Saturday, October 25, 2008
This is a journal of my trip for Panzram filming (October 16-18, 2008) focusing on Leavenworth Penitentiary which will fill in much of the second half of the film.
October 15, 2008
As I prepare to fly into St. Louis later in the night, I receive a call from Cindy Ashman who is the Executive Assistant at Leavenworth Penitentiary. Several weeks before I emailed Ms. Ashman and asked permission to film the exterior of the prison as well peckerwood hill, which is the prison cemetery where Carl Panzram is buried. Ms. Ashman’s First Reponse was: “Regarding your request, you take pictures of the facility from the public areas; however, you are not authorized to enter the institution's property.”
Of course I do not take no for an answer. Joel Goodman once commented on my research skills and compared me to a pit bull, stating that once I grab hold, I never let go. So I informed Ms. Ashman that I might walk onto the grassy area of the Prison to obtain closer shots of the exterior. She called me and left this message: LISTEN
No reason was given as to why I could not enter the facility. I am sure it will come as no surprise to other Americans that everyone I mentioned this occurrence to blamed the decision of Ms. Ashman on September 11 and the need for increased security. This is a blanket blame that is easily used as an excuse when certain privileges are not permitted in this country.
October 16, 2008
12:00 A.M. My birthday is today. When I arrive in St. Louis I pick up Dimas Estrada, who is working with me on this trip. We drive 4 hours to Lansing, Kansas, which is where we will have a couple of hours of sleep before waking up and filming. After we wake we drive directly to Leavenworth Penitentiary which is on Metropolitan Street in Leavenworth, Kansas. The exterior front of the prison is massive. Modeled after the U.S Capitol Building, the prison seems more like a regal king’s palace than a maximum security storage facility for the nations worst criminals. I stand across the street from the penitentiary and film the exterior. It was very frustrating as I had to wait for the busy street to clear before I could obtain a decent shot. Regardless, I filmed some nice shots. As I stand before the prison I realize that on this day of my birth, I am now the same age as Panzram was when he was executed at Leavenworth.
A truck pulls up. I am prepared to be accosted by the federal authorities. Surprisingly, the driver is Kenneth LaMaster, Leavenworth Penitentiary’s resident historian who has agreed to be interviewed for Panzram. He mentions that we can drive over to Fort Leavenworth and ask permission to film the disciplinary barracks which Panzram was incarcerated in after stealing items from an Army base he was stationed at. At the gates of Fort Leavenworth, I.D.’s must be shown, the car is searched and the hood is lifted for inspection. We follow Ken LaMaster into Fort Leavenworth. As we drive through the base, we approach the U.S.D.B which I recognize from historic photos. I am dismayed to see that construction is under way on the front of the prison. Looks like I will have to settle for historic photos of the U.S.D.B. We speak with several people at the base and are met by staff of the Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs Office who walk us over to the U.S.D.B. We approach the west wall of the U.S.D.B. which Panzram helped build in 1909 when he was incarcerated there. I film the wall as artfully as a forty foot wall can be filmed. While walking away from the wall, a truck pulls up and out steps an officer in Army fatigues. He asks us what we are doing and I tell him and point o the public affairs staff who are present. The officer walks over to them and scold them for not having their “badges” on them. He takes down their information. AS we leave the base, we pull into the 7-11 parking lot across the street and film the Fort Leavenworth sign. We then drive to the Missouri river and obtain shots of the wide river. We meet Ken LaMaster at the Leavenworth Public library, who were kind enough to let me interview Mr. LaMaster in their library. Ken is an encyclopedia of knowledge on Leavenworth Penitentiary, having authored a book on the prison and currently working on his next book focusing on Fort Leavenworth. Ken tells me about the Fallen Officers memorial inside Leavenworth Penitentiary which has a memorial to Warnke, the laundry room supervisor who Panzram murdered. The memorial is another location inside the Penitentiary which we cannot film. After interviewing Ken, Dimas and I drive to the prison to film at night. The lit prison is eerie and awesome at the same time.
October 17, 2008
We drive to Claremore, Oklahoma and arrive at the J.M. Davis Gun Museum. We meet with the museum curator, Jason Schubert and his intern Caleb Mitchell. Even though I am against every form of violence including weapons, the museum is fascinating. In addition to the collection of over 14,0000 guns, the museum displays Nooses and hoods from executed criminals, knives and swords, music boxes, war posters and other weapons and memorabilia, including the skin of a 14 foot Anaconda!
As I begin Interviewing Jason on the noose, hood, and harness which hanged Panzram, we blow the power strip and all the production lights go out. Jason saves the day and brings another power box. We begin again. A green gel we are using for the backlight falls off of the light. We have to stop rolling again. Is this Panzram making his presence known? Jason does an amazing job and gives a great interview. As I film b-roll of the items, I cannot resist touching the noose and hood with my bare hands.
We wrap up filming and drive to Springfield, Missiouri.
I am sad to hear of the passing of Levi Stubbs, singer of the Four Tops and the voice of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, one of my favorite films.
October 18, 2008
Around noon we arrive at the office of Charles Dudley Martin, who is the owner of the handwritten manuscripts of Robert Stroud, The Birdman of Alcatraz. I interview Mr. Martin at length on Stroud and how he came to defend him and finally own the manuscripts of Looking Outward and Bobby. Mr. Martin offers to drive us through the Federal Hospital where Stroud was transferred after Alcatraz, eventually dying there. We drive by the ominous barred-windowed facility. Afterward I film the building’s sign. Dimas and I were warmly welcomed by Mr. Martin and his family and spend an enjoyable evening in Springfield.
All in all it was a great trip. Every one of the interviewees were cordial and informative which made up for the disappointment of not having access to film inside Leavenworth Penitentiary.
Posted by John Borowski, filmmaker at 8:20 AM