Is Moundsville Penitentiary Haunted?

Moundsville Penitentiary

From cell block shadows to spirits in the Sugar Shack, countless ghosts linger in this old prison

Moundsville Penitentiary’s
Mysterious Ghost Stories

  • Sounds of loud arguing and quite whispers are heard in the sugar shack
  • Cold spots are encountered throughout the complex
  • Shadow figures are frequently seen
  • Uneasy feelings have been encountered in certain buildings
  • Phantom footsteps are often heard
  • Potential EVPs have been collected from past investigations
  • People report being grabbed at by unseen forces
  • Visitors have captured numerous photographic anomalies while touring the grounds
  • Electrical malfunctions are known to occur in equipment without known cause
  • Moving mists have been seen throughout the prison
  • Unexplained and unpleasant odors have been reported
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Moundsville Penitentiary’s Punishing Past

Moundsville Penitentiary, spanning several residential blocks in Moundsville, West Virginia and looming large over the homes and buildings around it, serves as a monument to how far the incarceration system has come since it was built. With a history filled with overcrowding, inmate violence, and prison riots, it seems only fitting that the Moundsville prison looks more like an industrial-sized torture chamber than a reasonable reformatory.

Moundsville Penitentiary stands gothic and chilling as a reminder of what a life of crime brings

The dark brick perimeter walls tower 24 feet tall and are topped with battlements that only further crystallize the prison’s appearance as a palace of truly medieval tortures. But, as intimidating and imposing as the exterior is, many people say the spirits that linger inside Moundsville Penitentiary’s walls are what you should really be scared of.

Timeline of Moundsville Penitentiary's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Moundsville Penitentiary through the years


Inspired by a similar prison in Joliet, Illinois, Moundsville Penitentiary, also known as West Virginia Penitentiary, was designed to be as close to a copy of the Illinois prison as possible but half the size. Using prison labor, including some inmates who would later call the penitentiary home, the first structure completed in the complex was the North Wagon Gate.

When the prison was finally complete in 1876, it included a population of over 250 male inmates and space for the warden and select female inmates as well.


Early on, conditions at Moundsville Penitentiary were good. Prisoners kept busy with numerous jobs, and the population was manageable. As the 1900s dawned, the prison became fully self-sufficient through inmate maintenance and for-profit labor, allowing prisoners free time to put on plays.

When the prison’s coal mine opened in 1921, Moundsville had virtually succeeded at operating without state funds. Unfortunately, conditions at Moundsville soon took a turn for the worst, a turn from which it would never recover.


State government cuts and consolidation resulted in massive overcrowding at Moundsville Penitentiary starting in the 1930s, when the government was grappling with the Depression. Soon prisoners were packed three per cell, and only expansion would resolve the problem.

Unfortunately, steel shortages due to World War II slowed that process to a crawl, and prisoners languished in unsanitary conditions for years until the expansion was finally finished in the late 50s.


But by 1959, after so many years of unaddressed overcrowding and budget constraints, the damage was already done. Conditions in the following decades worsened, plumbing was frequently out of order, bug infestations were common, and security was getting dangerously relaxed.

This reached a boiling point in 1979, when 15 inmates staged an escape that killed a state trooper. This event spurred new interest in the overcrowded prison, but one more major event would happen before Moundsville Penitentiary finally met its end.


In response to a burst sewer pipe in the prison cafeteria, prisoners rioted on January 1, 1986. With security stretched thin and officers off for the New Year, a gang of twenty prisoners quickly gained control of the cafeteria and took hostages.

Though none of the hostages were killed, the state found themselves at the whims of the prisoners, who requested a new cafeteria be built, free of human waste. Reluctantly, the state agreed.


Despite getting a new cafeteria built soon afterward, the PR disaster following the riot left prison administration hobbled. That, coupled with a WV Supreme Court ruling that said the tiny 5×7 foot cells constituted cruel and unusual punishment, spelled the ultimate end for Moundsville Penitentiary.

The prison closed in 1995 after 119 years of operation, 94 executions, and 36 murders.


The old prison sat empty aside from local law enforcement training exercises for the next few years. But, both the prison’s intimidating appearance and whispers of hauntings brought new attention to the complex after just a few years.

