Experience the Paranormal
at the West Virginia Penitentiary
If you are seeking some thrills and chills this Halloween season, it doesn’t get much spookier than the West Virginia Penitentiary. The ominous building is often named one of the most haunted places in America, and over 10,000 people a year come to Moundsville to learn about the prison’s history and experience its infamous paranormal activity. Every October there are a variety of special events that will terrify all ages.
West Virginia Penitentiary Exterior | Image by Andrew Bain
A History of Hauntings
In 1863, the newly formed state of West Virginia was in desperate need of public buildings. Moundsville was selected as the site for a new prison due to its convenient location on the banks of the Ohio River and close to Wheeling, then the state capital. The imposing stone structure opened in 1876 and was in operation until 1995, a span of 119 years.
In that time, the West Virginia Penitentiary was known for its extreme inmate violence and was even named one of the Top Ten Most Violent Correctional Facilities by the US Department of Justice. It housed society’s worst criminals: murderers, rapists, and serial killers. The prison was frequently severely overcrowded and inadequately policed.
Although the prison conducted all executions for the state of West Virginia in its day, this is only a small percentage of its death toll. Most men who died there were murdered by their fellow inmates or committed suicide, unable to shoulder the burden of life at Moundsville. In all, almost 1,000 men died within the prison’s walls.
National Notoriety Comes to Moundsville
After the West Virginia Penitentiary was closed in 1995 due to its deplorable conditions, the building became increasingly popular as a national destination for ghost hunters. The prison was featured on SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters” and the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” and has made high-profile appearances in shows such as “Mindhunter” and “Castle Rock.” Most recently, the prison popped up in the trailer for the highly anticipated video game “Fallout 76,” which you can watch here.
Image by Carol M. Highsmith
Halloween Events at the Prison
These days, the penitentiary is open for daily tours to day trippers, historians, and supernatural enthusiasts alike. The facilities also serve as a training ground for law enforcement and the site of an annual paranormal expo. You can even use the building as a wedding venue! That said, the prison is busiest around Halloween. October attractions at the West Virginia Penitentiary include:
- The Dungeon of Horrors, a terrifying haunted house experience with actors and special effects.
- The North Walk, a guided flashlight tour through the max security facilities that housed the most dangerous inmates, and are known for the most intense paranormal activity.
- Zombie Paintball, which gives you the opportunity to shoot at live zombie targets in the prison exercise yard!
- Kid’s Night and Family Night, events aimed at younger supernatural enthusiasts, with trick-or-treating and a toned-down haunted house.
- Escape the Pen, an escape room experience, which challenges you to solve a mystery while the clock ticks down to execution.
If you are planning a visit to Moundsville to visit the West Virginia Penitentiary, please keep in mind that there is no heat or air conditioning, so dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes. Alcohol and smoking are strictly prohibited on the grounds, and while most tours allow photography, some do not, so make sure to read the rules for your chosen event before you arrive. You can find more information about the Penitentiary and its events on the official website. Be safe, have fun, and, hunt some ghosts for a Halloween experience to remember!