Paranormal Penitentiary West Virginia Prison Is a Lock on Spooky Halloween Offerings

By Bloom, Elizabeth | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 24, 2015 | Go to article overview

Paranormal Penitentiary West Virginia Prison Is a Lock on Spooky Halloween Offerings


Bloom, Elizabeth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. - When he started working at the West Virginia Penitentiary, Tom Stiles was "a big skeptic." He didn't believe the prison was haunted.

But then he began experiencing unexplained phenomena: a light swirling through the prison yard, pressure on his shoulder as he walked through a basement room known as the Sugar Shack. Others have felt their hair being pulled or have heard screams, footsteps and weeping not attributable to any living person.

TV shows that seek out such paranormal activity have found it at the former state prison here, about 75 minutes southwest of Downtown Pittsburgh. Psychics who have visited said they saw it, too.

"They're not telling me something I want to hear," said Mr. Stiles, the facilities manager. "They're just telling me stuff I need to hear."

His conclusion? The prison is haunted.

Construction on the penitentiary began in 1866, and it closed in 1995. During that time it was host to some of West Virginia's roughest crooks. It became a tourist site soon after closing and, in 2008, was named one of Time magazine's 50 authentic American experiences.

Modeled after a prison in Illinois, the 500-cell structure sits on 12.5 acres. It offers a variety of activities for history buffs, ghost hunters and other thrill-seekers during the Halloween season and beyond. The state of West Virginia owns the Gothic-style complex, and the Moundsville Economic Development Council runs its attractions.

The 90-minute guided daytime tours give an overview of the penitentiary's history and operations and are the prison's most popular year-round activity. Highlights include stepping inside the 5-by-7-foot cells each inmate (and at times, up to three) lived in; gazing at the prisoners' original artwork and graffiti, which still grace the cafeteria walls, cells and other areas; and walking around the grounds, surrounded by the foliage-licked hills of West Virginia.

Visitors will learn about the riots that rocked the prison and hear stories about the prisoners who died or were killed over the years (which are creepy whether or not you believe in paranormal activity). A few of the toughest prisoners stayed in their tiny cells for 22 or 23 hours a day, Mr. …

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