As part of our American Spirits exhibition, one of our local partners has loaned us three very interesting artifacts related to Prohibition.
Annie Anderson, a historic site researcher at Eastern State Penitentiary, explains a set of inmate intake cards from the early 1930s.
Eastern State Penitentiary recently made a very exciting step in its development as a museum and historic site. For the first time ever, we lent an object from our collections to another museum. In the upcoming American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition exhibition at the National Constitution Center, you’ll notice among the historic artifacts on display a weathered brown card featuring the steely gaze of a young blonde man posing for his mug shot. This is the official Eastern State intake card of 24-year-old Charles Dyanick, sentenced to ESP in 1932 for the manufacture, possession, and sale of intoxicating liquor. Although Dyanick’s crime was not attributed to alcohol, and ESP staff noted of his drinking habits that he was an “abstainer,” he was in direct violation of the Volstead Act, which enforced Prohibition.
We’re excited that we get to share such a cool piece of ESP’s history with the public, and that we get to collaborate with another museum here in Philadelphia. We love sharing stories about ESP’s former inhabitants and administrators. Speaking of which, we don’t know Dyanick’s full story, but we know that it could’ve been worse for him: In addition to his fairly short sentence of one to two years, his arrest came near the fall of Prohibition, which was repealed in late 1933.
Eastern State Penitentiary has a variety of artifacts and ephemera like Dyanick’s intake card from its days as an operational prison. Erica Harman, who oversees our collections, has helped the historic site amass a variety of items: inmate-made hand crafts and art, guards’ badges, locks and keys, photos and documents recording daily life at the prison, and more.
“Eastern State’s ruinous condition is part of its appeal for the staff as well as visitors,” said Ms. Harman. “However, the building’s environment currently prevents us from safely displaying our collection. We are very pleased to have this opportunity to allow visitors to see this unique piece of history in person.”
Charles Dyanick’s card, as well as two other cards of inmates convicted of alcohol-related crimes, will be part of the exhibition that will be traveling throughout the country until 2016.
For more information on Eastern State, visit easternstate.org.