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Haunted prison tours are quite the trip

By Staff | Sep 24, 2014

Photo by Amanda Nicholson The wheel was at the original entrance to the prison. The wheel would turn and lock, allowing visitors inside the prison and also ensuring the safety of those on the outside.

While most are snug and secure in their beds, others venture out into the night, eager for a scare in an edifice that has seen its share of mayhem and murder.

It’s the unexplained that’s the draw, the empty windows, staring like vacant eyes as the sun goes down, the peeling cell doors, many shut but some open, the feeling of being watched, of the hair on the back of one’s neck standing up.

There’s something about a prison tour after dark, the musty smell and eerie feeling of all expectations pointing to experiencing something unusual, something more than you bargained for, something scary.

These buildings contained perhaps thousands of men, many of whom lost their lives on the inside, whether they were executed or murdered, never making it out alive. They lived their lives in 5×7-foot cells.

For many, the thrill of touring a haunted prison is just that: getting a scare and maybe encountering one of the ghosts. For this writer, it’s a blend of history and a chilling feeling of ‘maybe there is something else out there.’

Amanda Nicholson This photo shows the area known as the Sugar Shack at Moundsville Penitentiary.

The history of many of the prisons, like the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, is steeped in murders, executions, fires and prison breaks, and is fascinating to any history buff.

Construction started on the prison in 1867 and was completed in 1876 at a cost of around $363,000. The inmates built their own prison, which was operational until 1995. In 1983, Charles Manson sent a request to the Warden, asking to be transferred to be closer to his home and family. The request was denied.

But what holds interest is the infamous Sugar Shack, aptly named for rendezvous that might have happened between inmates, and The Hole, even the psych ward and cell blocks that housed the baddest of the bad.

A documented 36 homicides took place in the prison, most notably the murder of R.D. Wall, who was stabbed with a shiv while heading through the boiler room.

While sitting in the boiler room, during the night tour, it’s an eerie feeling knowing you’re sitting in the dark where someone was stabbed, waiting for something, anything to happen.

Other places of interest include the Sugar Shack, generally where inmates would go when it was raining and the Yard was not an option. Wide open space is punctuated by columns and decorated by inmate-drawn art. When left to explore during the night tour, a few photos might reveal an orb or two, if you believe in spirit energy.

The psych ward is one of the more scary spots. Old equipment still sits in empty rooms, including dental equipment and X-rays. But more alarming are the two solitary cells, where one of the tour guides we were with experienced voices and noises, alluding to a ghost. The doors, once open, are currently shut, and provide only the barest room for movement. It is said that if you sit alone for long enough, like the tour guide, voices will be heard, and if you are very lucky, you might catch a partial manifestation of a spirit.

During the Halloween season, starting in September, the prison also offers its share of scares, including The North Walk, which features North Hall, where most of the murders in the prison occurred, and The Dungeon of Horrors, where attendees can experience the fright of being locked in a cell, the fear of being lost in a maze, and the terror of an eerie walk through the dungeon of horrors.

Though the prison is no longer active, something, or certain someones, are still likely calling the prison home. (And I’m not talking wild animals.)

One thing’s for certain, the bloodiest institution in the nation offers up many thrills and chills for those willing to step outside of their warm houses and comfort zones for an evening of fright.

Other institutions to attend for a night of fright:

– Haunted Prison Experience at the Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield.

– Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pa.