Saturday, November 20, 2010

Iowa I Opener: Anamosa State Penitentiary Cemetery

I remember listening to a cemetery expert who was a guest on a Chicago radio show many years ago who remarked about potter's fields, "Homeless in life, homeless in death."

Just east of Stone City, Iowa is the 137 year-old Anamosa State Penitentiary, a maximum security prison.

For quite some time, it was "incarcerated in life, incarcerated in death" for some of its inmates.

The friendly volunteer at the Grant Wood Gallery in Anamosa told me to be on the lookout for the cemetery. He told me it was for "prisoners without families, or prisoners who died whose families refused to claim them." The graveyard is actually just outside the grounds of the penitentiary.

As far as I can gather, none of the interred included executed prisoners. Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965.

The penitentiary's most infamous inmate was suburban Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was jailed there from 1968 until 1970 for raping a teenage boy. Gacy was executed by lethal injection in 1994 at Stateville Penitentiary near Joliet, Illinois.

The cement gravestones, which were almost certainly carved by prisoners, are predictably uniform. But I did find one that stood out, that of World War II veteran Benjamin Perry of California, who died in 1962. I didn't inspect every tombstone, but Perry's was the most recent I saw.

Next: Amana Colonies

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