I feel like it has been a while since I’ve blogged, and I’m excited to be back! I’m sure you are wondering what I could possibly have in store for today. Well, I actually have a couple of great keys that I would love to talk about today. We have received quite a few key donations in the past couple of weeks, and I’m going to talk about two of the most notable donations in my next two blogs. The first key is to the Gherla Prison in Romania, and the second key comes from the Chicago World’s Fair. These keys are both very interesting, but today I’m going to focus on the key from the Gherla Prison.
This key was donated by one of our employees, Clara, who came here to The Baldpate Inn all the way from Romania. She actually came to work with Claudia, a friend who is also from Romania. Claudia has worked at The Baldpate Inn for three seasons now. After her first experience working here, she knew that she wanted to donate a key to the collection. Amazingly, she was able to acquire the key to a secret passage in Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle, in Transylvania. Like Claudia, Clara decided that she wanted to donate a key to our collection. She contacted the Gherla Prison and explained that she would like a key to take to America to represent Romania in the world’s largest public key collection. The staff at Gherla was surprisingly willing to help Clara out and agreed to donate a key. They were initially going to charge Clara for the key but ended up simply giving it to her. The best part, though, is that they did not just send her a key. The prison sent her a key that was screwed into a piece of wood with a certificate of authenticity attached. The attached certificate guarantees that the key was used in the maximum security section of the Gherla Prison. The certificate is sealed to the wood with the official governmental seal, which is a very big deal.
Clara wrote the following on the tag for the key: “Gherla Prison in Romania – A landmark of Romanian communism under N. Ceausescu, where enemies of the state were tortured.” Nicolae Ceausescu was born on January 26, 1918, into a very large and poor family. The struggles that he experienced growing up probably led him to support Communism, which promised a better future. He became a rising leader in the Union of Communist Youth and was arrested after joining the underground Communist Party. He served time at Doftana Prison, where he was cruelly treated and left with a permanent stutter from physical abuse. While he was in prison, he met Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, who introduced him to Communist party elders and educated him in Marxist-Lenin theories. Ceausescu managed to escape from prison and gained more and more power as Romania fell under Communist rule. Gheorghiu-Dej became the top ruler in the country and made Ceausescu his successor when he died. Ceausescu had big plans for the country but only ended hurting it more than helping it. He started his rule by putting Romania in severe debt. Then, he was able to cut the deficit in half at the cost of drastically lowering the country’s standard of living. He forced the export of most of the country’s agricultural products, causing food shortages across Romania. In December of 1989, Ceausescu was removed from power and put on trial. He and his wife were charged with genocide among other crimes, and they were executed by a firing squad.
While Ceausescu was in power, he kept a close watch on the people of Romania and violently punished anyone who did not support his rule. He locked a lot of people away in the Gherla Prison, including many Anti-Communist opposition figures, who spent jail time or disappeared forever in this prison. The prison has a large underground area, and it has been reported that 15,000 inmates were housed in this area during the 1960s. The basic structure for the Gherla Prison came from the fortress of Gherla, which was built around 1540 by George Martinuzzi. The fortress became a prison in 1785 through the Imperial Decree of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor. Today, Gherla Prison is still used as a maximum security penitentiary.
I am extremely excited about Clara’s key donation, and I hope you enjoyed reading about the history of this interesting key from the Gherla Prison in Romania. I can’t wait to write my next blog on the key from the Chicago World’s Fair. I’m sure that you can hardly wait, either, but you’ll just have to be patient.
Have a great day!
Key Room Museum Curator