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Inmates had access to chapels. There was a barber shop. A gym would later be installed. There were plans, never completed, for a pipe organ so inmates could be lulled to sleep at night.

“It was the most luxurious jail of its kind in the South, maybe the country,” said Mark Cowan of the Texas Historical Commission.

But it was still a jail.

Its early inhabitants included Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde; Raymond Hamilton, a member of the Barrow gang; and Harvey Bailey, once known as “the dean of American bank robbers.”

The jail earned a measure of notoriety in 1925, when a lynch mob nearly took over. Gene Autry memorialized the building in the early 1930s with “The Dallas County Jail Blues.”

“High Five is the fifth floor in the Dallas County jail,” he crooned. “When you get in ol’ High Five, no one will go your bail.”

Over the years, the jail held other infamous prisoners, including the swindler Billie Sol Estes. One of the building’s state district courts was presided over by Sarah Hughes. She would later be appointed to the federal bench, where her moment in history came on Nov. 22, 1963: She was the judge who swore in Lyndon Johnson as president aboard Air Force One at Love Field.

And the old courthouse played host to the media spectacle that was Ruby’s trial.

Represented by the colorful San Francisco lawyer Melvin Belli, Ruby was convicted in March 1964 of murdering Oswald. The conviction was overturned on appeal, on the ground that Ruby should have been granted a change of venue. He died of cancer on Jan. 3, 1967, just before a new trial was to begin in Wichita Falls.

Over time, the grandeur of the old Dallas County courthouse diminished.

The courtrooms were abandoned in the mid-1960s, though one was refurbished in the 1980s for use as a probate court. The jail closed in the mid-‘90s.

Now, aside from those headed to the probate court, the most common visitors to the building are the birds who’ve managed to find ways in through faulty windows. It could be years before the county develops a broader vision for the old building.

But Bursing and Stokes, the two young history buffs, have independently pressed ahead, highlighting two distinctive parts of the building: the Ruby courtroom and one particularly spooky room in the jail.

“There are just so many interesting stories,” Stokes said.

Bursing first became acquainted with the building before the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, when she was an intern for state District Judge Martin Hoffman.

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