Destination West Virginia: The history and mystery of the Moundsville Penitentiary

Moundsville

7NEWS walked down the creaking hallways and inside cells where murderers once stood in the hollowed and haunted Moundsville Penitentiary.

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July 04 2021 08:00 pm

Marshall County, W.Va. (WTRF) — Prison isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think vacation… but that may all change right now.  

From 1866 to 1995, near 2,000 prisoners were held inside the Pen’s walls at any given time. Now, thousands of people each summer venture to the Moundsville Penitentiary to meet the souls some say are still rumored inside.

Wheeling was the capital back in the day, and Moundsville had some opportune land.  

It took 33 years to build the first half and another 30 years for the second. 

But, it’s in the 129 years of operation that serial killers, rapists and kidnappers would see out their days. 

This was a state penitentiary. This wasn’t J-walking. 

Tom Stiles, Executive Director of the Mounds for Economic Development Council

The largest prison in the state was made of cells that did not care about claustrophobia: 5 ft. by 7 ft. to call home.

It was a little overcrowded. At some times, cells had to hold two inmates. But at one time, there were three in a cell. You can see there was a lower bunk, an upper bunk, and if they needed, there was a third mattress put on the floor. 

Tom Stiles, Executive Director of the Mounds for Economic Development Council

The tight quarters are what inmates feared the most. They fervently believed that if you died in the Pen, then your spirit would remain in captivity for all eternity. 

But that didn’t deter the violent murders among the 998 documented deaths at the prison. 

One of the most infamous prisoners went by the name William Red Snyder. He was murdered in his cell and some who venture to the penitentiary say they can still hear his raspy voice call out. 

It’s that very history and mystery that draws some people in and keeps them. 

People think I’m crazy. I may be a little crazy but honestly, I’ve seen shadows, heard voices, recorded voices, heard footsteps running, you’ll hear doors slamming. Where we are now in the medical unit is a very active floor. 

Jason McKinney, Moundsville Penitentiary Tour Guide

The hauntings made a name for the Penitentiary, almost as famous as one boy from McMechen who grew to be a cult leader. You know him as ‘Charles Manson.’ Back in the day, he wrote a letter asking to be transferred to the Penitentiary near home. The warden simply wrote back, “When hell freezes over.” 

We will average right around 30,000 visitors for the daytime tours. We will do between 5-8,000 people for the nighttime paranormal events. And then, of course, in the fall we have our haunted house. We will have between 8-12,000 visitors on a weekend in October. 

Tom Stiles, Executive Director of the Mounds for Economic Development Council

From celebrities, to ex-inmates, to skeptics; You will feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck. 

And the paranormal didn’t mind the camera or the daylight… as even 7NEWS caught an alarming sound that doesn’t make sense. Watch the video to see for yourself.

From 10 to 4 everyday June, July, and August, there are historic tours seven days a week and paranormal tours you can schedule at night, if you dare. On History Mystery Monday you can experience a little of both. 

For more information, head here.

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