West Virginia Penitentiary

Moundsville, West Virginia

On July 10, 2004 I attended the M.A.J.D.A ghost hunt/camp-out at the historic, haunted West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV. I must say, this is one of the coolest places I've EVER visited...I liked it so much that I attended more ghost hunts there on June 4, 2005 and June 17, 2006.

Like always, I took way too many photos, so I have divided them into the following sections:

You may notice that some of the photos are lopsided or really dark: this is because the prison was extremely dark and I couldn't see what I was taking photos of...I basically just had to point and shoot! I think some of them turned out pretty good though.

A brief history of the building:

Construction of the former West Virginia Penitentiary was started in 1866, just three years after West Virginia seceded from Virginia. The state legislature chose Moundsville as the location for the prison because it was very close to Wheeling, which was the capital at that time.

The first building constructed at the penitentiary was the Wagon Gate. One hundred and fifty inmates lived in this structure while they were building the prison. After the prison was built, all the inmates were moved from the Wagon Gate.

In 1876, the first phase of the penitentiary construction was finished. The prison is 682 feet long and has tall walls that are twenty-four feet high. Both the north and south cellblocks were constructed, as well as the admin building and warden's quarters. The West Virginia Penitentiary officially opened for full operation the same year, with 251 inmates.

Prisoners at the Pen were used for industrial labor. Over the years they had a blacksmith shop, stone cutting shop, a bakery, a farm, a coalmine, among other things. The prisoners were also provided with education...the school and library were constructed in 1900.

The majority of the prisoners were guilty of crimes like breaking and entering and grand larceny, and they therefore served shorter sentences of one to ten years. The prisoners were allowed to spend a lot of time outside their cells either working in the shops or spending time in the recreation yards. They were just locked in their cells at night. However, the more dangerous prisoners in North Hall (the maximum security section) had to spend twenty-two hours a day locked in their cells. They were only released into a secure area for two hours of exercise a day.

sheet music

Music that was performed by the Penitentiary band in 1932
Scanned from item in my collection.

In 1929 the prison was expanded to almost double it's size. Inmates were forced to help constuct the expansion. The expansion was needed due to overcrowding...the prison was so crowded that three people had to sleep in the tiny 5x7 foot cells. It was finished in 1959.

In February 1982 Crain vs. Bordenkircher, a case against the pen, was ruled on by Judge Arthur Recht. He ruled that the prison violated the Eighth Amendment (prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment). He also ruled that it violated an inmate's right to rehabilitation. The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the Penitentiary's 5 x 7 cells were unsuitable and cruel in 1986. The Pen officially closed in 1995, and all of the prisoners were moved to other locations.

The lease for the former West Virginia Penitentiary is now held by the Moundsville Economic Development Council. They conduct very informative tours of this historical buildings, and the National Corrections and Law Enforcement Training and Technology Center is also located on the premises. The Training Center uses the Pen for training exercises.

The former West Virginia Penitentiary is supposedly haunted. Maybe all of the stories about escapes, riots, and executions have something to do with these ghost stories?!

The first execution at the Pen occurred in 1899, and the last execution took place in 1959. In total, ninety-four men were executed there. Eighty-five of those men were hanged from 1899-1949, and the remaining nine men were electrocuted from 1951-1959. The original electric chair, "Old Sparky" is on display at the prison.

However, not all of the reported ghosts are those of men who were executed. One of the ghosts that is reported the most is that of a maintenance man who lived in the basement. The maintenance man was a big snitch, and he would tell the warden and guards whenever he caught the prisoners doing something they weren't supposed to. Well, one day the prisoners decided to get their revenge, and they stabbed him several times with homemade knives while he was sitting in the bathroom on the toilet. Today his ghost supposedly wanders around that section of the basement.

One of the pen's "hot spots" for paranormal activity is the "Sugar Shack". The Sugar Shack is a room in the basement that was used as in indoor recreation room. When the weather was too severe (strong storms or terribly cold temperatures) the prisoners were sent into the Sugar Shack rather than the outdoor recreation yards. The prisoners were pretty much left alone in this room, a guard would only periodically check in on them. Even though no one was killed in the Sugar Shack, there was a lot of violence and injuries. Also, "other things" would happen in this room that gave it the nickname...definitely not pleasant to think about!

I truly enjoyed my visit to the Moundsville Pen, and I highly recommend checking it out. The Pen has a great website, www.wvpentours.com, with a lot of great information and photos.

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