Artifacts from the deadly Attica prison uprising of September 1971, which have been locked away for more than 40 years, will finally be shown to the public, possibly within a few months.
“We hope, by the fall, it will all be in place,” Mark A. Schaming, director of the New York State Museum, said Monday. “We hope to make it available to members of the public, other museums and people studying the history of the uprising.”
He noted that some of the items also may be displayed on the museum’s website but that no formal exhibition of them is planned at this time.
Schaming said that more than 2,000 objects are being examined and sorted to determine which ones can be kept by the museum and which ones are personal property that should be given back.
“Two families of correction officers who died wanted their fathers’ belongings returned,” Schaming said. “That’s what triggered this.
“There never was a spreadsheet saying what was there,” he explained. “The State Police and corrections staff are telling us what some of these objects are. I honestly feel that we and the other state agencies are trying to do the right thing. There’s a lot to look at.”
Schaming said that items found include illegal drugs and the keys to the main gates of the prison. He noted that they are being divided into contraband, such as handmade weapons and other forbidden items, and personal property, such as clothing, handwritten letters and wallets. “As you can imagine, it’s very sensitive,” he said.
Hundreds of letters and other documents from inmates had been accessible for public viewing at the State Archives for the last three years but recently were withdrawn.
“The inventory found that we have many personal items that raise all kinds of privacy issues,” archivist Chris Ward told the Albany Times Union last week. “They probably should not have been made available.”
Schaming said four truckloads of the objects, held as evidence in an unheated Quonset hut at State Police Troop A headquarters in Batavia, were turned over to the museum in 2010.
“It was packaged in dusty old boxes and bags,” he said. “There were trash cans full of baseball bats. Many of the objects had old State Police (evidence) tags.”
Officials with the state Department of Corrections said Monday that so far they have examined “about three-quarters of the property that was there.”
They added, “There was a lot of contraband – weapons and baseball bats – and a lot of things that were easily identified and not attributed to individuals. A lot of them were in plastic evidence bags. They’re in pretty good shape.”
The corrections officials added that they found “nothing of relevance to any outstanding inquiry.”
After everything is sorted, work will begin on returning personal items.
“We have to make outreach efforts to people who may be alive or to their families,” they said. “It may not be that easy to contact them, but we’ll make our best efforts.
“The problem will be that we’ll end up with some amount of property not connected with any individual and have to figure out what to do with it.”