Is Old Licking County Jail Haunted?

Old Licking County Jail

Ghosts of lawbreakers may remain imprisoned in this historic Ohio jail

Old Licking County Jail’s
Paranormal Claims

  • Sounds of laughter have been reported from the cell blocks
  • Apparitions and shadow figures are sometimes seen
  • Electronic devices are said to have batteries drain without cause
  • Disembodied voices have been reported
  • Chairs have reportedly been thrown across rooms in the jail
  • Some visitors to the sheriff’s apartment claim to have uneasy feelings in the space
  • Sounds of slamming cell doors have been heard
  • Some people report being touched by unseen forces

History of Old Licking County Jail

While the towering Romanesque brownstone building on the corner of 3rd and Canal in Newark, Ohio, might look like an opulent mansion for the town’s most well-to-do citizens, it’s actually the opposite. Home to the Licking County Jail for almost a century, this old stone jail kept the community’s worst offenders off the streets for generations.

Today, Old Licking County Jail serves the community as both a museum and a well-known paranormal attraction. Through historic tours, haunted houses, and private investigations, Old Licking County Jail lives on as a public curiosity, greeting throngs of new tourists and ghost hunters every year.

But what is it about this old brownstone lockup that keeps its prisoners hanging around long after their deaths?

Timeline of Old Licking County Jail's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Old Licking County Jail through the years


Built in 1889, Old Licking County Jail is the fourth jail to have served Newark. Built after the last jail was condemned in 1887, the new building went right to work locking away local criminals. The new Licking County Jail had 32 cells capable of housing 68 inmates at full capacity, though it later would house over 100.

The jail also served as the sheriff’s house at this time, with Sheriff Andrew Crilly being the first Newark sheriff to take up residence.


Several inmates died in the jail’s early years, most of intoxication. But, in 1910, one inmate died in a very different way. Carl Etherington, a sleuth for the Anti-Saloon League of Ohio, shot a bar owner in self-defense while visiting the town and was locked up in jail that day.

But a furious mob soon formed and broke down the jail doors to get to him, eventually lynching him from a telephone poll in the town square – the jail’s only reported lynching death.


As the 20th century wore on, Old Licking County Jail claimed more than just the lives of inmates. In 1934, Sheriff Ross Embry died after suffering a heart attack in the sheriff’s apartment area of the jail. He would be the first of three sheriffs to die in the building, followed by Albert Francis in 1949 and William McElroy in 1962.

All told, it is believed that at least 22 people died within the walls of Old Licking County Jail during its operation, lawbreakers and lawmen alike.


Old Licking County Jail remained mostly the same until 1978, when Ohio issued new standard reviews for state jails. Old Licking County Jail failed them all. After years of struggling for funds to bring it up to code, Old Licking County Jail closed its doors in 1987.

The building was later used for VA offices and storage before the County Commission decided to make it into a tourist attraction in the early 2010s. Since then, countless people have visited the jail, and many have left feeling the old lockup is haunted by its penal past.

Is Old Licking County Jail haunted?

With almost 100 years as a jail and over 20 deaths in its walls, it’s no surprise that rumors of hauntings swirl around every area of Old Licking County Jail. Disembodied voices are frequently reported in the old cellblocks, ranging from whispers into peoples’ ears to loud echoing bellows that can be heard throughout the halls.

Old Licking County Jail's long hallway cellblock

In the section containing the sheriff’s house, visitors have reported feeling uneasy or dizzy in certain rooms, while others have reportedly fainted suddenly while touring that area of the jail.

When paranormal investigations are performed at the jail, groups have noted instances of their equipment batteries draining, or their electronics becoming otherwise unfunctional inside the jail, only to have it all come back to life the moment they leave

Old Licking County Jail’s Ghostly Sounds

People report strange and unexplained happenings throughout the cell blocks, with the booming sound of cell doors slamming being one of the most frequently reported events.

Other visitors report the sounds of shuffling footsteps through the cellblock halls, while others claim to hear laughter through the area. Perhaps even stranger, those who’ve heard this disembodied laughter claim that it sounds like a child. Though, why a child spirit would linger in a former jail is anyone’s guess.

Shadowy Cellmates at Old Licking County Jail

Apparitions and shadow figures are also regular reports around Old Licking County Jail. Some have claimed to see shadowy figures drifting down hallways, while others have seen them darting from cell-to-cell.

Others report that these dark figures, or sometimes just misty black masses, will appear and disappear suddenly, with seemingly little purpose or direction to their manifestations.

Hauntings in the
Old Licking County Jail

One area of Old Licking County Jail said to be a paranormal hotspot is an area called ‘the dungeon.’ The activity reported in the dungeon is said to be more physical in nature, and sometimes more aggressive than activity in other areas of the building.

Visitors have reported being touched or having their clothes pulled on by unseen forces. There have also been claims of heavy chairs being thrown across the room.

Old Licking County Jail’s
Well-Known Phantoms

A few tourists and paranormal investigators claimed to encounter spirits of specific inmates during their time at Old Licking County Jail. Some have reported seeing or hearing the presence of Carl Etherington trying to escape the lynch mob in the afterlife.

Staring down the stairs into Old Licking County Jail

Others have reported the presence of another former inmate, in what was once the women’s wing of cells, and her story may be the most gruesome the jail has on offer. In 1953, Mae Varner, who had overdosed on medication in an attempt to commit suicide had her stomach pumped and was brought to the Licking County Jail for a bout of detoxification before returning home.

This alone would have been a dark story, but it takes much more grim turn. Within 45 minutes of being in the jail, Mae had managed to light her clothing on fire, immolating herself in her fourth floor cell before help could arrive.

Since then, visitors and investigators have reported encounters with her ghostly presence around the cell where she died.

Old Licking County Jail:
Paranormal Attraction

Since being revitalized by Licking County in the early 2010s, the Old Licking County Jail has built a new life for itself as a historically haunted attraction for Newark. Both historic tours and ghost tours remain popular, and seasonal events around Halloween are in especially high demand. The ‘Jail of Terror’ haunted house held in the jail during fall remains a big draw for locals and far-flung horror fans alike.

The building’s nights stay busy year-round thanks to regular paranormal investigations. After a 2014 feature on an episode of Ghost Adventures, the paranormal stories of Old Licking County Jail reached a national audience for the first time, and it has stayed an in-demand investigation location for teams across the nation ever since.

Though if you’re planning your own trip to this old jail, make sure not to underestimate the phantoms within, or you may just take a licking.