the handsome Oliver Curtis Perry (1865-1930), Tamsin Spargo vividly relates his dramatic life in a popular but prodigiously researched biography. In 1892, Perry robbed the American Express Special of a fortune in jewelry and cash as it sped out of Syracuse, N.Y. Identified by a former colleague, he was pursued by Pinkerton detectives while his exploits were sensationalized in tabloid stories that celebrated his daring. Five months later, trying to rob the same train, he was caught after an exciting chase that included Perry's hijacking of another train. Severely emotionally damaged by virtual abandonment in childhood, Perry could still be charming and worked the media to his advantage. Spargo vividly describes the trial that resulted in a 49-year jail sentence, as well as Perry's desperate attempts at escape, which led to his incarceration in facilities for the criminally insane (first in Mattewan State Hospital in Fishkill, then eventually Dannemora State Hosptial for Insane Convicts in Clinton County). During this period, Perry deliberately blinded himself and went on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his imprisonment. While entertainingly bringing her subject to life, Spargo also reveals the terrible conditions that existed in New York State prisons and asylums during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” Perry is buried in the prison cemetery at Dannemora. The book is a page turner; if you have not read it come on by, and as we like to say here in Libraryland, check it out.