Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Incarcerated in Iowa - An Historical Prison Project

This post isn't directly related to genealogy, although if you happen to be related to anyone incarcerated at the Fort Madison State Penitentiary in the past century and a half, it may have something to do with your genealogy. I still believe it's an important and interesting project.

My cousin, Mark Fullenkamp, is involved in a project, scanning in old glass negatives, some as much as 150 years old, found in the old Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa. You may remember my post regarding photos Mark took at the St. James Cemetery in St. Paul, Iowa that demonstrated a bit of genealogical serendipity. You can find that article here: http://matthewkmiller.blogspot.com/2013/07/who-finds-who.html

The poster, created by Mark, incorporated one of the photos he found.
He selected this one due to the way his eyes capture the viewer.
Other than inverting the colors and adjusting the overall hue,
the eyes are exactly as shown in the original photo.

The symposium was last weekend but I tend to believe this isn't the last you'll hear about this project.

Mark has been busy scanning over 11,000 old glass negatives into a computer and inverting the color, turning the ghosts they contained into the men they were. The plans are to match up the photos with prison files also found there to hopefully identify the individuals. At this point, I can't add much to what has already been said so I'll just direct you to the newspaper article in the Des Moines Register: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2014/09/08/mark-fullenkamp-iowa-state-penitentiary-images-fort-madison/15316259/

...and the official website for the project:

Myself, I can't get over the eyes of prisoner # 4439. In the negative, they look just plain evil.


---May 25, 2015 Update:

Here is an article published in the Burlington Hawkeye on Monday, May 25 providing an update on the status of the project.

Key points:

- Once funding is approved, an application for non-profit status will be submitted and the project will become the Historic Iowa State Penitentiary Foundation. At that point, fund-raising to maintain the prison and run it as a tourist attraction can begin.
- Mark continues to work on matching paperwork to photos and plans to use the original items to display in the museum.
- Mark has begun work on a documentary about the prison.



  1. Here's an update for the prison move.


    Another one of Mark and my cousins appears at the 1:05 mark. He's a guard in the tower at the prison.

  2. The last of the inmates have been moved from the old prison to the new. The old Iowa State Prison in Fort Madison is empty of prisoners for the first time in more than 150 years. http://www.connecttristates.com/news/story.aspx?id=1238063#.Vb6pGfnQPIr