Lee wrote this post based on a trip he made on a day I was working. I have zero interest in visiting prisons let alone haunted ones, but Lee loved it so much he went back for a second trip in the dark. – Trace
Before you go, be aware that while there is a tiny little parking lot on the West side of the property (bottom center of the image below) it is NOT suitable for any kind of a rig. However, the west side (southbound) lane of Jefferson St is free to park, and the property is only a few blocks east of the main drag through town, so getting there and parking and getting out again is just a matter of using the grid pattern .
As we sloooooooowly work our way towards Charleston for Christmas, we are stopping at a variety of places and spending more time in states we really haven’t spent any time in. Trace works Mon-Fri, so I get to find things to see and do that are interesting to me, but not anything she would be interested in.
In West Virginia, we both wanted to see New Vrindiban, and while we waited for a weekend day to do that, I found a couple of places to see. I’ve always been fascinated by “fringe” places. Places that are extreme. Far away, or really high, or really deep, or just unusual. Abandoned places. Dark places. I’m not morbid, I just like history. I also really like Gothic and Deco architecture, as well. The West Virginia State Penitentiary fit the bill nicely!
Located in Moundsville, WV, just a little south of Wheeling, the WVSP was built from 1867-1876. It was modeled after the Joliet prison, famously used in The Blues Brothers. The original administrative buildings and cell block wing started operating in 1876 and finally closed in 1995. When it first opened, conditions were “good”, as prison conditions go, but after the turn of the century it all went downhill. Eventually the facility landed on the Department of Justice’s Top Ten Most Violent Correctional Facilities list and stayed there for many years.
In total there were 40 homicides inside the prison, but tour guides claim those were only the ones that were counted because witnesses saw them. Hundreds of other deaths were never ruled homicides.
In 1929, the prison was so overcrowded that they decided to double it’s size. The 5’x7′ cells were far too small for three people, but that’s exactly how many people they had in the cells. One on each bunk and one on a mattress on the floor. It took until 1959 to complete the construction, due to materials shortages during World War II. Even after the addition, the prison was still housing more than twice it’s capacity until it closed. The WV Supreme Court found that conditions at the pen were so bad that just it constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and violated the prisoners 8th amendment rights.
Over the years, 94 men were executed at the prison, most by hanging. Until 1949, eighty four men were hanged, and until 1931 those hangings were public events. At the last public hanging, Frank Hyer was executed for murdering his wife, but when the trap door opened and his full weight hit the rope he was decapitated. From that point on, hangings were by invitation only. After 1951, executions were completed by the electric chair, which was built by a prisoner, who was subsequently stabbed to death by fellow inmates. See this is all so gruesome. Totally not my thing..yuck! – Trace
“Old Sparky” was used on nine men until 1965 when capital punishment was prohibited by the state. The original chair is still in the prison, and until recently visitors were allowed to sit in it.
In the 1960’s, the prison, which was supposed to house under 700 inmates, had a peak population of over 2000.
In the pictures below, you can see where Old Sparky used to be displayed.
I had such a great time at the prison that I decided to go across town a few miles to the foothills and see the prison cemetery where people were buried who died, were murdered or were executed, if nobody ever claimed their bodies. Ok I am a little worried that this is Lee’s idea of a good time and as a capper he goes and visits a cemetery – Trace
And I was still not satisfied, so I decided to go back the next day for a nighttime flashlight tour. Much, much creepier, and included parts of the prison the first tour did not include.
The first stop that was new was outside, to the entrance to the basement, where solitary was. He was nervous about going back in the night. I was nervous about a restless spirit attaching itself to him and coming back with him. I told him not to bring back any riders. My work schedule would have allowed for this second trip at night, but no way. – Tracy
The night tour also included the infirmary and the psych ward.
The building is lit up at night with creative colors for the season, because they do a haunted prison halloween thing, and it really photographs well.
So that was my trip to the prison.
Stay tuned for the next dark tour, the Trans Allegheny Insane Asylum! Anyone else seeing a pattern here? – Trace
Supporting our Blog
We very much appreciate your support of our blog.