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Auburn Correctional Facility

Auburn Correctional Facility
LocationAuburn, New York
Coordinates42°56′05″N 76°34′27″W / 42.93472°N 76.57417°W / 42.93472; -76.57417Coordinates: 42°56′05″N 76°34′27″W / 42.93472°N 76.57417°W / 42.93472; -76.57417
Security classMaximum security
Managed byNew York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
DirectorTimothy McCarthy (superintendent)

Auburn Correctional Facility is a state prison on State Street in Auburn, New York, United States. It was built on land that was once a Cayuga village.[2] It is classified as a maximum security facility.


Constructed in 1816[3] as Auburn Prison, it was the second state prison in New York (after New York City's Newgate, 1797–1828), the site of the first execution by electric chair in 1890, and the namesake of the "Auburn system," a correctional system in which prisoners were housed in solitary confinement in large rectangular buildings, and performed penal labor under silence that was enforced at all times. The prison was renamed the Auburn Correctional Facility in 1970.[1] The prison is among the oldest functional prisons in the United States.

In its early years, the prison charged a fee to tourists in order to raise funds for the prison. Eventually, to discourage most visitors, the fee was increased.

The current front of Auburn Prison. Note the two guard towers on either side and Copper John on top
The current front of Auburn Prison. Note the two guard towers on either side and Copper John on top

Auburn system

Lockstep in the Auburn Prison
Elam Lynds, the first warden of the Auburn Penitentiary, is credited with creating the "Auburn (or Congregate) system."
Female prisoners in Auburn's workshop

In contrast with the purely reformatory type prison instituted in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia System introduced by the Quakers, the "Auburn system" modified the schedule of prayer, contemplation, and humane conditions with hard labor.

Prisoners were compelled to work during the day, and the profit of their labor helped to support the prison. Prisoners were segregated by offense; additionally they were issued clothing that identified their crime. The traditional American prison uniform, consisting of horizontal black and white stripes, originated at the Auburn prison. The prisoners had their heads closely cropped and walked in lockstep, keeping step with their heads bowed. Each prisoner placed a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him to maintain a rigid separation.

There was a communal dining room so that the prisoners could gather together for meals, but a code of silence was enforced harshly at all times by the guards. Thus the inmates worked and ate together, but in complete silence. At night the prisoners were kept in individual cells (even though the original plan called for double cells).

For several decades, this system was adopted by other jurisdictions. This system was also called the "Congregate System." The Sing Sing Correctional Facility, also in New York, was built using this system under the supervision of the former warden of the Auburn prison, Elam Lynds.

As of 2010, Auburn Correctional Facility is responsible for the manufacturing of New York State's license plates.[4]

Copper John

Copper John as he is today
The original Copper John

Copper John is a statue of an American Revolutionary War soldier that stands atop the Auburn Correctional Facility. It has entered the local lexicon as a reference to the prison and aspects of it, for example, getting sent to Auburn Prison is "going to work for Copper John."

"John" was originally a wooden statue that was erected atop the administration office of the prison in 1821. In 1848, the statue had weathered so much that it was taken down and a new statue was made out of copper by the prisoners in the prison foundry. In 2004, the New York state government became aware that the statue was fashioned to be "anatomically correct" and ordered the statue to be "incorrected". Some correctional officers made an impromptu protest by passing out T-shirts showing the iconic statue and reading "Save Copper John's Johnson"; but the statue was nonetheless removed, his penis was filed off, and remounted in August.[5]


The warden was an administrative position appointed by the New York State Commissioner of Correction. Currently, the heads of all New York State correctional facilities are termed "superintendent".

