Post by Graveyardbride on Aug 29, 2018 14:18:45 GMT -5
Old Jail for Sale: Gallows, Nooses and Ghosts Included
JIM THORPE, Penn. – The asking price is $749,000 and gallows, nooses, handcuffs, the everlasting handprint of a hanged coal miner and possibly some ghosts are included in the sale of the old jail.
“Oh, we have ghosts here,” Betty Lou McBride said last week. “Tons of ghosts.” In 1995, McBride, now 84, and husband Tom, 87, purchased the former Carbon County Jail in Jim Thorpe when it still housed prisoners and took over once the county moved the last of them to a new facility in Nesquehoning. The McBrides have spent the last two decades operating the imposing, 147-year-old stone building as the Old Museum Jail. “We’ve been saying we were going to sell it for a long time, but it’s hard to let go,” she admitted.
The two-story, 27-cell jail is tucked into a rocky hill atop Broadway in the quaint mining town formerly known as Mauch Chunk on the Lehigh River. Pennsylvania has plenty of old stone buildings where nothing much has happened, but the jail is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its unique and ominous place in the history of labor unions. In the late 1800s, immigrants were pouring into northeastern Pennsylvania and heading down into the mines to extract anthracite coal. Faced with low pay and meager living conditions, Irish miners turned to fraternal organizations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians for solidarity and, eventually, to fledgling trade unions to organize. According to Karliene Zack of the Mauch Chunk Museum: “What they were, basically, were miners who were just trying to get the mine owners to treat them fairly.”
Blood was spilled on both sides and there were brawls and vandalism, and when mine owners were killed, coal barons sent in their own private police force – the Pinkerton National Detective Agency – to infiltrate the Irish miners, dubbed the “Molly Maguires” after an Irish woman who led revolts against English landlords. On June 21, 1877, a day known as “Black Thursday,” four Irish miners accused of murder were hanged inside the Carbon County Jail. Six more were hanged in Pottsville.
Three additional Irish coal miners were hanged in the jail after Black Thursday. The fairness of the Molly Maguires’ trials has long been questioned by historians. In 1979, the alleged leader of the Mollies, Jack “Blackjack” Kehoe, was posthumously pardoned by Gov. Milton J. Shapp. “The judge was a friend of the coal companies,” Mrs. McBride claimed.
A 1970 film The Molly Maguires, starring Sean Connery and Richard Harris, was one of 10 movies that shot footage in the Carbon County Jail.
On the right side of cell 17, a Molly Maguire handprint stains the wall about six feet up and supposedly cannot be scrubbed off or painted or plastered over. This handprint will remain as proof of my innocence!” the prisoner allegedly exclaimed before he was escorted to the gallows. McBride said cell 17 is usually locked, but the print is visible through the bars. “Nobody gets in the cell with the handprint by themselves. Nobody spends the night here,” she continued. “I’m not about to spend the night here, not because I’m afraid, but because I don’t want to sleep on a concrete floor.”
According to McBride, one former inmate, Walter “Mountain Main” Rodriguez, was in cell 17 by himself following his arrest in connection with the murder of a teenaged girl. Though he was a member of the Warlocks, an outlaw motorcycle gang, he was terrified of being locked in the haunted cell alone and begged to be moved.
The museum hosts around 24,000 visitors a year and while McBride conducts ghost tours, she has never gone full-tilt into the lucrative Halloween market by holding something like Eastern State Penitentiary's “Terror Behind the Walls.” She respects the ghosts too much. “I don’t understand them and I never wanted to ridicule them with an artificial haunted house,” she explained.
Though there has been some interest in the property, the prospective purchasers aren’t from the county or borough and it could be a turnkey haunted museum for the right buyer. “It’s a good business,” McBride affirmed. “It’s not brain surgery. The most sensible thing is to keep the museum running, maybe expand.”
Neighbors want it to stay that way, too. “It’s a great tourist attraction,” added Sue Zarillo, 53. “All kinds of creepy things happen there.”
Currently, the museum is open from Memorial Day through October. It’s tough to heat in the winter, McBride admitted. “The building takes on a different look in the winter. It’s not welcoming.”
The jail’s recreation area isn’t used, though it has all the makings of a beer garden. In 1990, an inmate on work release scaled the mountain behind the jail and shot and killed his cellmate, who was in the yard.
McBride rents out the building by the hour, often to paranormal groups, as long as they’re not attempting to debunk ghosts. She also recalled there had been at least one wedding on the premises and there are many field trips to the museum. “The kids don’t get as scared as I’d like them to,” she said.
McBride doesn’t scare easily herself and this helps if you’re going to buy a haunted jail. “I’ve seen things here that aren’t here,” she revealed. “People feel their hair being touched, or they feel a hand on their shoulder.”
Source: Jason Nark, PhillyNews, August 16, 2018.