Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pardon Places: The Unofficial Tour

In an interesting conversation with the folks at the BBC this morning, I was prompted - for the first time - to think about the top places that a tourist might go in the United States that are pardon-related. Here is my starter list. Explanations to follow. Nominations welcomed, places that are still around and associated with a photograph are preferred.

Alcatraz Island (San Francisco, CA) - OK, maybe it isn't fair to select a prison. But this one is different. Its most famous occupant, the "Birdman" would have never been known to the world had Woodrow Wilson not exercised the clemency power on behalf of Robert Stroud. Stroud was sentenced to death, but Wilson commuted the sentence to life in prison. Later, the whole bird thing began.

Blacksmith's Shop (New Orleans,LA)

The Blair House (Washington, DC) -This was the scene of one bizarre attempt to assassinate President Truman. Two gunmen made the play and one of them nearly sealed the deal. The second, Oscar Collazo, had his life spared by Truman. Although he was never repentant, and never applied for clemency, Jimmy Carter had him released!

Braddock's Field (Braddock, PA) - The scene of a major event associated with the so-called Whiskey Rebellion. Although many were detained, very few were formally charged and even less were actually charged. And George Washington pardoned them.

The Bradford House (Washington, PA)

The Crown Building (New York, NY) - One time haunt of Charles W. Morse, a Wall Street tycoon who almost single handedly caused the financial panic of 1907. Morse screamed of his innocence from prison then repeatedly feigned death. Eventually, he drank a concoction which caused his internal organs to simulate a fatal condition. William H. Taft granted a "deathbed" pardon and Morse went home to recover in a matter of days. In fact, he outlived Taft by three years.

Corner of 5th Ave and 15th (New York, NY) - This is the corner where Socialist newspaper editor Carlo Tresca was shot and killed. Charged with mailing "nonmailable matter" in 1923, Tresca was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. The ACLU convinced Calvin Coolidge to commute the sentence to four months. Car bomb attempts were made on his life and he was shot (and shot at) several times along the way. On January 11, 1943, whoever was after Tresca finally caught up.

Foshay Tower (Minneapolis, MN) - Wilbur Foshay was a utilities tycoon. When he opened his four million dollar, 607-foot tower modeled after the Washington Monument, he celebrated for three days and spend $116,000. John Philip Sousa wrote a special piece and brought his band along for the celebration. Within two months, the market crashed and Foshay was bouncing checks. In 1932, Foshay was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraud. But, five years later, the sentence was commuted by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Foshay was later pardoned by Harry Truman. 

Ford's Theater (Washington, DC) - When you stand here, you are in the place where Abraham Lincoln, who was very generous with pardons, was assassinated. But, of course, you are also in the place where the conspirators worked their deed. Samuel Arnold (pardoned by Andrew Johnson) planned the assassination with others during a visit to the theater. Edward Spangler (also pardoned by Johnson) assisted John Wilkes Booth out of a back stage door and onto a horse.

Frederick A. Cook Home (Brooklyn, New York)

The Fries House (West Rockhill (PA)

The Mudd House (Bryantown, MD) - This is the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the leg of Lincoln assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Mudd's family has sought a posthumous pardon, but research has not generally been kind to the hypothesis that Mudd was without guilt.

Niagara Falls (NY)

Nimisilla Park (Canton, OH) - This is the little park where Eugene Debs gave a speech that landed him in Federal prison. Although his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the conviction was upheld. Debs' sentence was commuted by William Howard Taft.  

General Slocum Memorial (New York , NY) - In June of 1904, the steamer General Slocum caught on fire and over a thousand passengers (mostly women and small children) burned to death or were drowned. The navigation and judgement of Captain Van Schaick came into question immediately as were the safety standards of the vessel. Eventually, he served three and a half years in prison and was pardoned by William H. Taft.

Shushan Airport (New Orleans, LA)

U.S. House of Representatives (Washington, DC) - First, when you stand here, you are looking at seats held by at least nine persons (Representatives) who benefited from the pardon. An untold number of pardons have been supported by members. If you look up in the Visitor's Gallery, you will see the place where three protesters pulled out guns and sprayed the chamber with bullets. Five congressmen were hit. Although the gunmen were unrepentant, and never requested clemency, they were freed by Jimmy Carter.

Watergate Hotel (Washington, DC) - When you stand here, you are looking at the building that brought down Richard Nixon (who was pardoned by Gerald Ford). But you are also looking at the building where G. Gordon Liddy worked his madness and Eugenio Martinez assisted. Liddy's sentence was commuted by Jimmy Carter. Martinez received a pardon from Ronald Reagan.

Western Massachusetts

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