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A Very Haunted Prison

In 1863, at the pinnacle of the Civil War, West Virginia triumphantly seceded from Virginia. Governor Boreman had one complaint…he had no public service buildings in his new state, including the absence of a prison. It took him three years to convince the State Legislature to grant his request. The state then purchased 10 acres of the small town of Moundsville. Initially, a temporary wooden prison was built near the site. It then took ten years more to complete Moundsville State Penitentiary, enlisting the labor of its prisoners.Moundsville State Penitentiary

The prison is a formidable structure in Gothic style with turrets and battlements. It’s said to be fashioned after another notorious  prison, Joliet, located in northern Illinois. Governor Boreman’s vision of a bone-chillingly intimidating structure became a reality.

Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, the conditions improved annually with the activity for prisoners becoming primarily educational. A school and library had been constructed for their use. However, about the turn of the 20th century, conditions began to worsen until the penitentiary was ranked as one of the Top Ten Most Violent Correctional Facilities in the country.

a hanging

The first inmates sentenced to death were hung and the hanging was a public event until one prisoner was immediately decapitated as the trap door opened and his full weight was put on the noose.  Attendance was then by invitation only. In the 1950s, the electric chair was the preferred method of execution, which last until 1965 when executions were outlawed in West Virginia entirely.jail cell

Over the years, dozens of murders took place within those walls, some men being butchered with shivs for snitching on their inmates.  Several prison breaks culminated in the stabbing deaths of guards and Sheriff’s deputies, leaving the rapists and murderers at large in the community and beyond. Ninety-four  men were executed in the 100+ years the prison was in operation…and some of them never really left.

Moundsville State Penitentiary was decommissioned in 1995, and since has been used as a law enforcement training facility and is open for tours on the historical building circuit. An annual Halloween event, dubbed the “Dungeon of Horrors” is a popular attraction with its foundation built on legends and actual sightings of  ghostly former inmates and a ‘shadow man’ who roams the halls. Paranormal groups consider Moundsville to be one of the most haunted prisons in the United States. Disembodied voices, cold spots and unexplained noises have been documented by several groups.

Part of the legend’s origins lie in the fact that the prison was constructed onGrave Creek Mound Native American burial grounds, the Grave Creek Mounds. According to Wikipediaat 62 feet (19 m) high and 240 feet (73 m) in diameter, the Grave Creek Mound is one of the largest conical type burial mounds in the United States. The builders of the site moved more than 60,000 tons of dirt to create it.

The mounds date back to 150 B.C and and are thought to have been discovered in the 1770s by Joseph Tomlinson, 30 years before Lewis and Clark found them on their expedition and wrote about them. Tomlinson proceeded to gut the mounds, destroying most of the archeological evidence of the Native American Adena culture.  Burial vaults, including the remains, ornaments and a large amount of jewelry were found in 1868 when they were excavated by amateurs. Thanks to the fund-raising efforts of The Daughters of the American Revolution in 1908, the site was acquired and saved  from demolition. The state of West Virginia then purchased the land in 1909 and declared it a National Historic Landmark.

*Note: A huge thank you goes out to my dear friend, Ed, who took these photos on a trip with friends to tour the Moundsville State Penitentiary. He generously agreed to let me use them for this post on this most intriguing subject. (((Hugs to Ed)))

Is it Native American apparitions  or the ghostly presence of former inmates that haunt the cells and dining halls of this abandoned prison? I’m looking forward to touring this historic site…how about you?

You know I love hearing from you and anxiously await your comments!

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Discussion

  1. Janel  October 11, 2011

    I would love to visit a place like this! Every time I go on vacation I collect brochures for supposedly haunted prisons and asylums. One of these days I’ll convince my family to go on a tour of one!

    (reply)
    • Marcia  October 13, 2011

      Maybe next time go with a friend who enjoys this! Don’t miss out!

      (reply)
  2. hawleywood40  October 11, 2011

    Oh my gosh, those photos are wonderfully creepy, especially the one of the room with the stains everywhere. Gave me chills! Would love to visit one day.

    (reply)
    • Marcia  October 11, 2011

      Pam, that ‘s a cell…probably 6′ x 8′. Can you imagine spending the rest of your life in such a tiny space?

      (reply)
  3. patriciasands  October 11, 2011

    Marcia, this post made me feel like I was working my way into a good, creepy novel. Lots of subject matter there!

    (reply)
    • Marcia  October 11, 2011

      It’s great when you read something that prompts story ideas, isn’t it?

      (reply)
  4. Jess Witkins  October 10, 2011

    Oooh creepy. Do you know if any paranormal investigative teams have searched the prison? What was their findings? Did your friend Ed experience anything while he was photographing the grounds/prison? I’m torn whether I would want to visit the site or not. Sounds like some of the ghosts would be rather violent/evil. I am curious though.

    (reply)
    • Marcia  October 10, 2011

      Yeah, from what I read they have recorded some activity, but not much more info. I don’t Ed experienced anything…he did go into the cells and the dining hall. Others who have been in those areas, according to what I read, said they felt a creepy presence. I don’t know if anything has actually happened to anyone that visited, though. It’s a regular tourist attraction now, so maybe a ghost wouldn’t be aggressive with a lot of people there.

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  5. Catie Rhodes  October 10, 2011

    You know what I like!

    I don’t know who I’d say haunts the prison. I do believe that bad energy and good energy sort of imprints itself. I’ve been places that felt happy and I’ve been places that felt sad. Of course, the sad places made the biggest impression. :D

    As for the mounds, I do believe that disturbing such sacred grounds results in bad mojo. Maybe it’s just bad karma, but maybe it’s more.

    Thanks for such a great post. I loved the pictures.

    (reply)
    • Marcia  October 10, 2011

      Hey, Catie. Since this type of post is one of your specialties, your seal of approval means a lot!
      I agree about the bad feelings here. Whoever is haunting this place is angry or deranged!
      Thanks for coming by!

      (reply)
  6. Ed  October 10, 2011

    Yes, scary indeed during daylight hours!
    Thanks, Marcia :-)

    (reply)
    • Marcia  October 10, 2011

      There’s my pal! Ed, thanks so much for the use of your photos. They really made an impression!

      (reply)
  7. Emily Rittel-King  October 10, 2011

    That is a super creepy place. I don’t think I could visit there even in the daylight. Too spooky for me!

    (reply)
    • Marcia  October 10, 2011

      I hear ya, Emily! There are some places I couldn’t step a foot in, too!

      (reply)
  8. Donna  October 10, 2011

    I do love a good ghost story and I have seen 2 shows investigate the ghosts there, but I am not sure I am all that brave to go…of course daylight is preferred….

    (reply)
    • Marcia  October 10, 2011

      Oh, I know what you mean, Donna. I think I could go in the daylight as long as they didn’t close us in a cell. My friend’s pictures included one where they were all looking out from inside…no thanks. Confinement scares me more than any ghost!

      (reply)

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