The wrought iron door slams behind you in your new home, where you will stay until your death. The guard made no attempt to provide optimism or hope; indeed he actively discouraged it, assuring you that your punishment in this dismal prison would probably break you down psychologically and mentally. The grey walls are washed in despair, perfect for bouncing the echo of the howls of other prisoners around this building from Hell….
Tales of hauntings in places such as these, synonymous with crime, death and despair, are unsurprising. From brutal wardens dedicated to punishing the weak, to the deadly slayings of prisoners by their fellow inmates, the prison is a perfect containment unit for evil and barbarity. Not all of the prisons in Jail Exchange are said to be haunted – but in some locations visitors and staff alike believe that there is more than meets the eye.
From the outside Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia resembles an old British stately home, other than the enclosing stark gates. Almost 1,000 men died in this fearsome place which once housed five times its allotted capacity, and many more were tortured by officials. Paranormal recordings of several ‘hotspots’ within its walls are high, including Death Row, the chapel, and the North Wagon Gate where inmates were hung. The most famous ghost sighting is the ‘Shadow Man’, spotted in 2004 as explored in the website Ghost Hauntings.
Eastern State penitentiary in Philadelphia has been closed since 1971, but in the subsequent 44 years many visitors have reported sightings of supernatural creatures. The building is 187 years old and was visited by Dickens in 1842 during his famous tour of America, who wrote about its solitary confinement thus: “I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye.”
Designed in a ‘wagon wheel’ shape, infamous figures such as Al Capone and the five horse-rustling Buzzard brothers have walked these corridors – and may believe their ilk still frequent the building. The site is visited by ghost hunters several times a year and numerous spectral occurrences have apparently been observed, including moving objects and bizarre shape formations.
Capone was also one of the most famous inhabitants of a prison on the other side of the US: Alcatraz. Regarded by native Indians as an evil site before the prison was ever conceived, some say that the old prison on a rocky outcrop in San Francisco bay remains cold even in the summer months, and over many years almost every employee has reported at least one ghostly sighting or incident.
These included red eyes glowing in the darkness, mysterious deaths of prisoners, crying in the night, the sounds of banjos and clanking chains, and a man sporting mutton-chop sideburns passing through the warden’s house. A botched escape effort in 1946 that led to the death of three men, known as the ‘Battle of Alcatraz’, has only added to the island’s mystique.
Thirty-three other prisoners have attempted to escape what was believed to be an impossible fortress to leave and were caught, killed or drowned, although Fox News reports that recent research into the famous escape in 1962 by men using stolen raincoats fashioned into an inflatable raft suggests that it may have been a success. They may still be at large, and would no doubt be relieved to leave the ghosts of this god-forsaken place behind.