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Local History


 'Free Show' at station as convicts unloaded
More guards than captives

Springfield Leader and Press, December 12, 1936, page 1

"The Frisco railroad's Sunnyland from Memphis was 25 minutes late getting into Springfield yesterday afternoon, and there was considerable commotion on the station platform when it finally puffed in at 3:50.

“Plainclothesmen from the department of justice and from the city's police force, uniformed guards from the federal hospital and uniformed city patrolmen dotted the platform peering suspiciously at every body who happened to stroll past.

"When the engine's whistle sounded a few blocks away, two trucks and an ambulance from the hospital backed onto the platform, stopped just east of the station itself. 'Trusty' drivers swung from their seats, opened the rear doors of their trucks. The ambulance edged in close to the tracks.


"When the train stopped, the last car on it came to rest with its door almost even with that of the ambulance. The windows of the last car were heavily barred.  Its doors popped open and federal agents popped their heads out.

"The crowd which had gathered waited.  For several minutes nothing happened, except that the federal agents on the platform and in the car looked at each other.

"Then they carried a man out of the railroad car and placed him gently in the ambulance.

"There was another wait of several minutes.

"Then they carried another man out of the car into the ambulance, and the ambulance sped away.

"Another wait.

"Two men, dressed in prison garb of khaki colored tunics with big numbers on them and dun-colored trousers, appeared in the door of the railroad car, guarded closely. They peered out, stepped down.  They were manacled together with chains. They got into the waiting truck.

"Another wait, then two more prisoners, another wait – and so on until a dozen or so prisoners had been transferred to the prison vehicles, fastened securely inside.

"A switch engine puffed up, pulled the car with the barred windows off down the track. The crowd began to leave. The hospital truck drove away. The police began to disperse.

"Another load of prisoners had been safely delivered to the federal hospital."

Read a previous article here. Postcards of the U.S. Federal Medical Center can be viewed here. Also available for viewing at the Library Center Echoes of mercy: the inside story of an infamous prison and the desperate cries from within by Randy H. Greer.

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