Whittle: Cell door reverberates
Tuesday, June 9, 2015 12:02 pm
By DAN WHITTLE
It's no ordinary door.
One notices that by the bone-jarring "clang" sound the door emits, as its closing reverberates throughout the building.
"It could go back to the early or maybe mid-1800s, being it's all one-piece, as in forged steel with no welding spots anywhere on the one-piece construction," described Middle Tennessee incarceration artifacts collector John Ganschow.
But regardless of the hundreds of other collectibles, his storage building centers around the jail door that ultimately launched the collector's hobby.
How functional is the jail door today?
"I have the keys, and they still lock and unlock the door," Ganschow demonstrated.
The collector recently acquired a former jail cell window laced with metal bars out of Franklin.
His latest collectible confinement artifact...
"I found this historic item a few weeks ago at the Nashville Flea Market," he shared.
The instrument is a harsh reminder of slavery in America dating from the nation's founding in the 1700s until the mid-1860s when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing people of color from the bondage of being owned and used as slaves.
"Don't misunderstand, I grew up in the north, with no prejudice against anyone in our community, whether black, white or yellow and red in skin color," Ganschow described. "I ran across the slave shackles last month at a flea market. I began collecting items that go along with the theme of my old jail door several years ago. Like the old jail cell door, the shackles are a part of our nation's incarceration history."
On the heavy iron shackles remain two brass plates attached with these words inscribed: "Negro Woman or Child Only' and "Property of George Town County Plantation Police."
Ganschow's three most-recent collectibles have more to do with "segregation" of races than slavery.
"I acquired these three metal plates that served as signs on walls of public buildings, probably from buildings located in the South," Ganschow speculated. "This plate was posted outside a Selma, Ala., swimming pool, inscribed 'White Only.' The manufacturing date is '1931.'"
"It's a ball and chain, like used in the old chain gangs of incarcerated inmates, a popular item used by prison authorities in the 1800s and early 1900s," Ganschow shared. "It's so heavy I don't think a convict could get very far with this ball and chain attached to his leg."
There's more to collecting incarceration-related items than one might guess: "Over here, lined up and down the wall, are my jugs of jail whiskey."
When asked the name of his "shop," Ganschow smiled.