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Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Walk Through Life 10/22/16


West Virginia State Penitentiary, Moundsville, West Virginia

  When we drove upon this massive stone structure, all we could say was “Wow!”. There was no doubt we were at the right place. Our first view was the twenty-four foot high walls, which we later found out were five feet deep. We drove around until we came to the main entrance. It is Gothic in style, complete with turrets and battlements. To look at it just brings out the excitement in anyone interested in ghost stories!
  The penitentiary opened up for operation in 1876. It was commissioned during the Civil War when West Virginia succeeded from Virginia and found themselves without a prison. It was denied several times, and Governor Arthur Boreman was told to use the existing county jails. The press got involved when nine inmates escaped from a jail. Boreman finally received the funding to build in Moundsville, West Virginia. Prisoners were used to build the structure, which at first included the Wagon Gate, a home for the warden, a hospital, a kitchen, dining area, offices, a facility for women and a chapel. It housed 251 male inmates. The second phase included workshops.
  Some of the inmates had jobs to support the prison. There was a bakery, a tailor shop, and a wagon shop. In 1921, a coal mine opened up in the area. This mine helped supply the prison with coal, so some of the prisoners were sent to work at the mine. At the turn of the century, prison conditions were reported to be good. Many of the prisoners were productive. A school and library were built to support education and rehabilitation.
  Gradually, the conditions worsened and the prison was listed on the United States Department of Justice’s “Top Ten Most Violent Correctional Facilities” list. Due to overcrowding, three inmates had to share the tiny cells, two on the bunk beds, which were attached to the walls, and one on a pallet on the floor. Gambling, fighting, murder, and rape occurred daily.
  January 1, 1986, a deadly prison riot was launched. A small group who called themselves The Avengers, plotted to take over on a holiday when many guards would call off work. Conditions of the prison had deteriorated. There was disease due to insects and bad plumbing. The third floor of the prison did not have heat in the winter and was stifling hot in the summer. Prisoners could pick the lock of their cells and would roam freely. Security had become lax. At around 5:30pm The Avengers took action. Six guards and a food service worker were attacked and secured with handcuffs. None of them were seriously wounded. However, in the two days of rioting, three inmates were killed by other inmates. The governor was sent to the prison for negotiations. New rules and standards were set.
  Later that year, the Supreme Court ruled that the conditions were not suitable and the 5’x7’ cells were cruel and unjust punishment. The prison was shut down. Even as bad as this prison was reported to be, Charles Manson requested to be sent to Moundsville. His mother was once housed in the women’s facility and he still had family in the area.
  On record, ninety-four men were executed. Eighty-five were hung in the Wagon Gate. In 1951, the State began to use the electric chair, nicknamed “Old Sparky”. Nine men were electrocuted until the State abolished the death penalty in 1959. There were thirty-six homicides, and numerous suicides. With all the death, anger, and hatred that went on inside these thick walls, there has to be ghosts!
  The prison is now used to bring in a profit. It is used as a museum to learn of the justice system, to look at the artwork of talented prisoners, to learn of prison history, and yes, you can visit “Old Sparky”. For Halloween fun, there is the Dungeon of Horrors. The spooky feel of the prison is intensified by the haunted house effects. From March until November, you can use ghost hunting techniques and get locked in overnight. During any of these events you have a good chance of encountering a previous inmate.
  A group of us, friends and family, went for the overnight lock-in. There were about sixty other people with us, so we knew that conducting investigations were going to be hard, but the place is big, so we were not walking on top of each other. During our preliminary tour, we learned of the key places known to have paranormal activity. One area was a basement room called the Sugar Shack. It was the recreational area when the weather outside was bad. The guards didn’t monitor the area very well since there was only one door and no windows. Since security was lacking, it was a place for gambling and fighting. No murders were reported to happen there, however. We were told by our tour guide that occasionally a spirit will be seen digging here, but no one knows why. Sitting in the Sugar Shack in the dark was not pleasant but we stayed there for a while. We did not collect any evidence of paranormal activity there, but the energy is so heavy you can almost feel the violence. All the fake blood and random items left from the Dungeons of Horror didn’t help make the atmosphere any more comfortable.
