A cold, wet Memorial Day in Boise with little to do lead us to one of the few things in town open that day – the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. I am not sure why, but we have visited a number of these type of places over the years.
This complex is quite small, likely due to the small population of the state over the years.
Some of the buildings didn’t even have roofs.
The facility housed men, women and youth in the same complex, but in different buildings. This is the youth section
The small town of Weston, West Virginia is the home to the Trans Alleghenies Lunatic Asylum. Completed in 1864, it is often considered the second largest hand cut stone building in the world, behind only the Kremlin in Moscow.
Designed by Richard Andrews, it is nearly 1/4 mile long with wings coming off the main building. It was designed to house 250 people, but by the 1950s nearly 2,400 patients were jammed in.
Weston has seen better days. From a peak population of 9,000 it now is home to about 1/ 3 of that.
Once the hospital closed in the 1990s a group purchased the historic building from the state and has done some partial restoration.
Some of the center sections, including the auditorium, have been restored.
There is also a small museum with a number of items – including original patient art.
Some of the displays show the sad approach to mental health in past days – including a display for a lobotomy.
But we are not here for the museum – we are here for the darker side of the history of the place.
We took the ‘Paranormal Tour’. The building has a reputation of being one of the most haunted places in America.
Perhaps it has something to do with this room – the lobotomy ‘recovery’ room. Not really sure exactly what a recovery from a lobotomy was like, but I doubt it was very pleasant.
Our tour Val entertained us with ghost stories – including one for this room where they did a video shoot and a ‘ghost’ appear in some of the promotional photos.
The stone structure and general decay of most of it definitely adds to the aura.
Some of the wings had inspirational paintings remaining on the walls from the 1990s when the building closed.
Abstract art? Nope – seriously peeling paint on a ceiling with the bars on the stairway.
Numerous TV ‘ghost hunter’ type shows have stayed here overnight and filmed.
When I asked why a few of the rooms had this orange tile – Val demonstrated that they were the ‘restraint rooms’ – note the small round patches on the tile on the right side of the photos – it is where the restraints were secured to the wall.
Why is this door only to be use by ghosts? We are 3 floors up with nothing on the other side but air – and a 30′ drop to the ground.
The wings last were painted to different the mens wings, from womens, from childrens (yes, children), and the criminally insane.
At a few places in the facility you find offerings to the ghosts, such as candy and cigarettes.
The children’s section has to be the saddest. Some children had the misfortune of being born there and end up being raised there since their mother was a patient and they had no other family.
The staff believes if you leave other ‘offerings’ such as the baby carriage that it will attract the children ghosts.
Having been in a few buildings like this (Mansfield, Moundsville, etc) this one was in much better shape un-restored than those.
In this room Val was summoning a ghost named Larry to turn the flashlight on and off. Some on the tour were hardcore believers and were really into it (which added to the overall amusement of the afternoon) while others hmm – looked up the story of ghosts and magnetic flashlights on the internet (not going to give a spoiler here).
Val did a great job sharing the stories of the Trans Alleghenies Lunatic Asylum. Unfortunately I did not see or feel any ghosts.
The Historic Licking County Jail in Newark, Ohio was opened in 1889 and closed 100 years later. It remains however one of Newark’s top tourist spots, with a reputation of being haunted.
Built out of massive sandstone blocks, the entire building has a fortress or castle feel to it from the outside. In addition they added many architectural details such as the downspouts coming out the frogs mouth on the bulkhead above the doorway below.
The jail also served as the sheriff’s residence, as well as a couple of other apartments for workers. One worker was the female matron and cook.
It was here we met Nelson, who’s mother was the matron and cook in the 1960s, and where Nelson grew up. Without a doubt his story telling of a ‘youth growing up in jail’ added to the tour.
The favorite amongst the staff is a story where as a young teenager he and his mother lived on a 3rd floor apartment, directly above the office where the night shift guards hung out. One night his mother was out late and the guards had fallen asleep on the job, so Nelson thought it would be humorous to drop a lit firecracker out their apartment window and have it explode just outside the guards window – which he did.
The result was excited guards calling out all the police in the town with a report of a prisoner having a weapon. After hours of lock down and a complete search of the prisoners no gun was found (obviously) – Nelson indicated he was an adult before he fessed up about his prank!
Imagine coming home as a teenager and winding your way up the stairs in cages to get home…
With neighbors being the prisoners who were normally locked up for up to 6 months. Most were doing a bit of time for drunk driving or other relatively minor offenses. The more serious criminals were sent to prisons after their trials.
Security was critical though, as noted by the gun port for the guards.
Apparently bridge builders had the skill with steel and iron to build the cells.
The photo below is the mechanics of the door that makes that infamous prison door slamming sound.
A sad irony of our times is this country’s obsession with carrying around guns – so much so there has to be a ‘no weapons on site’ sign for a jail. Still with Nelson’s excellent story telling, and the rest of the staff’s passion with the history and legends of the building, it was an enjoyable couple of hours being ‘in the clink’, although no ghosts were sighted 🙂
When West Virginia split from Virginia during the Civil War it instantly found itself needing many institutional venues that were previously served by those now located in Virginia.
One of those venues was a prison, so in the late 1860s they started building a prison in Moundsville, just south of what was then the state capital of Wheeling.
The Moundsville Prison was generally regarded as one of the most violent prisons in America, with numerous murders and other acts of aggression regularly occurring. Eventually in the 1990s it was closed, and now serves as a tourist spot and training facility.
Gallows – There were over 90 executions at the prison, initially by hanging. It is thought this was the first location for the gallows, they were later moved to the ‘Death House’, which is no longer standing.