The Haunting of the West Virginia State Penitentiary

WV State Penitentiary –Marshall County, Moundsville, West Virginia

Photograph ©Tim Kiser, Wiki User: Malepheasant

Construction of the West Virginia State Penitentiary began in 1866, due to the division of West Virginia from Virginia during the Civil War era. One hundred and fifty inmates that resided in the North Wagon Gate building, the first building to be erected, completed the construction in 1876. When the doors were finally opened, some two hundred and fifty inmates were housed within the five-foot thick walls.

The prison itself is quite an imposing structure to behold. Considering the Gothic-style architecture, the castle-like turrets and the 24-foot high walls, this prison already has an eerie effect without the company of ghosts!

The planning was quite astonishing as well. The inmates, as I said, built the prison itself. After the structure was erected, the inside yard then housed shops for the inmates to earn their keep such as a brick yard, bakery, carpentry shop, and more, making the prison totally self-sufficient and saving the state thousands every year.

In 1929, efforts to double the size of the prison began. This project wasn’t completed until 1959. Until this completion was made, the prisoners were severely overcrowded and forced to sleep triple-bunked in 5 X 7 cells.

Over the years, many executions took place at the penitentiary, not to mention deaths due to illnesses, overcapacity and riots. Executions at the prison began in 1899, when eighty-five men were hung from the gallows. From 1951 - 1959, nine more men were sentenced to the electric chair. In 1959, the death penalty was finally abolished but not soon enough to avoid lost souls and paranormal activity.

Many have claimed to be touched, shoved or spoken to from beyond. Many have merely claimed to “feel” a presence or the feeling of being watched. Yes, the West Virginia Penitentiary does seem to be haunted, however, there are three ghost in particular that are reported most frequently; a former inmate named Robert, a former maintenance man, and a man who was hung at the gallows twice! (yes, I said twice).

The first and most popular of the spirits is that of the maintenance man. The man’s name is unknown to me, however, he was quite popular with the guards, spending most of his time spying and tattling on the inmates when they were up to no good. This bad habit came back to the man when he was corned in the bathroom one day while sitting on the toilet and stabbed to death by several inmates who had finally had enough of backstabbing (pardon the pun). The former maintenance man is said to roam the bathroom area where he died. Many have seen his full-bodied apparition, but they say he doesn’t seem to see any of the living, which could make this particular haunting a residual one.

The second most popular haunting is that of Robert, a former inmate who died in the prison. It is said that when Robert died, his body was buried behind one of the walls of the prison itself. Roberts’ death is thought to be a product of abuse by the guards who were well known for torturing “bad” inmates by beating them short of their lives. It seems that they didn’t know when to stop when they beat Robert and now his angry spirit still roams within the prison walls, frightening unsuspecting visitors and tourists.

The third of these hauntings, and perhaps the most distressing is that of the man who was “hung” twice. The prisoner’s name was Arvil Adkins. Arvil was sentenced to hang by the neck until death, and so he was taken to the gallows for hanging. Something went wrong during the hanging and Arvil fell through the trap door, hit the ground, landing on his head and causing a severe head injury. The guards then picked him up, took him back up the scaffolding and re-hung him, this time killing him. This disastrous incident may be the cause of Arvil’s restless spirit. Many witnesses have claimed to see him wandering about the gallows.

In 1995 the prison was closed to inmates. Today, tours are given at the prison from March through November; maybe you could have a first-hand glimpse at one of the apparitions still roaming the West Virginia State Penitentiary. Personally, the mere sight of the prison is enough to put dread into my own heart, especially since I knew a man who was an inmate there from 1981 – 1983 and I have heard his first-hand experiences.


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818 Jefferson Avenue
Moundsville, WV 26041
(304) 845-6200
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