Yuma Territorial Prison
- Angry spirits are said to haunt the Dark Cell area and scare visitors away
- A girl in a red dress is seen roaming the complex and pinching visitors who also wear red
- Poltergeist-like activity is reported throughout the complex
- A former prisoner, John Ryan, is said to haunt Cell 14 where he died
- Coins are reportedly thrown from the gift shop cash registers
Yuma Territorial Prison Haunted History
The land around the remnants of Arizona’s Yuma Territorial Prison has a long and storied past, far preceding even the historic prison. In 1540, the site was visited by Vazquez de Coronado and his explorers as they searched in vain for the mythical Seven Cities of Gold.
But the Seven Cities of Gold aren’t the only mythical thing about this site – the spirits of centuries of bloodshed are said to reside here, too.
Timeline of Yuma Territorial Prison's History
Swipe or use timeline points to see Yuma Territorial Prison through the years
Over a century after de Coronado, Spanish missionary Padre Eusebino Kino staked out the site as a location for a future mission. Though it wasn’t finished in his lifetime, Mission Puerto de Purisima Concepcion was built on the site in 1780 by Padre Francisco Garces. Unfortunately for Padre Garces, the nearby Quechan tribe of Native Americans sacked the mission in July of 1781. For the next hundred years, the land stayed dormant, but it would soon be engaged by another type of mission: the mission of American Manifest Destiny.
As the Oregon Trail and numerous gold rushes made the American west more accessible and more appealing, settlers poured into the wild west hoping to stake their claims. When the Colorado River had a gold rush of its own, the area’s population exploded, and the settlement of Yuma was born. It wasn’t long before the expanding town needed a prison to help keep peace, and ground was broken on April 28, 1876, for what would become Yuma Territorial Prison.
Over the next 33 years, over 3,000 prisoners passed through Yuma Territorial Prison. While most of the prisoners during this time were men, 29 women spent time in lock up at Yuma as well. But, rapid expansion in the region soon brought a swift end to Yuma Territorial Prison. In 1909, the prison was forced to close due to intense overcrowding, with the prison populace moving to the new Arizona State Prison Complex – Florence, which continues to operate to this day. But, Yuma Territorial wasn’t done with the wild west just yet.
Shortly after the prison closed, tragedy struck the city of Yuma, when Yuma High School burned to the ground. Without a replacement structure, the students and faculty moved into Yuma Territorial Prison, where they stayed from 1910 – 1914. During that time, the school sports teams came to be known as the “Yuma Criminals,” a mascot the Yuma Union High School still uses today.
After the new school was built, Yuma Territorial Prison continued to be used, but this time as a county hospital annex. A longer-term tenant was found in 1931, when the Veterans of Foreign Wars established their clubhouse at the site, where it remained until 1960. Finally, the Yuma Territorial Prison grounds were acquired to be revived as a historical state park. The Yuma Territorial Prison State Park opened on January 1, 1961, and continues to host countless tourists every year.
Yuma Territorial Prison Ghost Encounters
With a history that long, it’s no surprise that Yuma Territorial soon became the subject of countless myths and legends, including those paranormal in nature.
One of the most popular ghost legends of Yuma Territorial Prison is that of the ‘dark cell,’ an old-world name for solitary confinement. Yuma Territorial’s dark cell was a unique type of torture: prisoners would be chained where they stood in a pitch black jail cell and left for long periods of time.
While locked in the dark cell, prisoners would have fluorescing scorpions thrown at them by guards. Now, many people claim angry or protective spirits keep visitors away from the dangerous dark cells by scaring them and yelling, “Get out!” But, that’s far from the only ghost story to come from Yuma Territorial.
Yuma Territorial Prison’s Red Phantom
Another popular local legend is that of a girl in a red dress, who was said to live in the region before the prison was built. Legend has it that she accidentally fell into the nearby Colorado River and drowned.
Now visitors often report her ghost around the prison. She is even said to pinch anyone else there who is wearing her particular shade of red.
Playful Poltergeists at Yuma Territorial Prison
Another spirit reported is that of John Ryan, who was imprisoned for ‘crimes against nature’ in 1900 and reportedly committed suicide in Cell 14, the cell his spirit is now said to haunt.
Poltergeist-like activity is also reported throughout the complex, even in the gift shop, where spirits have been known to toss coins out of the cash registers.