The Midnight Chain Gang
One of Danville’s better-known stories is the story of the midnight chain gang. As the town grew, so did the number of prisoners. Some were in for crimes that deserved more than confinement. Thus began the Danville Chain Gang. There were a total of about fifteen chain gang members, who had to achieve their freedom by doing menial tasks. One of their tasks was to dig a large public pond. They were digging late one night, under the careful supervision of the warden, when it started to rain. They thought nothing of it and continued working. Suddenly, it began pouring, making it impossible to see and extremely difficult to move. They hurried to climb out, but the soil was slick and gave way, causing them to fall to the bottom of the massive pit. They tried again and again, but could not succeed. The pouring rain, combined with the water that was already in the bottom of the pond, caused the water to rise very quickly. It covered their mouths and noses, making them fight to breathe. They were trying to swim, to survive, but they were all chained together. Those who were exhausted from the struggle pulled the others down with them. All drowned that night, except the warden.
The warden, thinking nothing of the situation, reported that all the prisoners had perished in what he called a “freak occurrence”. He told his supervisor that the dead had all been buried in a nearby wood. However, the warden never removed the bodies from the lake.
Weeks went by and summer began to reach its peak. Boys and girls flocked to the new lake to swim and escape the heat. Everything was fine until the first child screamed. The mud, which had acted as a kind of glue that kept the bodies on the bottom, had been disturbed. The first prisoner floated to the surface. A child who had been playing began screaming at the sight of the bloated and disfigured prisoner. By the end of the day, all but three of the prisoners had floated to the top. A cleaning detail was rounded up and the prisoners were removed and buried in a Danville cemetery. The remaining three prisoners never surfaced. To this day, they still lie in their watery graves below the surface of the lake.
East Jessamine High School