escapes from “the tombs” (details)

Escapes from “The Tombs”

Oak, glass, typewriter film carbon on paper. 5 units: 3 x 17 x 13” each. Dim. installed: 76 x 17 x 13”

Five shallow glass-topped boxes are bolted into the wall in a vertical arrangement. Each contains, nailed to its bottom, a drawing of densely written text. The writing is illegible except for some “erring” lines or words. Carved on the front of each box is a lengthy caption with a story title of a 19th-century narrative of a famous escape from a prison in Lower Manhattan, referred to as “The Tombs” (because of its architecture, which was inspired by and imitates Egyptian tombs).

Text Source:
Charles Sutton, The New York Tombs, Its Secrets and Its Mysteries, eds. J. B. Mix and S.A. Mackeever (San Francisco, 1874)

The escape narratives, while relating some biographical details of the legendary escapees and, of course, the particulars of their escapes, are sensationalist and have a feeling of fabrication. Presenting the felons both as villains and heroes, these accounts mythologize the escapee as an individual and as a class of people, a fictional genre.