If it’s not obvious to you by now, there’s something about penitentiaries that the team at Ghost Hunts USA is intrigued by. We can’t seem to stop visiting these places and experiencing all of their paranormal activity for ourselves. The West Virginia Penitentiary is no different, and it’s one that we do love being able to share with those that are equally as curious as us! It wouldn’t be a haunted location if there wasn’t a ton of history tied to it, which is exactly what initially sparked our interest in this space. That being said, take a seat and check out the intriguing history that makes up this haunted attraction.
When it comes to spooky stories, the West Virginia Penitentiary sets the scene. The building was constructed out of stone and fashioned in an architectural style that was nothing more than an admiration of the Gothic styling. In fact, the penitentiary was actually styled after the prison at Joliet, the only thing that was different was that the penitentiary was exactly half the size as the prison. In the year of 1863, West Virginia seceded from Virginia at the peak of the Civil War.
As this happened, it was a given that there was a shortage of prisons and facilities to care for the ill, including the mentally ill. Finally, in 1866, the state approved the purchase of 10 acres for a prison to be built. There was a temporary prison made of wood for that summer, but this time period served as an opportunity to see what types of features would be needed in the official prison.
At the end of the process, the prison had a north and south cellblock area, a kitchen, dining area, hospital and chapel. There was a 4-story tower between the two areas that provided space for administration and living quarters for the warden. The day that the prison opened, in the year of 1866, 251 male prisoners were immediately admitted to the prison that they played a part in building.
While the prisoners did play a part in the construction of the building, it wasn’t the only job that they would play a part in. Prisoners worked plenty of jobs in the area including carpentry, painting, a stone yard, blacksmith work, brickyard and a wagon shop and many others that they were assigned to. In 1921, a coal mine opened just a mile from the prison and provided another opportunity for prisoners to work at. In opening, the mine saved the penitentiary an incredible amount of $14,000 a year.
Overall, the condition of the prison was pretty great given the time. The jail was up to date in regards to what the facility provided, but they also put quite a bit of pressure on education and reformation. Prisoners would attend class daily and be assigned to jobs, but were also provided with food, clothing and the discipline to make a turn in their life.
Overtime, the conditions declined, leading it to be listed as one of the most violent facilities in the United States. Circumstances like rape, murder, drug abuse, fighting and gambling led to the prison being known as so. With the intentions of minimizing this issue, there was an attempt to expand the prison so that overcrowding wouldn’t be an issue anymore.
In 1979, fifteen of the prisoners that stayed here managed to escape. A few of them were in prison for some cruel charges. One of the individuals that escaped, Ronald Turney Williams, was serving for a murder of a police officer. In the planning of the escape, he was able to steal one of the weapons of the guards and used it to escape. After the prisoners managed to make it to the road, they crossed paths with an off-duty patrol that did his best to stop the prisoners from making it any further. He was pulled from his car and attacked, left wounded. Williams managed to stay at large for 18 months, with which he used his time to taunt authorities, commit more murders, participate in robberies, and manage to be tied to a string of crimes in both Colorado and Pennsylvania. He was eventually caught in New York City in the year 1981 and was was given multiple life sentences. There are various states that are ready to convict him.
In 1983, Charles Manson made a request to be transferred to this prison with the excuse that it would allow for him to be closer to his family. For good reason, his request to transfer was denied.
1986 also offered some exciting stories to tie back to the West Virginia Penitentiary. The prison itself continued to experience declines in security and safety. The prisoners roamed the halls freely and were exposed to disease and infestation of insects. With the overpowering number of 2,000 prisoners at this point in time, the prison was dealing with it is fair share of issues including fights, murder and drugs. On January 1st of 1986, 20 inmates stormed a hall, leading to one of the most infamous riots in history. The prison was short staffed, as it was a holiday, making the results of this riot even more intense. There were several hostages taken by prisoners, though none of them were seriously hurt. The hostages were threatened with knives, and daunted. While they were the ones that started the riot, they were far from prepared to handle what would follow. Three inmates were slaughtered for a variety of reasons in the days following the riot, but this situation lead to the need for new rules and changes to happen.
There are so many other incidents that happened in this space,
What about the Hauntings?
Penitentiaries are always an interesting place to visit when looking for paranormal activity. They are usually a space that is compiled of people having done horrible things and being on the defense of their safety while staying there. It’s a space where emotion and energy is pretty easy to encounter, but also one that makes learning the history of a space interesting. Some of the stories that we have heard and experienced lead us to believe that there are some lingering spirits of well known names.
When tallied up, there are 36 homicides that were recorded to have happened in the prison. One of the ones that is more notable and told often is that of a prison by the name of R.D. Wall. He was brutally attacked by three other inmates for one of the most commonly given reasons of “snitching”. The dull shivs that were used were handmade and were enough to get the job done, even while being dull. This is just one example of the absolutely horrible attacks and murders that happened in the prison. Aside from that, there are a total of 998 recorded deaths that happened in the prison.
When people visit the penitentiary, they talk about stories that lead us to believe there are spirits dating as far back as the 1930s. Historians have reason to believe that the ground that this prison is buried on is tied back to Native American’s that once lived on the land, though a lot of the spirits that you can encounter while on your visit are those of prisoners. The manners with which security took care of prisoners were some of the most brutal and torturous ways noted in history, which leaves the spirits that remain in this space haunted, angry and ready to express it.
The history that we’ve mentioned is still only a small part of what has happened within this penitentiary. Glance over the event schedule that we have arranged at Ghost Hunts USA and schedule one that you can join us for.