  Another basement room was what looked to be an old kitchen. It has a large cooking fireplace along one of the walls. This section is called “The Hole” and was used to house R.D. Wall. He was favored by the warden and was given this section as his cell. Some inmates labeled him as a “snitch” and attacked him while he was sitting in his bathroom. He was skinned alive and burned. There have been reports of him haunting his old cell. One of my friends was touched by unseen hands while she was sitting in The Hole. On her digital recorder she recorded a male voice talking about a key. When I went into The Hole, the only activity I found was a bat.
   We spent some time in the hospital and psych ward. The hospital ward was below the warden’s quarters. Lana and I kept hearing footsteps pacing above us. We knew the section was off limits to visitors, and were wondering if anyone was able to sneak up into it. The entrance to the stairs looked to be very secure, so we were pretty sure we heard phantom pacing from the warden’s quarters.
  The North Wagon Gate is one of the oldest sections of the prison. Not only did wagons enter and leave here, but the hangings were conducted here. One of our recorders picked up the EVP “Carl Monroe”. Could he be a prisoner that still lingers here? I was not able to find any information on him.
  For me, the most fascinating and active place in the prison was “Red’s Cell”. William “Red” Snyder was in the area that housed the most dangerous prisoners. Red was put in prison for killing his parents. While in Moundsville, he had other prisoners killed. He was known for being a fan of the soap opera “Days of Our Lives”. Red was not friendly with many of the other prisoners and was a loner. The graffiti on his cell walls show that he was a racist and had an interest in the Aryan Nation. One day in 1992, he had a disagreement with another prisoner, Russell “Rusty” Lassiter. When the guards opened cells, Rusty rushed out and “shanked” Red. Before the guard could pull out his gun and stop the attack, Lassiter had stabbed Red thirty-seven times. On our tour, we were told that Red was the most active of spirits, especially if you discuss his favorite soap opera.
  My son and his friends spent some time in Red’s cell. They had a digital recorder and asked the question, “What do you like to do in your spare time?” The spooky answer was “I’m gonna take a nap”.
  Lana and I sat on the bunk of Red’s cell for a couple of hours. We tried very hard to get something, anything to happen. Lana’s husband joined us in the cell occasionally, but it was very tiny and with him inside it was crowded. (We had a hard time picturing three people living here!) He preferred to walk the hallway and take video. We were very disappointed to have had no activity to report. We did catch an odd EVP, however. Lana and I were discussing that we hoped we could get some evidence to prove that the prison was haunted, but we were rather disappointed. A man’s voice came on our recorder that said, “I’m still alive”.
  After the lock-in was over, Lana and I were in the gift shop buying tee-shirts. One of the tour guides Maggie, asked us if we had any experiences. We told her that we didn’t really, and even tried to get something to happen in Red’s cell. She told us that she was once a guard in the prison and knew Red. After the prison was shut down, and the tours had started, she was in on a Sunday cleaning up the water bottles and other trash the visitors left. She walked past Red’s cell and heard a familiar voice say “Morning Mag”. She automatically said “Morning, Red” and then realized she just talked to a dead man.
   This building almost has to be haunted with the horrible history that it holds, even if we didn’t come home with many personal experiences or exciting video.


Footnote:  My daughter and I were watching a special on television about Moundsville and its ghosts. The tour guide Maggie was on it and was with a local paranormal investigator. Rusty Lassiter was being released from prison and they felt the need to let Red know. They entered his cell with a digital recorderr. After they told Red’s spirit that Lassiter was released, a voice was recorded saying “I already know”. My daughter and I both recognized the voice. It was the same voice on our recorders!




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