Thursday, November 14, 2013

West Virginia’s Moundsville Penitentiary

Located in Moundsville, West Virginia is the state's first penitentiary. This prison was opened in 1876. 

This massive gothic castle-like stone structure was built to hold 480 inmates. But by the 1930s, it housed 2,400 prisoners. It was still overcrowded in the 1960s when its population was at 2,000.

Moundsville’s cells were built particularly small--just 5 by7 feet--the reason for this was to encourage the inmates to participate in the prisons various work areas. But with overcrowding, these tiny cells often held three men each.

An expansion of this prison began in 1929, but the war caused a shortage of iron, which delayed this construction being completed until 1959. 

In 1986, the West Virginia Supreme court ruled these cells were “cruel and unusual punishment,” so Moundsville was ordered to close. The last prisoners were transferred in 1995.

Credit: TripAdvisor
Over its 119- year history Moundsville, like most prisons, experienced a lot of violence. This penitentiary was used for executions--from the 1800s until the death penalty was thrown out in 1959. Eighty-five men were hung, and nine were electrocuted.

Up until 1886, Moundsville used torture to punish inmates that were considered incorrigible. Two methods used were the “Kicking Jenny” and the “Shoo-fly.” 

The Kicking Jenny was used to hold the worst prisoners in place, while they were whipped almost to death or at least until the person beating them tired. This device stretched or tore these prisoners virtually in two.

The Shoo-fly held prisoners’ feet, arms, and head in stocks so they could not move. Then an ice-cold stream of water from a one-inch nozzle was shot directly into their faces. 

These two forms of torture were used until one superintendent quit--he stated he would not use them. This dramatic exit exposed this practice to the public. 

The Cincinnati Enquirer then did a piece about the torture.

“Many deaths were caused by the wardens who had been known to torture misbehaving inmates with ice-cold water in the face while being held in stocks. The really bad inmates were given near-death beatings, tied to a Kicking Jenny. Inmates’ feet were clamped to the floor, while their bodies were beaten over the Kicking Jenny, with their hands tied above their heads on blocks. How lovely!”

It is estimated that at least one hundred inmates died while being tortured at Moundsville. Exact numbers are not known because accurate records were not kept.

All this pain and suffering has left this old prison haunted. Most of the activity is residual in nature. There are several active spots. Including the chapel, the shower cage, Death Row and the Sugar Shack--which was the outdoor area that was used for inmate recreation.

Old Civil War Section

eighty-five prisoners were hung at this spot. 

Yet another active area is the entrance--a circular gate cage that led new inmates past the old warden’s living quarters when they first arrived. This circular gate has been seen turning on its own.

The ghost seen most often is that of a man called “Maintenance Man.” He is seen in the basement area around the bathroom. He was a snitch, who reported the wrongdoings of both the inmates and the guards. 

One day a group of inmates cornered him while he sat on the toilet and stabbed him repeatedly.

The area that held the gallows is also considered very active. 

Advil Paul Akins was one prisoner, sentenced to hang. But his execution was botched when the trap door opened prematurely. Akins fell down the hole headfirst. He was injured badly. But the guards just led him back up the scaffold and hung him correctly.

Another ghost that is seen is that of a prisoner that died while being tortured. This specter is known just as “Inmate Roberts.” He haunts the cellblock where he died. It is speculated his body was buried behind a wall to cover up his death.

During the cold winter months, Moundville used the basement as an indoor Sugar Shack or recreation area. This area is considered very haunted. The reason given is the guards did not watch or supervise the prisoners as closely since they were locked in.  The result was-- stabbings, rapes, and murders.

Today ghost tours are given at the old Moundsville penitentiary. Many paranormal groups have investigated this prison. One group caught a shadowy dark apparition next to a cell. When this figure noticed the photographer, it then walked through the wall. 

Not surprisingly, many people who visit report negative feelings or feelings of nausea.

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