The West Virginia Penitentiary

Located in Moundsville, West Virginia The West Virginia Penitentiary has been listed “on the top ten list of the Department of Justice’s as one of the “most violent.” Originally established in 1866, Moundsville’s walls housed over 100 years worth of inmates. Although the last of the inmates were relocated in 1995, some say ghosts of time past still wander the building. Also, like many buildings of this time, although it was originally only built for 480 prisoners by the 1930s there were usually a total of 2,400. In fact, sometimes three prisoners would be assigned to one 5x7 cells.

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Due to the overcrowding riots, escapes, murders, and uninhabitable conditions were common place. Roughly 36 murders took place within the walls and 94 men were executed. Not to mention, the instruments of torture that lay behind the prison’s captivating acade. Specifically, the kicking jenny which was “an instrument invented and built in the prison. It is made somewhat in the shape of a quarter-circle, with the highest end about three or four feet above the platform upon which it is set. The prisoner is stripped naked and bend over upon the machine.” After this,  “His feet are fastened to the floor with ropes, while his hands, which are stretched over the upper end, are tied with roped attached to small blocks, by which a tension so strong that the frame of the prisoner can almost be torn in two can be made with a slight pull.” Finally, “after the prisoner is placed in position the Superintendent, or whoever does the whipping, takes a heavy whip, made of sole leather, two pieces of which, about three feet long, are sewed together, and the ends scraped slightly rounding, the lash being three inches broad at the handle, tapering to a point. With the whip, the prisoner is beaten until he is almost dead, or the strength of the man who is doing the whipping gives out."

Hauntings are nothing new in Moundsville. In fact, they were reported as early as the 1930s. The first report came from guards on duty and not necessarily the prisoners. Guards would often report that they saw inmates “walking freely on the grounds so alarms were sounded.” Once the alarms were tripped, the area was investigated. However, no one ever found the inmates wandering around that were reported by guards or had seemingly tripped the alarm. The repeated false sightings became increasingly common and the reputation of the haunted prison increased.

Like many haunted buildings throughout America, it is rumored that the prison was constructed upon land that once was a burial ground for Native Americans. So many believed that this was the cause for the negative energy and hauntings that the ground of the prison has been blessed many times. However, it is rumored that an unknown curse remains as punishment for disturbing the rest of the dead.

One of the most frightening haunts of the old prison is a being referred to as ‘Shadow Man’. The name comes from this spirit’s practice of lurking amongst the dark corners of the prison, casting his shadow and darkness among the halls and cells of the building. According to witness reports, the Shadow Man has no visible features. Witnesses also report feeling very intimidated when seeing this being. Although his identity is unknown, many speculate he may be a guard that used to check on the cells and walk the halls and life. Others believe he may be an inmate trying to find a way out of the darkness.

Red Snider is another spirit who can’t seem to leave. He was murdered while in prison and some say he can still be seen wandering the halls. “A man that worked on a haunted house in the prison claimed that while he was walking around with his tools, someone, not living, grabbed him by his arm. The man maintained when questioned that nobody else was near him during this event.”

There are several areas known as particular hot spots among ghost hunters and tour guides of the prison. Some of these places are to be expected, such as the North Wagon Gate which is where death row inmates were taken to be hung, Death row itself, and the chapel. One interesting area that is also reportedly haunted is the ‘Sugar Shack’. The Sugar Shack was a recreation room in the basement to be used when prisoners could not go outside due to adverse conditions. In this room there are often reports of chatter and cold spots.

The building is one of the most haunted places in West Virginia, and potentially all of America.


This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. It was taken by Rhonda Humphreys. More information can be found here.