Whittle: Cell door reverberates

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It's no ordinary door.

One notices that by the bone-jarring "clang" sound the door emits, as its closing reverberates throughout the building.
By now, if you, or a member of your family, have ever been in the slammer, you've probably guessed we're describing an all-metal jail door.
But not a typical jail cell door. This door could be up to 200 years old.

"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.
"The jail door, which I'm advised came from an old county jail up in Hopkinsville, Ky., is the center piece of my collecting," Ganschow confirmed. "Wife (Michele) and I enjoy going to antique shops. A few years ago in Cadiz, Ky., I first noticed this old jail door in a shop. Finally, Michelle convinced me, I deserved that door, which turned out to be the anchor collectible in my shop that was still just a vision in my mind at the time. And by waiting, the price of the door came down to where I could afford it."

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.
"I'm having some restoration done on the cell window bars, to accentuate my main jail door," Ganschow accounted. "I'm looking for an artist of some sort, who could create my vision of having (TV Mayberry character) Otis looking out between the bars."

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.'"
"Another plate is inscribed 'Colored Entrance Only,' and I have no idea of its origin, although it was made in September of 1932 by the Ace Printing Co, where ever that company was located. A third collectible plate is labeled 'Colored - Seated in the Rear.' It shows 'Aug. 1, 1929'as the manufactured date."
A heavier metal artifact also smacks of "imprisonment."

"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."
There is a bottle labeled "Jailer's Premium Whiskey." A smaller bottle is labeled: "Lock & Key Wine" that sits beside "Nineteen Crimes Wine."
"All my whiskey bottles have a jail house theme," the collector confirmed. "One of my favorites is 'Big House Honey' whiskey."

When asked the name of his "shop," Ganschow smiled.
"We haven't been able to come up with a name, because it's more than just a 'man cave.' One friend suggested 'Time Served,' and that might work." Ganschow shared. "Why don't you invite newspaper readers to hold a contest, naming my stash of collectibles that focus on incarceration items?"
Persons with suggestions for his theme shop of incarceration collectibles can submit them to danwhittle@comcast.net.

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