Author Susan Cronk has just released her 13th book, “The Human Squirrel Cage – Nodaway County’s Rotary Jail.”
The book is Cronk’s fourth work of nonfiction. She is also the author of nine novels. A 14th nonfiction book, a companion to “The Human Squirrel Cage,” is due out in the summer or fall of 2019. It is titled “Thanks For The Hospitality But We Gotta Go.” That book will feature the 50 escapes and 19 attempted escapes from the Human Squirrel Cage.
“What do I do with them once I catch them?” This was the problem the early sheriffs of Nodaway County experienced. The first jail wasn’t constructed until 1846, even though the county, not yet officially recognized by the state legislature, was being settled in the mid-to-late 1830s.
The book encompasses the history of the county’s five jails, with emphasis on the most unique of those structures. The Human Squirrel Cage, aka Lazy-Susan, aka Merry-Go-Round, stood in use for 102 years and one month.
Of the 18 rotary jails built in the US between 1881 and 1889, it was in use as a jail for the longest period, while others were long-since demolished or turned into museums. Only three rotary jails remain standing. One is located at Gallatin. The largest of the remaining jails is at Council Bluffs, IA, and the first rotary jail completed is located at Crawfordsville, IN. Missouri was the only state which built three rotary jails within its borders: Maryville, Maysville and Gallatin. The Maysville jail was built inside the courthouse at the time.
The first Nodaway County jail was built around 1846 to 1847 and demolished prior to 1853. Nodaway was without a county jail until 1859. This is not to say they didn’t need one; they did, desperately, but there were difficulties getting anyone to build one. Three more jails would be constructed in the following decades, one in 1868, the next in 1882 and the present-day jail, built in 1985. Somewhere over the horizon is a sixth jail, as the present one has already reached the average “use-by” date for jailhouses. It has had its issues over the last 34 years.
The Human Squirrel Cage had a long and interesting history. It certainly experienced its share of events, including a baptism, an execution, a honeymoon, inmate deaths, multiple injuries and it hosted, for a very brief period, 12 pieces of living evidence, in the form of some raccoons seized from two poachers by the county conservation agent.
“You can’t make this stuff up, so you may as well let the jail’s history speak for itself,” Cronk said. “Every county needs a jail, whether you call it a Human Squirrel Cage, a Crowbar Motel, a hoosegow, pokey, pen, slammer or calaboose. The sheriff must have a place to house the county’s guests.”
The research into the book has taken Cronk five years, and the author is pleased to be able to make it available to the reading public. “The Human Squirrel Cage” may be purchased at the Nodaway News Leader for $15. The copies are signed. The book is also available at amazon.com.
To learn more about the author’s work, links and information are on her website at susancronk.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/missouriwriter.