Personal effects from Attica riot stir memories

 More than 2,000 items were plucked from site of uprising

By Carolyn Thompson
Associated Press

AUBURN, N.Y. (AP) — After 43 years, Raymond Bogart finally got his prison guard cap back, and with it a flood of memories of being held hostage in the notorious Attica prison uprising.

The navy blue cap, stained and brimless, still had a scrap of paper in the liner with Bogart’s handwritten name on it.

“I’m surprised that much survived because the riot was so bad. ... so bad,” said the 78-year-old Bogart, who was beaten beyond recognition by a crowd of inmates as the uprising unfolded over five days in 1971.

The Auburn retiree is among a dozen state employees or their survivors who were recently offered belongings collected after the riot that left 11 staff members and 32 inmates dead.

In all, more than 2,000 pieces of clothing, badges, eyeglasses, letters and weapons were plucked from the mud and blood at Attica and held as evidence in investigations and lawsuits over the decades.

Still in the condition in which they were found, in some cases stained with blood and smelling faintly of tear gas, they are physical reminders of the violence and fear that began Sept. 9, 1971, and spilled through the overcrowded maximum-security prison in rural western New York. The siege ended Sept. 13 when state troopers and guards stormed the prison and fired hundreds of rounds into a prison yard, striking both staff and inmates.

After the New York State Museum catalogued the items with an eye toward displaying some of them, correction officials used last month’s ceremony marking the anniversary of the riot to privately offer 66 items to 12 state employees or their survivors. Plans are being made to also return inmate items.

The hostages’ belongings were placed in oak boxes with brass name plates. Items not linked to a specific person, including thermoses, car keys, locker keys and a wallet, were displayed in hopes families would recognize and claim them.

Vickie Menz said her prison guard father, Arthur Smith, who died in 1995, didn’t talk much about his experience as a hostage. He told his story to his family only one time, describing how inmates took him captive, beat him, threw him in a ditch with others and threatened to douse them with gasoline and set them on fire.

His story came to life for Menz through the box containing his navy blue uniform pants, caked with mud and still smelling of tear gas, and a torn, blood-stained shirt with some of its buttons ripped off.

“It’s back to the fear and terror of those five days,” she said.

Dee Quinn Miller, the daughter of correction officer William Quinn, who died two days after being injured in the riot, did not receive any effects but worked with the state for two years to help with the return of belongings to other families.

Learning of their existence was difficult and seeing them for the first time left her shaken, she said.

“To pick up a shirt and know that this individual was shot in the back, and there’s the bullet hole and the blood and the mud, it was absolutely horrible,” Miller said.

Among the other items returned to Bogart was his old badge inscribed with No. 13, a number his co-workers had often teased him about for being unlucky.

Bogart’s not superstitious but thinks that if anything, he was lucky for having survived, though the guilt can still bring him to tears.

“Me and this badge, we made it,” he said at his home while clutching the brass shield. “Thanks to the good Lord.”