Another reason this old building may be haunted because it is said that it was built on an ancient Native American burial ground. This would not be hard to believe as the old prison was built directly across from the Grave Creek Mound, one of the largest conical-type burial mounds in the United States. Members of the Adena culture, moved more than 60,000 tons of dirt to create it in about 250–150 BC. Some believe that negative energy from the deceased Native Americans infiltrated the prison, resulting in many of the paranormal events that have occurred there.
Hauntings have been reported since the early as the 1930s. During this time, an inmate was often spied walking along a maintenance area where prisoners were not allowed. In some cases, the guards set off alarms, but when they investigated there was no one there, and no inmates unaccounted for.
The old recreation room in the basement, called “The Sugar Shack” by prisoners, was once infamous for illegal gambling, drug deals, rape, fighting, and murder. Today, visitors report hearing unseen people arguing, talking, and whispering here. Others have heard unexplained noises and felt cold spots within the room. In addition to the recreation room, the whole basement area is said to be haunted by a maintenance man who once worked here. He was said to have often spied on the prisoners and was quick to report any news or infractions to the guards. In retaliation, he was stabbed several times with shives when he was in the bathroom. After his death, this ghost was said to wander around in the basement area and some people have reported equipment malfunctions.
The North Wagon Gate, the prison’s oldest structure, is said to home to one of the prison’s most active ghosts. This area once held the execution gallows where a man named Orville Adkins was hanged in 1938. Here, visitors say the area exudes an evil feeling and they feel as if they’re being watched. Mysterious sounds and voices have been captured in EVPs and ghosts of the condemned are sometimes seen. The gate is said to be haunted by Orville Adkins who was condemned for kidnapping a minister who was later found dead. However, his execution was botched. As the noose was being placed around his neck, a nervous assistant pulled the trap door handle to quickly and Orville fell 20 feet to the stone walkway. Though he was stunned and hurt, he was still alive. He was then pulled back up to the scaffold and hanged correctly. His footsteps are said to be heard slowly pacing back and forth.
The North Hall was where the prison’s worst offenders were placed, not for the crimes they committed on the outside, but for their violent behavior on the inside. Though they were locked down in their cells for 23 hours a day, two murders occurred here. One was a biker named Danny who was stabbed in the eye by another inmate and died of his hemorrhages. The other was a man named William “Red” Snyder, who was convicted of murdering his parents and dismembering their corpses. Red was disliked by many inmates and involved in a number of fights. In the end, he was attacked in front of his cell and fatally stabbed 37 times. The hall has been the site of many strange events including photographic anomalies, equipment malfunctions, the sound of cell doors banging when no one is there. Many have reported feeling very uncomfortable there. Red Snyder’s cell is said to be particularly haunted.
In the solitary confinement area, people have often reported feeling cold spots and as if they have been touched on their backs.
Other hotspots include Death Row, the psych ward, chapel, shower cages, dining room, and boiler room.
There is one particular entity that is called the “Shadow Man” because he lurks in dark places and has no visible features. He has been described as appearing like a dark shadow that is very intimidating.
Throughout the prison visitors and staff report seeing fleeting glimpses of apparitions, smelling unpleasant odors, strange noises and echoes, feelings of being watched, and a disembodied voice that says “Help, I am trapped.” Visitors have felt brushed, tapped, and even shoved by invisible hands and cameras have captured ghostly mists, faces, figures, and orbs. Some have seen the ghosts of prisoners in uniforms walking the halls and disappearing into walls.
The West Virginia Penitentiary is considered to be one of the most haunted prisons in all of the United States today. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors to the prison can experience 90-minute day tours, 3-hour Investigations, overnight investigations, and various events from April through December.
West Virginia Penitentiary Tours
818 Jefferson Avenue
Moundsville, West Virginia 26041
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen; The Big Book of West Virginia Ghost Stories; Stackpole Books, 2014