MOUNDSVILLE - Spirits of tortured prisoners, desperate graffiti in rusted cells and tales of violence and mystery are just some of the things visitors can expect during the unique tours of the former West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville.
The West Virginia Penitentiary Tours allow visitors to take an inside look at the gothic-style maximum security prison first built in 1886 to house the state's most dangerous criminals. Each section of the prison tells the story of the hundreds of murderers, rapists and thieves who wasted away behind bars, and some say, left their spirits behind.
The daytime tours of the prison are offered from April to November. A tour guide will take visitors to experience the aspects of daily prison life including the visitation rooms, the old cafeteria, the North Yard where prisoners were allowed exercise, the North Wagon gate, the cellblocks of New Wall and the cellblocks of North Hall, where the prisoners with the most heinous crimes were kept. During the tour, visitors will hear the history of the prison, stories of violence and murder, and gain insight into the justice system.
Tom Stiles, facilities manager at the West Virginia Penitentiary, shows how the prison’s old Wheel House was designed to separate the warden and his family from the rest of the prison.
For the thrill seekers out there, the penitentiary offers private night tours of the facility where groups of 20 people can spend the night in the prison seeking the spirits of the deceased. According to Tom Stiles, facility director, mysterious shadows and paranormal activity have been recorded in all areas of the prison, although certain areas seem to be hot spots for ghosts, including the prison's North Hall, the infirmary and the psychiatric ward. The spirits are believed to be those of the inmates who died while in prison.
Before capital punishment was outlawed in West Virginia in 1965, 94 men were executed in the prison. According to Stiles, 85 of those executions were hangings and nine prisoners met their fate on the infamous electric chair dubbed "Old Sparky," now on display in the lobby of the prison. Mugshots of all the executed men can be seen in the prison's museum.
The prison also offers Ghost Adventures where up to 60 visitors can explore the prison from midnight to 6 a.m. There are also Thriller Thursdays that run from 9 p.m. to midnight throughout the summer open to the public, ages 15 and up. Visitors enjoy a 90-minute tour before being set free to explore the prison.
In October, visitors can celebrate the Halloween season by taking an eerie walk through the Dungeon of Horrors haunted house where visitors run the risk of getting locked in a cell or lost in a maze.
The penitentiary is open for tours Tuesday through Sunday in May and seven days a week through June, July and August. For more information on West Virginia Penitentiary tours, visit the website at www.wvpentours.com.