Moundsville’s Shadows: Uncovering the Ghostly Secrets of West Virginia Penitentiary

  • By: Gareth Popovic
  • Date: 12 January 2024
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Introduction of West Virginia Penitentiary

At West Virginia Penitentiary, which is situated in the eerie town of Moundsville, West Virginia, get ready to travel back in time and into the depths of darkness. This impressive building has a dark background, having been used as a prison for more than a century and developing a reputation as one of the most haunted locations in the United States. The past of the penitentiary is rife with violence, hopelessness, and desperation as innumerable prisoners endured the brutal reality of life inside its formidable walls.

Penitentiary Marker
Penitentiary Marker – Credit wvpen

History of West Virginia Penitentiary

The ominous history of West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville unfolds as a tale of contrasting eras. Constructed in 1876 and shuttered in 1995, it evolved from a facility with decent conditions and education during the early 1900s to one of the most violent prisons in the United States. This transformation was marked by overcrowding and inhumane conditions that turned the prison into a harrowing place, teeming with vermin and cockroaches.

The stark reality of violence, riots, murders, and executions cast a dark shadow over its legacy. At the peak of its notoriety, the prison found itself among the United States Department of Justice’s top ten most violent correctional facilities. One room, in particular, earned a sinister reputation—the ‘Old Sparky‘, where much of the violence and brutality unfolded. West Virginia Penitentiary’s history is a somber reminder of the harsh realities that plagued this institution over the years.

As the years passed, the prison faced numerous issues, including overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and security concerns. In 1986, West Virginia Penitentiary officially closed its doors as a correctional facility, marking the end of a tumultuous era.

Historic West Virginia Penitentiary
Historic West Virginia Penitentiary – Credit digitalcommonwealth

Haunting Legends and Supernatural Phenomena

Restless Spirit – Haunting Old Sparky

A terrifying legend emerges from the West Virginia Penitentiary’s annals. This grim story is told through the 36 documented killings and 94 executions that occur while it is in operation. Notably, the total number of deaths approaches 1000 due to suicides and accidents.

In the prison’s early years, executions were public spectacles, with hanging as the preferred method. That changed dramatically when a gruesome miscalculation led to a horrifying incident. Frank Hyer, a convicted murderer, was led to the gallows before a crowd of eager spectators. However, when the trapdoor dropped, an unthinkable error caused Frank’s rope to decapitate him before the horrified crowd. Public executions ceased immediately, becoming invite-only events.

In 1931, another gruesome event unfolded when a death row inmate was completely decapitated during execution. Hanging persisted until 1951, when the electric chair, known as “Old Sparky,” took its place. This device claimed the lives of nine more inmates and remains within the prison as a grim relic.

The legacy of these haunting events lives on within the prison’s walls. Restless spirits of the executed are said to roam, their presence marked by moans and blood-curdling screams that linger in the air. It’s as if the past continues to replay itself, casting a shadow over the history of the West Virginia Penitentiary.

Read Also: Missouri State Penitentiary

Wandering Shadows – Native American Burial Grounds

The West Virginia Penitentiary is not only known for its history of prison violence but also for its unsettling location. It was built on the sacred burial grounds of the Native American tribe. Right across from the prison stands the last remaining ancient burial mound in Moundsville, estimated to be 2000 years old.

West Virginia Penitentiary

In addition to its dark history, the penitentiary has its own share of chilling legends. A shadowy figure, frequently reported by different people in various parts of the prison, was even captured in a photograph taken by the resident paranormal group called ‘Paranormal Quest.’ You can find their evidence on their YouTube channel.

Numerous Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) recordings have been made within the prison, capturing strange, unexplained sounds. One such recording includes the unsettling noise of a shotgun blast, followed by the sound of an empty cartridge hitting the floor. You can listen to these recordings online.

With inexplicable sounds, ghostly figures wandering the hallways, and a backdrop of violence, it’s no surprise that the haunted West Virginia Penitentiary has become an irresistible choice for paranormal investigations. The lines between the living and the dead seem to blur within these walls, creating an enduring sense of mystery.

The West Virginia Penitentiary, notorious for its prison violence, has an additional layer of darkness with its connection to sacred Native American burial grounds. The prison’s history, including sightings of a shadowy figure and eerie EVP recordings, continues to draw the curious and the brave. It’s a place where the paranormal seems to intertwine with reality, leaving an indelible mark on those who dare to explore its mysteries.

Popular Culture and Media Coverage of West Virginia Penitentiary

West Virginia Penitentiary, known for its mysterious past and unsettling aura, has gained attention from a number of documentaries and television programs exploring paranormal themes. It was essential to the spooky television series “Phantoms of the Past: Unmasking Haunted Prisons,” in which a team of detectives explored the depths of the prison’s eerie history and spooky experiences.

In the world of literature, West Virginia Penitentiary has left an indelible mark with works such as “The Haunted History of the West Virginia Penitentiary” by Sherri Brakes and “Haunted West Virginia” by Patty A. Wilson. These literary endeavors unravel the spectral tales enshrouding the penitentiary, offering immersive narratives of its haunted history.

Due to its compelling appearance in popular culture and the media, West Virginia Penitentiary is currently a must-visit location for history buffs and paranormal enthusiasts alike. Within its eerie and mysterious walls, this medieval institution beckons those seeking a profound encounter with mystery and the uncanny.


The recollections and unsettling sounds of this abandoned location will stay with us long after our trek through the icy depths of West Virginia Penitentiary comes to an end. We take with us the burden of a century of hopelessness, misery, and the ghosts of people who previously called this gloomy stronghold home as we leave. The ominous monument in Moundsville is a sobering reminder of both the unrelenting march of time and the frailty of the human soul. The lore and terror surrounding this jail never go away, so long after our visit is over, West Virginia Penitentiary will always be shrouded in mystery. As you go, keep in mind that not all stories have a true ending, and there are mysteries behind these walls.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Where is the West Virginia Penitentiary located?

A: The West Virginia Penitentiary is located in Moundsville, West Virginia, USA.

Q: Can you provide some background on the legends associated with West Virginia Penitentiary?

A: Certainly! The West Virginia Penitentiary is known for its grim history of violence, having been the site of 36 reported murders and 94 executions. It was also built upon the sacred burial grounds of the Adena Native American tribe, which adds an eerie dimension to the site’s legends.

Q: Is the ancient burial mound located near West Virginia Penitentiary open to the public?

A: Yes, the ancient burial mound is open to the public. It stands just opposite the West Virginia Penitentiary and is estimated to be around 2000 years old.

Q: Are there any paranormal investigations or tours available at Virginia Penitentiary?

A: Yes, the West Virginia Penitentiary offers paranormal tours for those seeking to explore its haunted reputation. These tours provide an opportunity to delve into the eerie legends and paranormal activity associated with the site.

Q: Have there been any documented encounters with the shadowy figure at the Penitentiary?

A: Yes, there have been numerous reports of a shadowy figure in different areas of the penitentiary. The figure was even captured in a photograph taken by the paranormal group ‘Paranormal Quest.’

Q: Are the EVP recordings, including the shotgun blast, available for the public to listen to online?

A: Yes, many of the EVP recordings, including the chilling sound of a shotgun blast and an empty cartridge dropping to the floor, are available online. These recordings add to the eerie mystique surrounding the penitentiary.

Q: Are there any accounts of strange sounds, screams, or figures walking the hallways of Virginia Penitentiary?

A: Yes, reports of strange sounds, screams, and ghostly figures roaming the prison’s hallways are common. The legends suggest that the past may be replaying itself within the prison, making it a place where the line between the living and the dead blurs.

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