Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Theresa Travels Back to the WV State Penitentiary

View of the prison from atop Grave Creek Mound

Instead of taking one big vacation this summer, my family and I decided to do something a little different and take several mini-vacation getaways. One of those trips was an overnight stay to Moundsville, West Virginia, home of the infamously haunted former West Virginia State Penitentiary.

I had been to the penitentiary twice before, once with my friend Carrie as part of girl's day trip where we toured the Castle Halloween (a Halloween museum that used to be located in nearby Benwood, WV), took a historical tour of the prison, and then topped the day off with a trip to The Palace of Gold. The other time I had been was an actual overnight investigation of the prison with several members of HPIR.  However, Aaron and Luke had never been to Moundsville, and I'm always up for a trip to a haunted prison, so we decided to make a weekend out of it.

Mason-Dixon Line
The fun started on the way there. We took Route 2 for a big chunk of the trip, which allowed us to drive through some beautifully historic little towns, some of which are known for their own ghost stories. We even got to stop and examine a marker for the Mason-Dixon Line, which was REALLY unexpected.

Anyway, we arrived at the prison shortly thereafter. As we approached the parking area, Luke and Aaron were already in awe of the massive structure. Luke kept exclaiming how much it resembled a castle. We walked into the lobby area, and just caught the next tour leading out. Our tour guide was Chuck Ghent, a former correctional officer for the prison while it was in operation.

Now, I love Maggie Gray, another tour guide and former CO, to death and I think she's an excellent tour guide and resource. However, Chuck was absolutely awesome in his own right. He had a really dry, even sort of dark, sense of humor that I love, and that I'm sure he had to develop to cope with his work at the prison, especially his years in North Hall. He was extremely knowledgeable and had a great laid-back personality. In several areas of the prison, he'd give us the tour spiel, and then give the group plenty of time to explore the area on our own. There were even a few areas he let us in that weren't technically supposed to be on the tour, but are big areas of interest (such as the haunted boiler room where R.D. Wall's ghost is said to linger). He said that since many people traveled a long way to take these tours and might never again get the chance to visit, especially on the designated dates and times where those areas were accessible, then it didn't seem fair to not let us see them.
Where the 'Shadowman' was photographed

I am SO glad he had that attitude, because those extra touches really made the tour special for my son Luke, who was still 7 years old at the time. Luke is a great kid, and he's definitely his mother's son. We drag him to so many weird places its not even funny. He's been to more haunted locations than most adults, and he genuinely seems to enjoy visiting these spooky, yet historic locations. He was having a pretty good time, but his fun really started in the kitchen area.

Chuck had allowed the group to explore the dining hall and kitchen areas on our own, and its pretty damn dark back in some corners of the kitchen. That's the area where my team and I also saw and experienced some pretty weird stuff during our investigation. Even during the first historical tour that Carrie and I took, DURING the tour, while no one was back there AT ALL, we all heard noises like someone walking and a meal being prepared. Anyway, it was dark back there, yet Luke wanted to explore every nook and cranny and tiny room he could find. Being the ever-prepared investigator I am, I had put new batteries in my flashlight that morning, and had thrown the flashlight in my purse. I fished it out and gave it to Luke, but it refused to turn on. This was a well-made, fairly new flashlight and actual name-brand batteries, so I thought that maybe it had turned on while in my purse, and the batteries had drained. Luke gave the flashlight back to me, I put it in my pocket, and we continued with the tour. While walking down the hall to our next tour stop, Luke noticed that there was a light shining IN my pocket; that darn flashlight had turned on and was working perfectly. I switched it off, put it back in my pocket and we continued on.

Boiler Room Area
As I stated earlier, Chuck let us go down into the old boiler room and for some reason, Luke was super excited for this part of the tour, even though Chuck plainly told us about the murder and the rumors of the area being haunted. Luke, who sleeps with a nightlight on that is brighter than the sun, barged down the steps and started prowling around in complete darkness. Again, I fished the flashlight out and gave it to him. Again, IT DID NOT TURN ON. This did not stop my son, lol. A lot of people were down in the boiler area, so we could see fairly well thanks to their camera flashes and cell-phone flashlights. However, we ended up in some far away corner as everyone was leaving, and only by the grace of some woman who happened to walk by with a light did we make it out of there.

I thought Luke would be terrified, but he had no qualms with being in a pitch-black haunted boiler room. I don't think I had ever been as proud as I was at that moment.

We're locked in!
The tour continued with another highlight being the part where you can get 'locked in' one of the old cells. There are only a few cells available for the lock-in, so it takes a couple of rounds to get everyone through that wants to experience a few moments behind bars. And, like they do on a lot of tours, the guide pretended that one of the cell doors got stuck, and that the people inside would have to wait awhile until they got it fixed. It didn't happen to Luke and I, but he thought it was the most hilarious thing in the world that it happened to this other family that was on the tour. He talked about that for days afterwards, lol.

When it was finally time to end the tour, we spent some time in the museum area and gift shop. I think Luke's favorite part of the tour might have been learning about all the weapons the prisoners handcrafted out of various materials. That was another thing he talked about for days afterward. He picked out a souvenir fidget spinner and a t-shirt, and I bought a couple of books, including C.J. Plogger's The Tour at the West Virginia Penitentiary, which is largely about Chuck and his time at the prison. As I was at the counter paying for our goodies, the best part of the whole visit happened. After the last time my flashlight failed us, I just threw it in my purse. I had to open up my purse to get my wallet out, and lo and behold, that damn flashlight was in there, turned on full blast. I showed it to Luke, who was flabbergasted. He then begin to loudly theorize, much to the amusement of those around us, that this place was haunted and that a ghost had been messing with our flashlight all day long. He was sure of it...and, to be honest, the places where the flashlight refused to work were some of the haunted hot spots, so who knows.
Luke in North Hall cell

Each time I visit the West Virginia State Penitentiary, I have a great time and learn something new. This visit was no exception, except I think that most of my enjoyment stemmed from seeing my son have such a great time. Oh, and Aaron seemed to enjoy himself, too, lol.

The penitentiary was definitely a high point of our trip, but it wasn't the only wonderful place we were able to visit during our trip. We also visited the Archive of the Afterlife museum (which will be a blog all its own), the Grave Creek Mound and museum, and of course, we had to spend a huge chunk of time at New Vrindaban and the Palace of Gold. We had a lot of fun adventures this past summer, so keep an eye on the blog, as I try to get caught up with sharing them all with you!

*Want more prison ghost stories? Check out my blog about the true facts concerning the penitentiary's most infamous ghost, Red Snyder!*

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