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Senator Schumer Backs Sing Sing Museum Plan

WAMC, Allison Dunne

New York’s senior U.S. senator has put his weight behind an effort to build a museum at a world-famous prison in Westchester County. He says the museum would have the potential to occupy a “must see” list for the New York City metropolitan area.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer says the museum at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, which sits along the Hudson River, would be among the first at an active prison and a major driver of tourism for the Hudson Valley.

“We have the potential here to create the Alcatraz of the East, a tourist destination that could attracts hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of tourists each year,” says Schumer.

The museum would be housed in a former power plant on the prison grounds, within walking distance of the Ossining Metro-North train station. In fact, the train tracks are just yards from the building.

“I am launching a push and will give major, major elbow grease to get funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities, which provides funding to get this very type of project off the ground,” says Schumer. “They provide funding for groups to plan and design museums. And I’m going to fight to make sure that this project gets that funding right away.”

Schumer has penned a letter to the acting chairman of NEH. He says NEH delivers grants several times a year, but did not know when the next rounds were scheduled. Democratic Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and State Senator David Carlucci, whose districts include Sing Sing, have been pushing the idea for a while. Here’s Carlucci, an Independent Democrat.

“We’ve been working with the New York State Department of Corrections. They are on board with this proposal,” says Carlucci. “It is out of the box, an idea of working with a fully functioning prison, but we have that space available. It will be completely separate from where prisoners are now. But I think it really adds to the flavor of this historical site. Since 1825, we’ve had notorious prisoners that have been here. Over 600 executions have happened here. The terms, “up the river,”  “the big house,” “the last mile,” they all originate here at Sing Sing.”

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne

He says he’ll be working to dedicate funds from the state budget for the Sing Sing museum, and envisions a private-public partnership. Again, here’s Schumer.

“Who wouldn’t want to visit Sing Sing prison,” Schumer says. “The stories and artifacts speak for themselves, including the prison’s old electric chair and various implements that were handcrafted by the prisoners who served here, not to mention some of the prisoners who spent time here were known throughout the world and are still remembered today.”

Such as David Berkowitz, who served time for the “Son of Sam” murders; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were sentenced to death after being found guilty of spying on the U.S. for the Soviet Union; and many members of the Murder Incorporated group, which carried out killings for the Mafia in the 1930s and 1940s.

“It’s important to note the museum would not just be about crime and punishment,” Schumer says. “It would tell the story of some important prison reforms that have been made over the last century. And Sing Sing is perfect lens through which to tell this story as it has been a leader in the reform movement since the early 1900s.”

As for tourism, Schumer says a Sing Sing museum could provide a boon for tourist destinations further north in the Hudson Valley.

“So it’s going to be great for tourism throughout Westchester and the entire Hudson Valley. It’s going to be a magnet ,” says Schumer. “So this has the potential to really bring literally hundreds of millions of tourist dollars, eventually, to the whole Hudson Valley area.”

If the roughly $25 million project is funded, construction could begin in 2017, setting the museum on track to open in 2019.

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