The Tombs


The Tombs Hall of Justice 1839- as seen from Franklin and Centre Streets.
The Tombs Hall of Justice 1839- as seen from Franklin and Centre Streets.


Out of all the rioting, the police were noted to “having made only two prisoners whom they carried to the Tombs.”1 The Tombs is the nickname for City Prison, and was named after its architecture which is based off an Egyptian mausoleum.

It lies on top of what was Collect Pond, and extended between Franklin, Leonard and Centre streets. It was a house of detention for prisoners that were waiting to be tried but it was “within these walls that all the executions for capital offenses occurred until 1889.”2 During his tour of America, Dickens was shocked at the state of the prison saying, “Such indecent and disgusting dungeons as these cells, would bring disgrace upon the most despotic empire in the world! … Do men and women, against whom no crime is proved, lie here all night in perfect darkness, surrounded by the noisome vapours….and breathing this filthy and offensive stench!”3 The original Tombs was replaced in 1902, and there were three subsequent Prisons to fill its place. Although they have moved locations slightly, the modern Manhattan Detention Complex is still referred to as the Tombs today.






  1. “RIOTING AND BLOODSHED; THE FIGHT AT COW BAY. Metropolitans Driven from the 6th Ward. Chimneys Hurled Down Upon the Populace. “Dead Rabbits” Against the “Bowery Boys.” ORDER RESTORED AT MIDNIGHT. Riots in the 6th, 7th and 13th Wards. THE STREETS BARRICADED. THREE REGIMENTS CALLED OUT. THE 4TH AND 5TH OF JULY.”
  2. “DOOM OF THE OLD TOMBS; SOON TO BE REMOVED TO MAKE WAY FOR NEW   PRISON. Something About the Grim Structure in Centre Street Where Many Notorious Criminals Have Been Confined, and Numbers of Executions Have Taken Place — The Structure to Be Substituted Will Have More Room.” New York Times, July 4, 1896.
  3. Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation.

One comment

  1. Rich collins says:

    Is there a place where we can contact about keeper of the heys 1870 to 1900. Info about there time in setts etc

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