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Ossining, NY and Sing Sing

Sing Sing (Later Ossining), New York

Ossining about 1850 

Detail: "Village of Sing Sing (Hudson River)" By W[illiam] H. Bartlett, [engraved by] R. Willis. London: Published for the Proprietors by Geo Virtue, [1840]. Engraving with modern hand coloring, from W.H. Bartlett's American Scenery, or, Land, Lake, and River. Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature, with text by N.P. Willis (London, 1840). Source for this image: Personal collection of Paul W. Romaine (this print only).

W.H. Bartlett's rendition of Sing Sing around 1839 to 1840.   If you click on the detail above to look at the fuller version, you will see what appears to be the Palisades, but which is really Hook Mountain and the other cliffs north of Nyack on the west bank of the Hudson River.

Benson J. Lossing's description of the Village of Sing Sing (Ossining), excerpted from his book The Hudson from the Wilderness to the Sea (1866), at the New York Public Library's digital collections. Lossing sketched prisoners in the 1860s. Here's an interesting excerpt:

In the prison for men, and in the workshops, everything is carried on with the most perfect order; every kind of labour, the meals, the religious exercises in the chapel, are all conducted according to the most rigid rules. The discipline is consequently quite perfect. Reformation, not merely punishment, is the great aim, and the history of the prison attests the success of the effort. Severe punishments are becoming more and more rare, and the terrible Shower Bath, which has been so justly condemned by the humane, is now seldom used, and then in the presence of the prison physician. Only when all other means for forcing obedience have failed, is this horrid punishment inflicted. It is admitted, I believe, that the Mount Pleasant or Sing Sing prison is one of the best conducted penitentiaries in the world. [page 303]

The Village of Sing Sing changed its name to Ossining in 1901, taking the same name as the Town (in existence since 1845), in order to distinguish goods manufactured in the village (such as shoes and stoves) from those made by convicts at Sing Sing Prison. (Source: Sparta Timeline www.jugtavern.org)

Sing Sing Correctional Facility. The prison began construction in 1825. It was considered a good location because of its proxmity to the Hudson River, accessibility to New York City, and local stone ("Sing Sing marble") that could be easily used in the building. (There are plans as of 2000 for the State of New York's Department of Parks to build a special interpretive center on prisons and reform movements. Sing Sing Prison grew out of the Nineteenth Century's interest in reforming the criminal element. Unfortunately, our duly elected officials in Albany have no past, current or future plans to -ahem- "take the cure.")

View some Ossining Links


Of Thee I Sing Sing

Some silly humor I recently came across.

Watty Watkins: Susie, there you are! I need a little favor. I have this client, a Mexican girl who has inherited some money, but she can't come to collect it.
Susie Trevor: Why not?
Watty: Well, she's doing five years in Canto-Canto.
Susie: Canto-Canto?
Watty: Yes, that's Mexican for Sing Sing . So why canto-canto you pretend to be this little señorita and go collect her money for her....
     -Dialogue from George and Ira Gershwin's Lady, Be Good! (1924). [emphasis added ]

Kay: ...we'd go arm-in-arm along the path up the river!
Shorty McGee (a gangster): And don't use that expression "Up the River! "
     -Dialogue from George and Ira Gershwin's Oh, Kay! (1926) [emphasis added ]
(Ossining is located "up" the Hudson River from New York City.)

 

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© 2000 Paul W. Romaine