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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The "Columbia's Historic Market House: Part II - 'The Dungeon' ... Columbia's Deep Dark Secret" Story

Walking into what was known as the "Black Hole".
It was an ordinary day.  Following my guide Sophia down the old wooden steps into what at one time was known as the "Black Hole".  As I walk down the stairs I wonder whom might, at some time in the past, have also made a journey into the black hole.  I can feel and smell the dampness emanating from the thick concrete walls as I make a sharp left turn into the hallway that runs the length of Columbia's Market House in Columbia, Pennsylvania.  We are standing underground in what is now known as "The Dungeon".  The original bricks of the long narrow hall lead to seven dungeons on the right side of the hall that all have thick wooden doors and carry steel strap hinges that hold the solid doors to the thick door jams.  
The dimly lit hallway where the dungeons
are found on the right side of the bricks walk.
Above each door is a very narrow transom that has steel bars running vertical.  I turn right and step down into cell #1.  The dirt floor is said to have been covered with wood at one time.  At the opposite end of what appears to be a narrow eight by fifteen foot dungeon is a small iron window.  No light can be seen through the window in cell #1.
The walls seem to have been whitewashed at one time, but are peeling and cold to the touch.  There is no furniture or running water in the dungeon, but an iron, circular rod runs across the ceiling.  The rod runs the length of the market house and is structurally necessary to keep the walls in place. A small light is close to the door, but when the building was built in 1869, my guess is that the dungeons may have been lit by candlelight.  
The interior of each dungeon cell is very
similar to this one.  Notice the chains
hanging from the bars on the ceiling.
I step into each cell and notice that some have heavy chains hanging from the iron rod.  Could the prisoners in these dungeons been chained in place when they were residents in their dungeon?  One dungeon has what more than likely was the name of one of the prisoners scratched into the concrete wall.  This is pure history!  I walked into one dungeon that had thick metal walls as well as metal ceiling and door.  This door is secured with a very large iron lock held fast to the door with square-headed bolts.  No one was going to get out of this dungeon!  I can't imagine what might have gone on in these dungeons.  Sophia told me that the final dungeon on the narrow concrete hall was usually kept for the drunk prostitutes of the town that needed to sleep off their evening's drinks.  
Letters scratched into the walls tell the story of the cell.
The far end of the hall featured a thick wooden door with a slot at eye height with bars running vertical through it.  That too opened into a small area that was at the bottom of an exterior doorway that led to the street above.  Hard to believe that places like this existed in Lancaster County at one time.  
This cell has steel plates on all sides as well as the ceiling.
The door has a very large lock to make sure no one escapes.
Seems that there was a jail in town, but it filled quite often so the overflow would be taken to the dungeons.  A few framed signs now hang in the long hall telling of those who were residents of these dungeons at one time or another.  Columbia was known to have "Speakeasies" that operated during prohibition and at times Al Capone's henchmen were "guests" of the dungeons.  
At the far end of the hall is a wooden door with a small
opening with metal bars.  Very tight security.
Another resident of one of the dungeons was John L. Sullivan, the world's first heavy- weight boxing champion.  He spent a night in a dungeon after a night of carousing in town. His night in the dungeon is said to have vowed him to never drink again.  I'm sure there were many stories told about being a resident in the dungeon under Columbia's Market House.  
Past that door is one more ... an exterior
door leading to an outside set of stairs.
This door has no handle on the outside of it.
Couldn't have been a pleasant time.  Sophia answered my final couple of questions and we headed up the steps once again into daylight.  I'm sure many a soul who walked those same stairs years ago vowed to never do a bad deed again so as to avoid ever going back to the black hole, Columbia's Deep Dark Secret.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  PS - I have made the photographs sepia to give a better resemblance to the true colors of the dungeons. I intentionally didn't add flash to the photographs to allow you to see the lighting that I encountered in the dungeons.  Remember to click on the photos to enlarge them.

The exterior door on the side of the Market House.
Sophia led me back through the hall to the stairs that once again took me back into freedom.

1 comment:

  1. Great article of our "Dirty Little Secret", Columbia's Historic Market House's Dungeon. Thanks again Larry for your visit!