Paul Martin

My dad just sent this to me and I thought I’d share it. It’s a tribute to my grandpa done up by Eastern State Penitentiary.

A Tribute to Eastern State Penitentiary’s Catholic Chaplain’s Office Mural Artist

Lester Wallace Smith
July 11, 1924 – September 28, 2003

As Paul Martin turned back to his work he brushed the orange-red color onto the religious scene with fervor. He was painting the fires of hell and he had felt their fury.
Evening Bulletin, May 17, 1955


Communion of Saints, Eastern State Penitentiary

Lester W. Smith was born in Medford, Massachusetts on July 11, 1924. He described his early childhood as difficult. His mother, a single parent, struggled to support him and his younger brother during the Great Depression. She gave up when they were six and four and placed them in a foster home. The family reunited when she remarried seven years later.

Often in trouble during his teens, Lester enlisted in the Army at age 17. He served in World War II. While in combat in Germany, a bullet went through a friend, killing him and then hitting Lester – an event that earned him a Purple Heart.

After his Army career, Lester married Mary Mannke on Valentines Day 1947. By 1960, they had six children. It was also during these years that Smith led a secret life of crime. Between November 1953 and February 1954, Lester and a friend committed four armed holdups. He was arrested in Scranton and sentenced for a year in the county jail for a concealed weapons charge.

While in Lackawanna County Jail awaiting sentencing for the armed robberies, Lester had a life changing spiritual experience.

I used to mock the ministers and the priests, but one night I found I couldn’t go it alone anymore. First I cried and then I prayed. The next night something made me take a pencil and sketch a scene on the nearest wall.
Evening Bulletin, May 17, 1955

He had sketched the crucifixion, and this drew the attention of a visiting priest. Lester asked for his help in becoming a Roman Catholic. He undertook a period of study with the priest and was then baptized. Later at his sentencing hearing in Philadelphia, the judge, noting Smith’s conversion in jail and passion for his new-found religion, sentenced him to the minimum term of a year. Meanwhile, his accomplice drew ten years.


Crucifixion, c. 1955, Collection of Eastern State Penitentiary, gift of the Smith Family

The young man with the crew haircut brushed a bit of bright red orange onto the scene sketched in pencil on the waiting room wall…”I have a lot to answer for,” the young man said between strokes of this brush.
Evening Bulletin, May 17, 1955

Lester Smith served his term at Eastern State Penitentiary. This time his religious sketches were noticed by Father Gallagher, the Catholic Chaplain, who offered him the opportunity to paint on the walls of his office. He signed the 23 murals painted in the two rooms “Paul Martin” after the two saints that inspired him.


Lester Smith. c.1955, Collection of Eastern State Penitentiary, gift of the Smith Family

After Smith left prison, he exemplified the life of a reformed criminal, and he managed to keep his prison life a secret from most of his children for decades. His first job, at the Police Publication company, lasted ten years until the death of his boss. His seventh child was born in 1980. Outside work, he continued to paint, box, coach Little League, try to publish three books, and argue with his children and others about his favorite subject – world politics.

He was without a doubt a wonderful father and took his responsibility very seriously. He was a hard worker and worked until he was 73 at which time he retired.
Lester Smith Eulogy by daughter Sylvia Smith Anderson, 2003

After brain surgery in 2001 he entered a nursing home where he lived the last two years of his life. He died at age 79, a member of the Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Norfolk, Virginia. After his death, members of his family came to Eastern State to see the murals. They brought with them the collection of the c. 1955 black and white photographs taken of the young man and his murals.


Lester Smith with granddaughter Alicia Johnson

He truly was a loving person, a caring individual, who loved nature and the world and felt that God gave him a good life. Twenty grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren survive him so he has left a little part of himself in each one of us. We will deeply miss him.
Sylvia Smith Anderson, 2003

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2 Comments

Filed under Faith, Family

2 responses to “Paul Martin

  1. I’m so behind on commenting but that is a really cool story! Thank you for sharing it.

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