Author Topic: Moundsville ghosts  (Read 1840 times)

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Moundsville ghosts
« on: June 22, 2003, 12:51:56 PM »
MOUNDSVILLE — The mammoth penitentiary has been closed for eight years — but many think some of its former inhabitants remain.

“The inmates at the West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville believed that if an inmate died in prison, he would never leave.”

This is what our tour guide, Mike Parnicza, told us as we embarked on an all-night ghost hunt inside the prison walls along with 33 other brave or foolish souls.

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John and Lisa Cox of MAJDA Paranormal Investigations think some of the deceased inmates are still here. Based on their investigations, using an array of sophisticated audio and visual recording devices, they think this is a very “active” site.

The prison’s most-violent inmates were housed in the North Hall cellblock. It was vacant and dark when we entered it on this Saturday night.

We peered down the corridor through the viewer of John Cox’s infrared video camera. The group, eager for a sighting, huddled around.

It wasn’t long before we saw something.

A distinct beam shot across the empty hall from an open cell doorway. It looked like a fast-moving stream of light, perceived only through the lens of the camera. John Cox said: “We got one.”

Cox identified what we saw as an “ecto.” These ectos, unlike those from the movie “Ghostbusters,” leave no trails of slime and did not seem intent on mayhem. They were not even particularly frightening (though being in prison after dark was creepy enough for anybody).

We witnessed other strange phenomena as well. Translucent white spheres, called orbs, appeared in pictures we took ourselves. Lisa Cox recalled the movie “Poltergeist” and described the orbs as the white lights that appeared on the stairs. She stressed, thankfully enough, that they are not like the hellish-faced ghouls that appeared after the orbs in the same scene.

Old Sparky lives

Between 1867 and 1995, exactly 998 inmates died behind the Moundsville prison walls — 98 by execution and nearly 400 by other violent means. The prison, also known as “The Wall,” was considered one of the 10 most- violent prisons in the country.

Parnicza worked at the prison for 13 years as assistant administrator for medical services. He explained the violent nature of inmates here as mostly the result of overcrowding. Prisoners were kept in 5-foot-by-7- foot cells, sometimes three to a cell. Few would have come here as voluntarily as we did.

These days, people pay to get into the prison, where the 1971 Jimmy Stewart movie “Fool’s Parade,” was shot. The prison is open for tours during the week and overnight ghost-hunting tours are now offered monthly through November.

Visitors can view displays of crudely made weapons used by prisoners, as well as Charles Manson’s 1983 letter to Warden Donald Bordenkircher requesting a transfer. “Old Sparky,” the electric chair is also on display.

Andrew Romanyak came for the Saturday night tour with his sister-in-law, Christine Sanderson. Before the tour started, he told us that he believed in ghosts, but didn’t believe he’d actually see one.

Alan Lough had taken the tour before. “I believe in ghosts. If I hear anything, I’ll be happy.”

Parnicza explained why people come to the prison.

“They’re fascinated by the old prison and the stories of the people who lived their lives here. It’s kind of a morbid curiosity. They’re interested in how they died.”

What’s that?

In their quest to document the unknown, John and Lisa Cox have been searching for the ghosts of Moundsville for the past two years. They also conduct investigations of other institutions and private residences, free of charge through MAJDA Paranormal Investigations (the initials stand for the middle names of the group’s founding members).

Their tools of the trade are: infrared night-shot video, 35 mm and digital photography, EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) digital audio, and laser digital temperature-sensing equipment.

The results of many of their inquiries can be found online at At this site, you can see orbs and ectos and hear what they’ve heard through low-frequency microphones in the 40- to 70-hertz range.

John explained the use of digital EVP to capture the spirit voices that he believes are composed of electromagnetic energy:

“It’s stagnant energy. Used to be they thought the magnetic tape picked it up just because it was a magnetic tape. Well, it turns out that digital picks it up really well, and it’s crystal-clear.”

We checked with Romanyak after the tour. He said he had found several orbs with his digital camera. Some looked as though they had faces in them. “I honestly have no idea what they were. It’s something I can’t explain.”

Alan Lough said that he could sense the presence of something. “There’s spirits all over there.”

We sent our pictures to David Latimer, the lab manager at Merrill Photo in Charleston. He believed the orbs to be the result of lens flare, caused by the flash bouncing off of a metal wall or ceiling and reflecting light back to the lens. “Like pointing into the sun,” Latimer said. He suggested that the lens flare produced a round shape because the aperture on a digital camera is round.

Lisa Cox explained that she, also, is skeptical: “We get a lot of wild stories from people. I don’t believe a lot of stuff too, until I see it myself.”