Haunting Legislation–West Virginia

West Virginia State Penitentiary
818 Jefferson Avenue
Moundsville, West Virginia

N.B. According to this article from WTOV, the language in these bills covering the leases on the WV Penitentiary has been removed and the leases will remain in place in their current forms.

The biggest news in the Southern paranormal world in the past few days has been two pieces of legislation currently wending their way through the West Virginia state legislature. The bills, House Bill 4338 and Senate Bill 369, would terminate the current lease of the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville held by the Moundsville Economic Development Council (MEDC). Furthermore, it would restrict leases to five years and allow the state to terminate a lease at any time. This threatens the use of the prison for tours, events, paranormal investigations, and seriously damages tourism in the northern region of the state.

The West Virginia State Penitentiary as seen from atop the Grave Creek Mound, 2016. Photo by Rhonda Humphreys, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The stern, Gothic edifice with a commanding view of the Ohio River has dominated the literal and economic landscape of the region for more than a century and a half. From its construction following the end of the Civil War, through years of housing the most dangerous inmates in the state and 94 executions, prison breaks, riots, and finally decommissioning in 1995 the Moundsville prison has been a major economic driver for the area. After the prison’s closure damaged the local economy, the Moundsville Economic Development Council signed a lease with the state department of corrections to employ the massive sandstone fortress in the tourism industry.

The MEDC opened the site for tours and eventually rolled out the red carpet for those wishing to explore the darker, paranormal side of the building. Paranormal television spread the gospel of the tremendous activity found throughout the building. Over the years, hundreds of investigators have walked among and interacted with the numerous spirits that continue to roam the halls of the West Virginia Penitentiary. In short, the site has become a paranormal mecca.

Several books have been written about the haunted prison including two excellent books by West Virginia investigator and writer Sherri Brake, and several articles by local paranormal blogger and investigator Theresa Racer. It should be noted that few hauntings become as well-known as to garner a single book, much less more than one book and numerous articles.

Despite all this interest, and the work conducted by MEDC to bring people to this often ignored region of West Virginia, legislators have not provided a reason for the inclusion of this action in the bills. In fact, there are a couple legislators who are working to remove the language regarding the prison from the bill. The bills are necessary to reform the state department of corrections, which is woefully in need of change; however, this change needs not have such a detrimental effect on the tourism industry in Moundsville.

Theresa Racer’s coverage of the WV State Penitentiary on her blog, Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State.

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