LIMA — James Daily II, a former Wapakoneta resident and graduate of Wapakoneta High School, found himself on the wrong end of the law as a youth.
He spent his time behind bars when he reached a pivotal moment in his life.
“Everyone is given a hammer in life,” Dailey said. “You can either build with it, or you can destroy with it.”
Dailey and co-authors of the book “Inside the Ohio Penitentiary (Landmarks)” spoke Sunday at the Allen County Museum to tell some of the stories contained in the book and were available for autographs after the session.
“I wouldn’t suggest taking that road,” Dailey said of prison. “However, the uphill battles, they are the stories that are more interesting to tell.”
Dailey decided to take the path of using his hammer to begin building. In coalition with David Meyers, a former penitentiary worker, and his daughter Elise Meyers Walker, he wrote a book on the history of the former Ohio Penitentiary.
The penitentiary was built in 1834 and was officially closed in 1979. In 1997, the building was tore down. However, Dailey knew there were stories to tell about the famous prison that held some infamous gangsters and other noted prisoners.
Much of the book focused on the story of John Dillinger, the infamous criminal with connections to the Lima area. Dailey shared some of Dillinger’s moments, including a jail break in 1933. Allen County Sheriff Jess Sarber was shot and killed in the incident by one of the gang members.
According to Dailey, the gangsters showed up at the jail claiming to be prison officials needing to speak to Dillinger. When Sarber asked for credentials, one of the gang members yielded a gun and said “Here is my credentials,” shooting Sarber.
While Dillinger always had a good smile for the cameras and was heralded by the press as the leader of the gang, Dailey said he was likely upset with the shooting.
“I don’t think Dillinger was too happy with it,” Dailey said. “He always said Sarber was treating him well. But some of the other gang members were trigger happy.”
Dailey said Harry Pierpont, of Leipsic, was likely the leader and was the most respected and feared of the gang. Pierpont and St. Marys native Charles Makely were both later executed for crimes committed with the gang.
Walker spoke of her chapter relating to women involved with the prison, including the warden’s daughter, Amanda Thomas. Thomas was a teenager when her father left to attend a convention and was left in control of the prison. She later on became postmistress of the facility. She read all of the inmates’ mail and was always approached by reporters because she knew everything going on. She was known to have counseled some of the prisoners.
Meyers said the prison once held James Brown, who had the reputation as being America’s first vampire. Brown was a Portuguese sailor who was tried in Massachusetts for killing another sailor while on the high seas and eventually was transported to Ohio. Yellow journalism was common at the time, Meyers said, and reporters were known to try to keep ahead of others. Meyers said it was soon written that Brown had drank the blood of other sailors out of skulls and other reporters said he was known to kill rats in the prison and drink their blood. Ultimately the vampire legend finally stuck.
Dailey is the curator of the Dailey archives, which includes the largest privately held collection of Ohio prison memorabilia.