In 2000, prison ownership was contacted by a new television series hoping to film a pilot there: MTV’s Fear. In the years since the prison appeared on Fear, Moundsville’s reportedly haunted reputation has exploded, and it remains one of the most popular paranormal locations in the US today.

Moundsville Penitentiary’s
Spirit-Laden Sugar Shack

Ever since the prison’s appearance on MTV’s Fear, the long-standing paranormal legends around the building have become some of the most famous ghost stories in the entire United States. And, one of the most well-known paranormal hotspots in the prison is referred to as the ‘Sugar Shack.’

The Sugar Shack was the name given to the wintertime recreation room for inmates, once notorious for gambling, drug use, rapes, and brutal fights. Today, visitors to the Sugar Shack area report hearing disembodied voices arguing and yelling, while other voices are heard whispering. Cold spots are frequently encountered in the room as well.

Though the hauntings reported in the Sugar Shack might be the most famous around Moundsville Penitentiary, they’re far from the oldest reports.

Paranormal claims around the prison are said to stretch back all the way to the 1930s, when night shift guards began spotting inmates walking freely around the yard and in off-limit areas. Alarms would sound and guards would be mobilized, only for no such wandering inmates to ever be found.

These reports would prove to be the first in almost a century’s worth of shadow figure reports. One figure in particular, known as the ‘Shadow Man’ remains a notorious ghost around the prison still today. So named for his tendency to stand in areas already bathed in shadows, making him particularly hard to spot at times, the Shadow Man is known to be intimidating enough for some people to just sense his location.

Moundsville Penitentiary’s Many Paranormal Hotspots

Another well-known hotspot of paranormal reports is the North Wagon Gate building in the prison, the space once used for hangings. The building is said to be haunted by the spirit of Orville Adkins, a prisoner who suffered a botched execution in 1938.

Now, visitors report feeling evil feelings in the building, hearing disembodied voices, as well as recording potential EVPs of Adkin’s ghost. Another common report in the North Wagon Gate is the sound of footsteps that seem to pace back-and-forth, with some suggesting this is Orville Adkin’s contemplating his execution.

In the prison’s North Hall, which used to house the worst and most violent offenders, many paranormal encounters are reported. Visitors and investigators report photographic anomalies and potential apparitions being captured, as well as investigative equipment malfunctioning and batteries being drained. Sounds of cell doors slamming have also been heard echoing through North Hall when no one is near them.

Ghostly claims are common in one North Hall cell in particular, said to be the former home of inmate Red Snyder, who was killed by other inmates after being stabbed 37 times. Now, Snyder’s spirit reportedly lingers in his cell, creating uneasy feelings and sometimes reaching out of the cell to grab people who walk by.

Moundsville Penitentiary’s Restless Phantoms

Beyond the numerous well-defined hotspots around Moundsville Penitentiary, paranormal happenings have been said to occur just about everywhere on the grounds. Solitary confinement, the shower cages, the psych ward, the chapel, the dining room, the boiler room/basement, and almost every inch of the yard are all said to be haunted by the spirits of long dead prisoners.

In addition to disembodied voices and sounds, cold spots, and shadow figures, all areas of the prison are known for unexplained and unpleasant odors, mists of unknown origin, and uneasy feelings of being watched. And, along with prisoner ghosts, some have reported apparitions of guards doing patrols and walking through walls.

Moundsville Penitentiary Modern Paranormal Legend

With all of these paranormal claims and a nearly century-long history of dealing with ghostly occurrences, it only makes sense that Moundsville Penitentiary has gained such a large reputation across the United States. Today, the prison is wide open for tours, investigations, public events, and photography walkthroughs, all of which regularly prove to be immensely popular.

Since first appearing on MTV’s Fear, the Moundsville Penitentiary has been the subject of an almost countless number of episodes of paranormal television, including Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Most Terrifying Places in America, as well as on the Science Channel’s Mysteries of the Abandoned and Syfy’s Ghost Hunters.

The prison’s appearances in media and its impossibly long list of paranormal claims has made it one of the most famous abandoned prisons in the US and one of the most well-known haunts in all of North America. If all these paranormal claims are to be believed, then Moundsville Penitentiary proves that sometimes, life sentences continue many years after death.