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Books behind bars: look who's in jail and loves it.

The Noxubee County Library in the small town of Macon has a storied past. Constructed in 1907, it was formerly the county jail and was used to house criminals until it was abandoned in the 1970s. In the 1980s the town's library was in desperate need of expansion, and it was decided that the old jail was a perfect solution. The library would get the room it needed, and a downtown building would be renovated.

Built in the Romanesque style, the former jailhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Mississippi Landmark building. The award-winning building is located at the southern edge of downtown Macon across from the county courthouse and the war memorial. From the outside, you would never guess its previous life as a home for hardened criminals, unless you look carefully at the windows and recognize the bars across them. Once inside, get ready for a little gallows humor and a chance to have your picture taken standing behind the bars of one of the old jail cells.

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Looking for Goodnight Moon or Madeline? Then you can climb the stairs to the second floor where the children's books are found safely stored in their cells. As you head to the third floor, you will notice there are thirteen steps. This is the eerie route that condemned criminals followed on their way to the hangman's noose. Old English custom was to build thirteen steps leading to every gallows. Anyone unlucky enough to be sentenced to the gallows would travel thirteen steps, walk around the square to the trapdoor, and prepare to meet their Maker. Visitors can even view the hook that once held the noose, located above the trapdoor. Today, the trapdoor lever handle is locked into place and has been many years.

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The building is a much different place since the time criminals walked the halls of this former jail. It is quite interesting, historically, and also a little sobering to walk through former jail cells and trace the last footsteps of criminals from as long as a hundred years ago. Ironically, today's criminals now perform custodial work at the library.

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The library staff is quite friendly and not at all macabre. They are proud that their facility is so unique and that it attracts visitors from across the United States. They even hand out folded cards that proclaim "Look who's in jail and loves it." Inside is a picture of the library with a short history and a place to attach a photo of you behind bars that you can send to a friend.

If you are looking for a great story to read, visit the Noxubee County Library in Macon and hear the story of the old jailhouse while perusing for a great book.

Noxubee County Library Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. 103 East King St., Macon | 662.726.5461.

story and photography by reita Jackson
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Title Annotation:noteworthy
Author:Jackson, Reita
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2010
Words:501
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