Cleveland, OH: 1930. Large 8vo. Original color pictorial wraps. Good only. Covers chipped and worn. Pages toned. But still sound. 127pp. Item #22159
A detailed account of the great Ohio Penitentiary fire of 1930, published within the year of the April 21 blaze, the deadliest prison fire in American history, which killed 322 inmates. Written by Cleveland newspaper reporters Dan W. Gallagher and T.J. Thomas, the book provides a comprehensive portrait of the state of the prison during 1930, concentrated on its miserable conditions, (which the authors compare to Medieval torture chambers and 19th Century prison ships) and severe overcrowding. According to the text, at the time of the fire more than 5000 prisoners were kept in a facility originally designed to house about 1500. SPOTLIGHT indicts the prison's guards and administration, notably a Captain John Hall, head guard on duty who refused to unlock the cell block where most deaths occurred. The text is illustrated throughout with 22 photograph reproductions, most being of the fire’s aftermath, many with African-American prisoners figuring prominently, and Thomas and Gallagher appear to have extensively interviewed prisoners for the book. Novelist Chester Himes was incarcerated in the penitentiary (where his writing career began) during the fire, and he wrote about in his breakout article, “To What Red Hell,” which appeared in Esquire in 1934. Rather poorly produced and likely intended for regional distribution only, SPOTLIGHT appears genuinely scarce. OCLC notes 7 holdings, only 2 of those outside of Ohio. A rich and largely unheralded work of journalistic advocacy for prisoners’ rights.