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A Captive Christmas: 1919

December 1919. "Christmas tree at the District Jail, Washington, D.C., and some of the prisoners." National Photo Co. Collection glass negative. View full size.

December 1919. "Christmas tree at the District Jail, Washington, D.C., and some of the prisoners." National Photo Co. Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Behind the tree

I find it odd that what appears to be the only white person is hiding behind the tree.

[Santa! - Dave]

Hotel on the Marsh

The old District Jail was on Reservation 13, southeast of the intersection of 19th and Independence SE. Today's jail, the Central Detention Facility, and its annex, the Correctional Treatment Facility, are a few blocks south.

UPDATE: Thanks to Dave for adding the above LOC photo of the old jail's exterior. On another note, at first reading, I had thought the following reference to the "arms of morpheus" to be indicative of the use of the drug morphine. However, on further research (i.e. Google), I find it turns out merely to be a traditional synonym for sleep.

Christmas Saint To Visit City Jail

Spirit of Season to be Carried to Inmates
Today in Varied Manner.

When the first peep of dawn threw the bars of the grated windows of the District jail in relief on the rotunda this morning, the personnel were abustle, and from every cell could be heard the ejaculations of prisoners who, going back to the days of childhood, peeped into the sock hung on the grate, to see what the jovial Kris had left in his flight over Washington.

For there are several chimneys at the jail down which the corpulent saint might have come with his bag, and it would be only a small matter to make his way through the several wings when the inmates were in the arms of morpheus and leave his tokens for those inside. Furthermore, the stockings had been provided.

The usual custom of keeping the inmates at the jail in the small and decidedly compact cells is taboo today for a few hours, and every man who, in the language of the gridiron, has "one month down and six to go," will have the opportunity to mingle with his neighbors and perhaps exchange a few gifts that do no exactly strike his fancy.

Every man and woman in the institution, from Death Row to the humble north wing, where the boys with sentences of ten to thirty days are lodged, will receive several presents today, all from Santa Claus institutions in Washington. Each man who will put his feet under the jail table at noon is assured a generous measure of candy and nuts and a sack of smoking or chewing tobacco.

Many of the men who receive socks and other articles of wearing apparel, and still others will be allowed to receive remembrances from friends on the outside. It is not only to the masculine element of the "hotel on the marsh" the saint will pay his visit. That part of the institution given over to the women who are spending Christmas as guests of the District will also be remembered.

In addition to the presents, many of which are sent to the jail anonymously, the inmates are going to get away from the regulation diet for the day, and a menu would do credit to a hotel where the guests pay for their accommodations have been prepared.

Dinner will be served at noon at the jail, following the religious services in the rotunda, when the 290 inmates will join the singing of Christmas carols and perhaps mingle in little groups for the discussion of current topics or the more important question of "how long before the stretch is up?"

After the recreation period, which will last several hours, the program, according to Supt. Peake, calls for dinner. The following menu has been prepared: Roast pork and mashed potatoes, and plenty of it; rich brown gravy, prepared by a cook from southern Maryland, in for a short stretch; celery, cranberries, bread, coffee and apple pie.

Presents in the guise of turkeys and "all the fixings" have reached the jail for individual "guests," but whether the inmates will be allowed to have their private dishes served up today has not been decided. After dinner the men and women will be returned to their regular wings, but will be permitted to mingle in the aisles during the afternoon and possibly up to 10 o'clock tonight, when the order of "lights out" is given.

A huge Christmas tree decorated in electric lights will be placed in the center of the rotunda of the jail, and each man and woman will receive at least one present from the gift pile following the service.

Despite the grumblings of a few who feel that a Christmas in a nice warm cell is undesirable, the vast majority of the prisoners, however, have expressed feelings of appreciation at all the preparations being made today for their welfare.

Washington Post, Dec 25, 1921

Get a load of that!

Did a blue two-headed dog walk by to the left of the camera man? What's everyone looking at over there?

Naughty or nice?

I think I count five who are camera-shy.

District Jail

So where was this? This is before Lorton?

A Tree for Viewing

I can't find an account of the 1919 Christmas, but here is one from the following year:

Christmas To Be Merry at Jail

Supt. Foster Plans Holiday Feast and Entertainment for Prisoners.

Though confined in narrow cells, many of them awaiting execution, prisoners at the District jail will not be forgotten tomorrow, when the people of Washington will be making merry in their homes, as an unusually attractive program has been arranged by superintendent Charles E. Foster, for the persons in his charge.

Religious services will be held in the morning following which the men will be given a regular Christmas breakfast, consisting of fruit and a variety of vegetables. The morning hours will be devoted to rest for the prisoners. Dinner will be served in the early afternoon. The menu is as follows: Roast pork with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, stewed turnips, creamed oyster plant, bread, butter and coffee and mince pie.

The Fort Myer band will play for the men in the afternoon and boxes of candy, furnished by the Gospel Mission, will be distributed. A huge tree decorated with colored balls and electric lights has been set up in the rotunda where the prisoners can view it.

Washington Post, Dec 24, 1920

The Unbearable Sadness of Two-Story Trees

These unfortunate fellows should get together with those glum nurses from the hospital tree picture.

Not Too Merry

These guys seem camera-averse--and apparently were on the painting detail, judging from their clothing.

[That's mold on the emulsion. - Dave]

"Add Your Own Title"

Was this a segregated jail or is that white guy hiding behind the tree the only white prisoner?

Stocking Stuffers

"Just what I wanted -- a hacksaw and a set of shivs!"

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