Prisons are not usually housed in pink octagonal buildings, at least not anymore. But one of the oldest public buildings in Nassau, on New Providence Island in the Bahamas, is a three- story pink octagonal building that was built as a jail. The building was authorized in 1797, but no one seems quite certain when it was actually finished. It might not have been pink originally, either, but with its whimsical shape and small proportions, it was probably never a particularly imposing building.
Perhaps it did not need to be. Nostalgic books about “Old Nassau” made the criminals of the old days sound as picturesque as their prison. The jail was described in a book of picture postcards as the temporary resting place of “gun runners and drunken wreckers,” which I presume to be men who made their living off shipwreck salvage.
In a sense, the building is still a jail today because now it is the town’s public library. On the Saturday when I sat down with a few old books to research Nassau’s earliest days, most of my fellow patrons were students, and while not outright miserable, none of them seemed terribly pleased to be spending a sunny Saturday working indoors.
And who could blame them? Tropical breezes blowing through the barred windows, birds twittering outside, palms rustling so close they brushed the window sills, horse hooves clopping past in the street outside — all these beckoned much louder than the pages of a dusty book or the glare of a computer monitor.
Okay, so I ended up not spending as much time in the library as I’d planned. But before we moved on down the street to the Pirates of Nassau exhibition, we did go up to the museum on the top floor of the library building. The tiny rooms house an interesting — and as far as I could tell totally unrelated — collection of shells, skulls, basketweaving patterns, parade costumes and a piece of the Berlin Wall.
Perhaps I did not examine these treasures as closely as I should have. If I looked again, I might come to understand an intricate connection between the artifacts. That would require another trip back to the Bahamas (heavy sigh). But I must remember that no sacrifice is too great in the cause of research.
Until next time…
[Note: This is an encore posting of an article first published on my website in 2006. I couldn’t resist revisiting the Bahamas in the midst of all this snow and cold!]