Working for Copper John

This ever vigilant soldier in the uniform of the Revolutionary War has stood on the peak of the Administration Building since 1821.  Originally made of wood, he was taken down in 1848 because he was so badly decayed.  A replica was hammered out of sheet copper in the prison foundry, and he has been known ever since as Copper John.

His original post on the peak of the administration building, shown in this 1900 photograph, stood atop the giant prison belfry and circled by a series of dramatic points.  The bell was used to signal shift changes at the prison and could also be rung in case of emergency.  Prisoners referred to being incarcerated at Auburn Prison as “working for Copper John.”  Copper John faces outward.  To be released meant a man could look Copper John in the face.

When the old administration building was razed in 1938, Copper John was taken down, repainted, and, later, placed on top of the new building.

Copper John was taken down for maintenance in July 2004.  For more than a hundred years, rumor had it that Copper John was very well-endowed.  He was so high above street level that only corrections officers knew for sure.  The Department of Corrections in Albany decided to smooth him out when he was being refurbished.  Corrections officers protested the change to this historic artifact.  Prohibited by law from speaking while on the picket line, the corrections officers wore T-shirts that stated “Save Copper John’s Johnson.”  Their protest was to no avail, and Copper John returned to his post in October 2004 as smooth as a ken doll.

Copper John stands 8’ 8 1/2” tall from his boots to the tassel on his hat.  His rifle is more than 11’ tall.