In 1863, West Virginia seceded from Virginia at the height of the American Civil War. Consequently, the new state had a shortage of various public institutions, including prisons.The Wagon Gate was the only building at this site, during the Civil War From 1863 to 1866, Governor Arthur I. Boreman lobbied the West Virginia Legislature for a state penitentiary but was repeatedly denied. The Legislature at first tried to direct him to send the prisoners to other institutions out of the state, and then they directed him to use existing county jails, which turned out to be inadequate. After nine inmates escaped in 1865, the local press took up the cause, and the Legislature took action. On 7 February 1866, the state legislature approved the purchase of land in Moundsville for the purpose of constructing a state prison. Ten acres were purchased just outside of the then city limits of Moundsville for $3000. Moundsville proved an attractive site, as it is approximately twelve miles south of Wheeling, West Virginia, which at that time was the state capital.
The state built a temporary wooden prison nearby that summer. This gave prison officials time to assess what prison design should be used. Northern Illinois Penitentiary at Joliet proved to be an attractive design. Its Gothic Revival architecture "exhibit[ed], as much as possible, great strength and convey[ed] to the mind a cheerless blank indicative of the misery which awaits the unhappy being who enters within its walls."
The first building constructed on the site was the North Wagon Gate. It was made with hand-cut sandstone, which was quarried from a local site. The state used prison labor during the construction process, and work continued on this first phase until 1876. When completed, the total cost was of $363,061. In addition to the North Wagon Gate, there was now north and south cellblock areas (both measuring 300 ft. by 52 ft.). South Hall had 224 cells (7 ft. by 4 ft.), and North Hall had a kitchen, dining area, hospital, and chapel. A 4-story tower connecting the two was the administration building (measuring 75 ft. by 75 ft.). It included space for female inmates and personal living quarters for the warden and his family. The facility officially opened in this year, and it had a prison population of 251 male inmates, including some who had helped construct the very prison that now held them. After this phase, work began on prison workshops and other secondary facilities.
From 1899 to 1959, ninety-four men were executed. Hanging was the method of execution until 1949 with eighty-five men meeting that fate. The public could attend hangings until June 19, 1931. On that date, Frank Hyer was executed for murdering his wife. However, when the trap door beneath him was opened and his full weight was put onto the noose, he was instantly decapitated. Following this event, attendance at hangings was by invitation only. The last man to face execution by hanging, Bud Peterson from Logan County, lies in the prison's cemetery, as his family refused to claim his body. Beginning in 1951, electrocution became the means of execution. Ironically, the electric chair, nicknamed "Old Sparky", used by the prison was originally built by an inmate there, Paul Glenn. Nine men died in the chair until the state outlawed execution entirely in 1965. The original chair is on display in the facility and is a part of the official tour.
Tours are available for tourists wishing to see the prison. The Elizabethtown Festival is held every May to celebrate and remember historic Moundsville. A haunted attraction called the "Dungeon of Horrors" is also set up for the Halloween season. Paranormal groups and enthusiast travel guides consider Moundsville Prison to be one of the most haunted prisons in the United States, with ghost stories originating as early as the 1930s. Legends include the prison occupying the site of a Native American burial ground. Reports include former guards seeing phantom inmates and a "shadow man" wandering the premises, as well as unexplained noises, voices, and cold spots.
11-26/27-2011 This was our first trip to the Moundsville Penitentiary and was a very rewarding trip at that.
We investigated all parts except for the "Sugar Shack" as a couple of groups had laser grids set up and other equipment so we did the honorable thing and didn't interrupt them. I'm disappointed that we didn't go ahead and go in and do some of our own investigating next time we will investigate in there.
Our first thing we experienced in the prison this night was shadows and footsteps in New Wall. We met a fellow investigator named Bob who traveled from Champaign Illinois on a regular basis to the prison to investigate the Moundsville Penitentiary, a helluva nice guy too. He used a personal hearing amplifier which really amplified all the sounds in there a nice piece of equipment I think i might look into getting.
Bob suggested that we stand on opposite ends of the cell block and get our eyes accustomed to the dark and that we'd see shadows move in and out of the cells. We tried this on both sections of cells and when we tried it on the southernmost cells I saw what briefly appeared like a shadow pass across a window and we heard footsteps coming up from behind us and David was touched on his shoulder so noticeable that he thought it was maybe another investigator looking to go past us he said "excuse me" and moved out of the way only to see there was no one there.
I want to point out we traveled with voice recorders constantly recording not once did we move throughout the prison without recording.
We heard unexplainable noises in the infirmary and psych wards. We captured in photos many orbs but I attribute these to dust. I wore a headlamp while in there and i can see in the light beams dust particle freely moving through the air in those vacant buildings.
David and I sat in the "The Hole" area where R.D. Walls lived. We were down there for about 15 minutes and most of that time was in total darkness and we tried an evp session we didn't hear anything audibly but when we checked the voice recorders the next day we caught a great evp. You can listen to it at the following link.
Moundsville State Penitentiary - "Get Out!" by TOVPRT
I had a strange thing occur in the photos that I took in the kitchen and cafeteria area, on two separate times i was taking pictures in there and had two photos come out totally black and the flash worked every time I took a photo. I can't explain it, it never happened anywhere else in the prison and this was on two different occasions in this area.
I managed to get something in 4 photos in the bottom left corner. These were taken one right after the other and after the 4th image it never reoccurred. I first thought that maybe it could have been the camera strap but everything can be explained away. The camera was always in my right hand and in my left hand I always had the voice recorder at my side. The camera strap was always around my right wrist and it is attached to the right side of the camera. The lens of the camera is situated on the left side. I took all the photos with one hand (right hand) so to the best of my knowledge there is no explanation for this. I'm posting the pics for you to see maybe there is a logical explanation that I've failed to realize.
We plan on coming back in the spring in 2012 to investigate more and share our findings.