Hi, thank you for checking out our new blog, Folsom Unveiled. My name is Kaitlyn Scott and I’m Folsom Historical Society’s historian. Each week I will be highlighting a different topic related to Folsom’s history that not everyone knows about by diving deeper into a place, event, person or piece in our collection.
This week, I would like to share with you some interesting events and visitors hosted at Folsom Prison. While I can not even begin to pretend what a typical day in the life at Folsom Prison would really be like for an inmate, past or present, our archive does have many photos of different events at Folsom Prison throughout the years that must have been fun to attend. You know, of course, that Johnny Cash played there and if you have been reading my blogs from the beginning you know that Sammy Davis Jr. played there as well but other famous faces made appearances and there was plenty of entertainment on the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve.
Baseball and boxing were as popular in the past as they were today. In the 1930s and 40s, Folsom Prison was lucky enough to host several famous athletes who played a game or had a match on prison grounds. Heavy Weight champions Max Baer and Jess Willard were two boxers who visited in the 1930s, with Max Baer returning several times throughout the 30s and 40s, in part because his brother Buddy (also a boxer!) purchased a house on Greenback Lane. In later years, former Mayor Jack Kipp recalled that as a kid, Max Baer pulled into the old gas station on Sutter and Riley (now an antique store) in his Duesenberg Convertible and gave Kipp and a couple of his friends a ride in it.
In 1936 and again in 1941, a team of well-known Baseball players came to Folsom Prison to play at the prison’s baseball diamond. The two games were watched by inmates as well as staff and their families. Max Baer attended one of these games as well. Some of the players were Tony Freitas who played with the Philadelphia Athletics (now the Oakland A’s) and the Cincinnati Reds, Ernie Lombardi who played with the Brooklyn Robins (now Los Angeles Dodgers), Cincinnati Reds, and New York Giants (now San Francisco) and Dick Bartel who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs (my team! Take me back to 2016…) and New York Giants.
On the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve in the early 1900s onward, inmates could celebrate all day at the prison with a long list of events hosted by staff and inmates alike. Events included a parade on the 4th of July, boxing, baseball games between inmate teams, racing, vaudeville performances by a group of inmates who preformed both events each year, and contests. Staff could watch the games along with select invited guests.
The 4th of July and New Year’s Eve events at Folsom Prison mirrored the events in the town of Folsom. It may have been a comfort to some inmates to be able to take part in celebrating holidays, or at least maybe it brought a little normalcy. Unfortunately, we do not have an account of how the inmates felt about the events or visitors described above, but I am glad that we have the pictures to share with you for this blog, especially since this side of prison life is not often shown.