Friday, May 22, 2015

The killing of Calvin Baker at the Cypress Town Jail (March 4, 1911)

Old Cypress Town Jail in Cypress, Florida
The old Cypress Town Jail stands empty along main street in the now unincorporated Jackson County community of Cypress. Its concrete walls and roof are remarkably well-preserved considering the number of years since the last prisoner was held there.

The jail was built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and was often called a calaboose during its early days. The term is a Creole word derived from the old Spanish word calabosa (dungeon). It served to house individuals charged with violating municipal ordinances and as a place of temporary confinement for suspects charged with more serious crimes until they could be moved to the county jail in Marianna.

The entire jail was smaller than a normal cell today.
Such small municipal jails were common in Florida well into the mid-20th century and at least three still stand in Jackson County. The others are in Sneads and Grand Ridge.

The Cypress jail was made almost entirely of poured concrete, which was used to form not only the walls but the roof or ceiling as well. The floor is a slab of concrete and the window is a small opening closed with heavy iron bars. The front door was of heavy wood and was locked from the outside with a padlock. If you were unfortunate enough to be placed in the jail for a night, you were simply locked in and left on your own. There were no overnight officers or guards.

Calvin Baker was locked in the jail on March 4, 1911.
This was the situation of a young man named Calvin Baker on the night of March 4, 1911. Following an encounter with alcohol, Baker allegedly proceeded to have an encounter with the town marshal.

Although accounts are meager, Baker was described as a new arrival from Georgia in Cypress, which was then a booming sawmill town on the L&N Railroad. Following an altercation of some type that was inflamed by alcohol, he produced a gun and opened fire in the dirt streets. The town marshal was summoned, but when he approached came under fire from Baker as well.

A posse was organized and together the men finally managed to subdue Baker and take away his weapon. He was lodged in the little Cypress calaboose for the night. As was the custom, the wooden door of the jail was padlocked from the outside and the prisoner was left on his own until morning.

Interior of the old Cypress Town Jail
He never saw the light of another day. The following is the account of Baker's killing as wired to the New Orleans Times-Picayune from Marianna on March 5, 1911:

...Calvin Baker, a negro, who came here from Georgia recently, was shot to death by a mob at Cypress, a small town near here, last night. Baker yesterday had threatened to shoot up the town, it is said, and attempted to shoot the town marshal when that officer went to place him under arrest on the charge of disorderly conduct. Later he was arrested by a posse and placed in the town lockup. Some time in the night a mob battered down the door of the jail and poured a fusillade of shots into Baker's body.

The murder or lynching was investigated by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, but as no witnesses ever came forward, no arrests could be made. No evidence of the names or number of the people responsible for Calvin Baker's killing has ever been found.

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