September 29, 2022

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W.Va. Penitentiary at Moundsville focus of strange history

Entrance to previous W.Va. Penitentiary

The former West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville, West Virginia, in Marshall County, was a castellated gothic-style jail in procedure from 1876 right until 1995. It is now a vacationer attraction common with historians and paranormal enthusiasts.

In 1863, West Virginia experienced only just seceded from Virginia and endured a lack of general public establishments, which includes prisons. Governor Arthur I. Boreman lobbied the Legislature for a penitentiary but was consistently denied. It directed him alternatively to deliver prisoners out of the point out and to county jails, which was also inadequate.

Just after nine inmates escaped in 1865, the press took up the trigger, and in 1866 the Legislature approved the obtain of 10 acres just exterior Moundsville and somewhere around 12 miles south of Wheeling, then the condition capital.

The building’s Gothic Revival architecture “exhibited excellent strength” and “conveyed to the thoughts a cheerless blank indicative of the misery” which awaited the unhappy becoming who entered inside its walls,” according to a quotation from Abandoned Online.

Detail from vintage illustration of Moundsville.
Element from vintage illustration of Moundsville showing mound (still left) and penitentiary (upper proper).

The initially making lifted was the fanciful North Wagon Gate, finished in 1876, constructed with hand-worked sandstone quarried regionally. Officers employed jail labor, as it did in the north and south mobile-block parts. The South Hall contained 224 4-by-7-foot cells. The North Corridor involved a chapel, kitchen area, medical center, and dining place. A four-story tower connecting the two wings integrated administrative places of work, house for female inmates, and residing quarters for the warden and his loved ones.

The layout of the Moundsville facility is very similar to that of the point out jail in Joliet, Illinois, created in 1858 with turrets and battlements however scaled down to 50 % the size. The primary architectural models have been missing.

The prison was practically self-ample, and circumstances through the early 20th century had been considered ample. Inmates frequently attended lessons, and a school and library had been finished in 1900 to assist reform and teach inmates. A prison coal mine opened a mile absent in 1921, and some inmates were authorized to keep at the mine’s camp.

On the other hand, circumstances worsened via the years, and the prison was rated among the most violent by the U.S. Section of Justice. A recreation home regarded as “The Sugar Shack” was infamous as a haven for gambling, fighting, and rape.

Thirty-six homicides have been verified at the jail, such as the butchering of R.D. Wall, inmate No. 44670, who was shivved by 3 prisoners in 1929 soon after snitching on fellow inmates.

Labor activist Eugene V. Debs served in 1919 on expenses of violating the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917. In 1983, convicted several-assassin Charles Manson asked for unsuccessfully to be transferred to Moundsville to be in close proximity to loved ones.

In 1929, the point out made the decision to double the sizing of the penitentiary to cure overcrowding. The cells were too compact to keep a few prisoners at a time: two prisoners would rest in the bunks, although a 3rd slept on a mattress on the floor. Applying jail labor, the state finished this expansion in 1959.

Fifteen prisoners escaped in 1979. Ronald Turney Williams, serving time for the 1975 murder of Sergeant David Lilly, of Beckley, West Virginia, stole a guard’s weapon. On the streets of Moundsville, he achieved off-obligation State Trooper Philip S. Kesner, who was driving earlier the prison with his wife. Kesner tried to consider motion. The escapees pulled him from his car, and Williams fatally shot Kesner, who fired at the fleeing suspects.

Williams remained at substantial for much more than a 12 months, sending taunting notes to authorities. During that time, he murdered John Bunchek in Scottsdale, Arizona, throughout a theft. Right after a shootout with a federal agent in New York Town in 1981, he was apprehended and returned to West Virginia to total quite a few existence sentences. Arizona experienced also sought his extradition for execution, but as of 2018, he remained in West Virginia custody.

By 1986, stability at the jail had come to be free. It was derisively named a “drawbacks” prison: most of the locks on the cells experienced been picked, and inmates roamed freely in the halls. Poor plumbing and insect infestations triggered the fast spread of condition. The prison was holding more than 2,000 adult men and crowding was an problem.

At all over 5:30 p.m., 20 “The Avengers” inmates stormed the mess hall and rapidly overpowered five officers. The rioters held knives to their throats and handcuffed them. Throughout a two-day insurrection, a few inmates ended up killed by other rioting inmates.

According to authors Bert Useem and Peter Kimball in the reserve “States of Siege: U.S. Jail Riots, 1971–1986,” the rioters lost handle of the insurrection and started to battle among themselves, and negotiations with jail officers were quickly sought.

“The inmates who initiated the riot were being not ready to choose demand of it,” Useem and Kimball wrote. “Danny Lehman, the Avengers’ president, was promptly agreed on as finest suited for negotiating with authorities and presenting the calls for to the media.” Having said that, Lehman was not a single of the adult men who instigated the riot.

Governor Arch A. Moore, Jr., traveled to the penitentiary to chat with inmates and set up criteria on which prison authorities would establish. Nonetheless, the state Supreme Court ruled that confinement to the small cells constituted cruel and abnormal punishment, and the prison was closed. Most inmates had been transferred to the Mount Olive Correctional Sophisticated near Montgomery, West Virginia, in Fayette County.


Executions

Police photo of Harry Powers, the Bluebeard of Quiet Dell, West Virginia
Harry Powers was hanged in 1832.

Ninety-4 gentlemen had been executed at the jail from 1899 to 1959. Hanging was the system of execution ahead of 1950, and 85 males achieved their fate at the gallows. Harry Powers, a person of the initial serial killers in contemporary heritage, was hanged in this article in 1932.

The community could show up at hangings, which have been public until eventually 1931, when Frank Hyer was executed for murdering his wife. When the trapdoor opened beneath him, his comprehensive weight pulled on the noose, and he was decapitated. Attendance at hangings was afterward by invitation only. The past person executed by hanging, Bud Peterson, from Logan County, was buried in the prison’s cemetery mainly because his family members refused to assert his entire body.

A cap from the electric chair used at the W.Va. Penitentiary
Sparky cap on exhibit at Archives of the Afterlife.

Electrocution grew to become the signifies of execution in 1951. The electrical chair, nicknamed “Previous Sparky,” was designed by inmate Paul Glenn. Nine guys have been electrocuted in advance of the condition prohibited money punishment completely in 1965. The unique chair is now on show in the facility and is involved in the official tour.

Just after the prison closed, the Moundsville Financial Development Council secured a 25-year lease on the complex, section of which is managed as a facility for education regulation enforcement and corrections staff through mock-riot drills.

To support groups in scheduling and executing emergency eventualities, the W.Va. Higher Engineering Consortium Basis commissioned an interactive 3D model of the penitentiary. It made the software program readily available to the community before conducting a 2009 mock riot.

Excursions are obtainable for site visitors who want to check out the landmark and its record and investigate alleged paranormal action there. Some journey guides declare the prison between the most haunted in the United States.

Studies of supernatural phenomena consist of sightings of phantom inmates by previous guards and legends of a “shadow male” that wanders the premises. Site visitors frequently report cold places and unexplained noises, including voices.

Grave Creek Mound at Moundsville, WV, Marshall County, Northern Panhandle Region
Mound opposite major entrance

The jail was located on element of a large Indigenous American burial ground that occupied a great deal of the increase previously mentioned Grave Creek, which grew to become Moundsville. Several prehistoric earthworks, which includes burial mounds, had been found through the city. The largest prehistoric burial mound in eastern North The usa, the Grave Creek Mound, is found opposite the major entrance to the prison building.

A haunted attraction termed the “Dungeon of Horrors” is also set up at the previous jail for the duration of Halloween.

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