  • William Britten (warden) (?-1821) 1816 - 1821. He was a master carpenter and builder of the prison. He became the first warden.[2][6]
  • Elam Lynds (1784–1855) 1821 - 1825 (first term). He was also a principal keeper.[2][6]
  • Elam Lynds 1818
  • Gershom Powers (1789-1831) 1825 - ?.
  • Levi Lewis (warden) 1834 - 1836.
  • John Garrow (warden) 1836 - 1838.
  • Elam Lynds (1784–1855) 1838 - 1839 (second term).
  • Noyes Palmer 1839 - 1840.
  • Robert Cook (warden) 1840 - 1843.
  • Matthew R. Bartlett 1867 - 1869, 1.5 executions.
  • W. F. Doubleday 1843 - 1845.
  • Hiram Rathbun 1845 - 1846.
  • David Foot (warden) 1846 - 1848.
  • Edward L. Porter 1848 - 1849.
  • James E. Tyler 1849 - 1851.
  • Thomas Kirkpatrick (warden) ? - 1862 (warden).
  • William Sunderlin 1851 - 1886.
  • Charles F. Durston July 1887 to May 1893, 2 executions.[7]
  • James C. Stout (1843-1901) May 1, 1893 - February 1, 1897, 5 executions.[7][8]
  • J. Warren Mead February 1, 1897 - February 1, 1905, 14 executions.
  • Charles K. Baker (acting) Feb. 1, 1905 - Dec. 15, 1905, 1 execution.
  • George W. Benham December 15, 1905 - May 26, 1913, 24 executions.[9]
  • Charles F. Rattigan May 26, 1913, to May 1, 1916, 9 executions.
  • Brigadier General Edgar S. Jennings 1929.[10][11]
  • Frank Lamar Christian 1929 (acting warden) following riots in December 1929.[10][12][13]
  • John L. Hoffman 1930. He had a heart attack while in office and retired.[11]
  • Frank L. Heacox (1876-1953) 1930 (acting warden).[14]
  • John F. Foster 1944 - 1950.
  • Robert E. Murphy 1950 - 1963.[15]
  • John Deegan (warden) 1969 - ?.[16]
  • Harry Fritz (warden) 1971 - ?.
  • Robert J. Henderson circa 1974.
  • Harry Fritz 2012 - 2014 (as superintendent).
  • Harold D. Graham 2014 - 2018 (as superintendent).
  • Timothy McCarthy 2018 - current (as superintendent).

Principal Keepers

The Principal Keeper operated the prison on a day-to-day basis. Many went on to become wardens.[17]

  • Elam Lynds (1784–1855) circa 1825.[2]
  • Stephen S. Austin (warden) 1860 - 1863.
  • George Durnford 1929. Killed during a riot by Max Becker.[18]
  • Edward L. Beckwith 1930.[18]

