Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mt. Holly Prison, New Jersey

The Mount Holly Prison in New Jersey is now referred to as the Burlington County Prison Museum.

In 1807, the Board of Chosen Freeholders appropriated the money for the building of a second prison in Burlington County, New Jersey.  The first, which was located in the basement of the county courthouse was falling into disrepair and over crowding.

Construction on the new prison began in 1809, and was completed by 1811.  The U-shaped prison was designed by an architect who, at the time, was young and relatively unknown.  That architect was Robert Mills, who would later go on to design and construct such famous structures as the Washington Monument.  The prison's architecture is unique for several reasons.  It was the first of its kind built using the latest technology in not only fireproof construction, but also optimized ventilation as a form of early heating and cooling practice.

It was also the first structure of its kind in the area designed not only to punish criminals, but to help reform them as well.  Both criminals AND debtors were housed in this 3-storey structure, and were taught skills such harness making, carpentry, and basket weaving.

A raised basement in the structure housed the prisoner workshops, but also the kitchen and dining rooms, and the wash house.  Outside in the courtyard, prisoners tended to a vegetable garden, participated in exercise and recreation, and unfortunately, were forced to stare at a stark reminder of what a life of crime could result in...the gallows.  The warden lived on the first floor, with the debtors, who were kept in a common room together.  The second floor housed a special "dungeon" room, located directly above the warden's living quarters.  It was this dungeon room where the most violent criminals and those awaiting execution would be held.

The construction of the prison did prove to withstand the tests of time, and is often noted as being the longest continually used prison in the United States.  It was formally shut down in 1965, with the last prisoner being transferred out by early 1966.  Today, the structure operates as a museum, and is open to the public.

Over its 150 year course of history, the prison has undoubtedly picked up a few ghostly legends.  Although Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo is sometimes cited as being the prison's most famous inmate, its the ghost of Joel Clough who has decided to extend his sentence here into the afterlife.

Joel Clough was convicted of murdering his lover.  Clough stabbed the girl to death with a knife upon finding out she was cheating on him with another man. After an escape attempt, he was recaptured, and spent the majority of his time in the dungeon, chained to the floor, awaiting his execution in 1833.  It is the dungeon that is often reported as being the most active area in the prison.  Visitors and staff alike have reported the strongest feelings of not being alone or being watched in this area, but also hearing moaning, crying out, and the jangling of chains coming from the room.  In fact, the first reports of such activity came merely days after Clough's execution, and were reported by inmates as well.  Activity increased in 1999 as the prison was undergoing renovations.  Workmen reported objects missing, only to show up later in strange places, mists, and of course, the usual noises.

The basement, especially near the kitchen, is also a very spiritually active spot in the prison.  During two different escape attempts, two different innocent people were killed by prisoners in nearly the exact location, a trustee, and a security guard.  The apparition of the security guard is seen somewhat frequently in this area, before vanishing in front of witness' eyes.

While these two spots seem to be the most active, paranormal phenomena is reported throughout the building.  Motion sensors on the second floor go off by themselves when no one is around.  The first floor is full of shadows, including that of a legless human apparition.  Footsteps can be heard on other floors when no one else is in the building, and in addition to feeling as if you're being watched, many have reported phantom touches as well.


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