Today, Columbus' Arena District is a trendy, commercialized, modern living space. Few are aware that the ground they are trodding is stained with the blood and tears of countless anguished souls. For centuries these few blocks, between Neil Ave and West Street, and Spring Street north to the railroad tracks, have witnessed traumatic deaths on a massive scale. I’m talking infectious epidemics, riots, executions, and a catastrophic fire that would entrap and kill hundreds. It’s a tragedy still known today as America’s worst prison fire. All this death and devastation happened in a city scape that today holds swanky office space, and manicured public parks.
I’m talking about the Ohio Penitentiary.
Most Ohioans today have never heard of it. Most Ohioans from days gone by it all to well. It was the first Ohio correctional facility to execute prisoners in 1844. It housed Confederate officers during the Civil War. Its infamous squalor and filthy conditions created the perfect brew for infectious disease that swept through whole cell blocks. But no story would top the catastrophic fire of 1930, that would entrap countless prisoners in their cells as they succumbed to the deadly smoke and flames.
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