Notable inmates

The execution of William Kemmler, August 6, 1890


  1. ^ a b [1]
  2. ^ a b c d "Auburn Prison Beginnings". Retrieved 2014-09-01. William Brittin, who died in 1821, master carpenter and builder of the prison who became its first agent and warden ... Elam Lynds, a lash wielding principal keeper who delighted in enforcing discipline. He was sadistic by nature.
  3. ^ McHugh, Eileen (2010). Auburn Correctional Facility. Arcadia Publishing.
  4. ^ Kirst, Sean. Doing time on the license plate line: Auburn inmates crank out every plate in the state . Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  5. ^ Bulkot, Mary (28 August 2004). "Copper John will return to his post". Auburn Citizen. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  6. ^ a b Jennifer Graber (2011). The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons & Religion in Antebelllum America. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 73–102. ISBN 978-0-8078-3457-2.
  7. ^ a b "Changes In The Prisons. James C. Stout To Succeed Warden Durston At Auburn". The New York Times. April 4, 1893. Retrieved 2014-09-03. Gov. Flower has undertaken to 'shake up' the State prison Wardens, and some lively developments may be looked for during the next two weeks. Orders will be issued within a day or two directing Warden Charles A. Durston to proceed to Sing Sing Prison and relieve Warden William B. Brown, who will be requested to walk into the secluded shades of private life. ... The new Warden of Auburn Prison is to be James C. Stout of Auburn, and thereby hangs a political tale particularly interesting at this time ...
  8. ^ "Ex-Warden James C. Stout Dead" (PDF). The New York Times. May 31, 1901. Retrieved 2014-09-03.
  9. ^ "George W. Benham, Retired Banker and Former Auburn Prison Warden". The New York Times. February 18, 1941. Retrieved 2014-09-02. George W. Benham, retired Auburn banker, former warden of Auburn Prison and for many years ...
  10. ^ a b "Christian Takes Control At Auburn. New Acting Warden Consults With Kieb and Starts Study of Situation". The New York Times. December 15, 1929. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Dr. Frank L. Christian, superintendent of the Elmira Reformatory, took charge of Auburn prison tonight as acting warden. He at once started a study of conditions. It is likely that Warden Jennings will go away for a needed rest. ..
  11. ^ a b "Picks J.L. Hoffman As Auburn Warden. Kieb Appoints Assistant Superintendent At Napanoch To Succeed Jennings. He Is Veteran In Service. Entered The State's Employ In 1902 As A Guard At Elmira. Fought in Two Wars". The New York Times. January 11, 1930. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Captain John L. Hoffman, assistant superintendent of the Institution for Defective Delinquents at Napanoch, was appointed ...
  12. ^ "Warden Ordered To Take Charge of Auburn". Greeley Daily Tribune. Associated Press. December 14, 1929. Retrieved 2014-09-01 – via Dr. Frank Christian, superintendent of Elmira reformatory ... Guy L. Meekor, chief of the reformatory.
  13. ^ "Rule At Auburn Shifted, Dr. Christian Is In Charge. Governor Speeds Inquiry". The New York Times. December 15, 1929. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Governor Roosevelt acted with speed today in taking steps to solve the prison problem at Auburn following Wednesday's riot there. ...
  14. ^ "Dr. Heacox Named Warden At Auburn. Heart Attack Forces Captain Hoffman To Resign Post He Took After Mutiny. 'Slow Up,' Doctor Advised New Appointee Physician At Prison". The New York Times. March 19, 1930. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Dr. Frank L. Heacox, chief physician of Auburn prison, was appointed acting warden today, succeeding Captain John L. Hoffman, whose resignation as warden was accepted by Dr. Raymond F.C. Kieb, Commissioner of Correction.
  15. ^ "Sing Sing Prison Gets New Warden. Denno, 24 Years in State's System, Succeeds Retiring Snyder". The New York Times. December 23, 1950. Retrieved 2014-09-02. Wilfred L. Denno, a veteran of twenty-four years of service in the State prison system, was appointed warden of New York's famed Sing Sing prison today ... Robert E. Murphy, 51, principal keeper at Green Haven Prison, who was appointed warden at Auburn to succeed John Foster
  16. ^ "New Warden Named At Sing Sing Prison". The New York Times. July 26, 1969. Retrieved 2014-09-02. The appointment of a new warden of Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, was announced today by the State Commission of Correction. ... Mr. Deegan will become warden of Auburn Prison.
  17. ^ "The Evolution of the New York Prison System". Retrieved 2014-09-01. ... the warden's first assistant, who was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the prison, was known as the "'principal keeper.'
  18. ^ a b "New Keeper Killed By Auburn Convict. Third In 3 Years. E.L. Beckwith Is Stabbed To Death In Mess Hall By Westchester Inmate As 900 Look On. 7-Year Grudge The Cause. Slayer Believed Four Months Solitary Imposed On Him Long Ago Was Unjust". The New York Times. March 6, 1930. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Edward L. Beckwith, principal keeper of Auburn prison since the death of George Durnford, for whose murder Max Becker, a convict, now is on trial for his life, was stabbed and killed today by a long-term prisoner in the mess hall, where 900 inmates were having their midday meal. ...
  19. ^ See New York State Archives, Record Group B0048, New York (State). Dept. of State, Respites and commutations, 1854-1931, Friday, May 16, 1884, Commutation of Sentence, Vol. 2, p. 31. He was not pardoned and thus still a convicted criminal but out of prison by reason of old age and various promises, later broken. He was subsequently convicted and incarcerated in Kings County Penitentiary until shortly before his death in 1889.
  20. ^ "The Trial and Execution of Leon Czolgosz". Archived from the original on 2016-11-14. Retrieved 2016-12-18.
  21. ^ Gooley, Lawrence P. (2009). Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow. Peru, NY: Bloated Toe Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9795741-3-9.
  22. ^ "YaleNews | First-known prison narrative by an African-American writer discovered at Yale's Beinecke Library". 2013-12-12. Retrieved 2016-12-18.
  23. ^ Burke, Caroline (2019-06-03). "Korey Wise Learning Disability & Confession Tape: Is He Still in Jail?". Retrieved 2019-07-11.

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