Opened in 1871, the Old Jail in Jim Thorpe still looms over the town today, as if not wanting to be forgotten. Entering through its large wooden doors offers a journey to the past, a view of history many people cannot get enough of. As for me, I just wanted to get out.
Within the jail lays a little more than just seventy-two rooms that once held murderers, rapists, and the accused innocent. Hidden beneath its deteriorating structure lay secrets and strange happenings, all without an answer.With so many deaths, hangings and beatings that went on throughout the violent history of the jail, some say it is not hard to believe that spirits still live within the abandoned walls. But the question is, do you believe? And if you don’t, would you want to find out for sure?
The Old Jail is now a museum open to the public, in which many people come from all over the world to visit, but at one point in history, it was a place for the convicted, not the curious. Back in the jail’s “glory days,” when it still held the title of the Carbon County Prison,the wardens would walk up and down the cell block, waiting for one of the inmates to act up. As I walked down that same cell block, I could feel all of the inmates looking back at me through the rusted metal doors, but when I went to turn towards them, a pitch black empty cell only stared back. Many visitors have had the same stories and feelings when walking through the jail. Maybe it was just nerves, or maybe my wild imagination, but for seven dollars and the will to enter, I took a “ghost tour,” and never want to relive any of it.
“It’s very rare people see anything on ghost walks. Things usually happen when no one is around.” Stacey Miller, of Shickshinny, who has spent her lifetime enjoying the fascination of the paranormal, once told me. Although I never ‘saw’ a spirit or ghost with my eyes, many times throughout the tour the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up, as if someone or something was watching me. Many tourists have experienced the sensation of what feels like somebody pulling their hair while walking through the jail. Luckily that wasn’t me.
Amanda Cartwright of Phoenixville had even come back a second time, to see if it would happen again to her. “It freaked me out. I thought it was my friend at first, but when I turned around, no one was there.” she stated. There have been accounts of tourists seeing ghostly images and having strange and indescribable sensations, but no solid proof has ever been found regarding if the Old Jail is haunted or not.
Solitary confinement, also known as the dungeons, is where most paranormal activity is thought to happen within the jail. The place itself is enough to let anyone’s imagination run away with them, having small rooms with handcuffs hanging off the walls and no light except the beam of the tour guide’s flashlight, it is not a very welcoming place to be. I took a picture in one of the dark cells, only to reveal an orb that seemed to be hovering at the top of the doorway.
“Orbs in photos are usually explained as paranormal energy that has grouped together,” the tour guide explained, “or as skeptics say, orbs are just dust particles.”
When explaining my fear to Miller about the picture, she tried reassuring me with another piece of information: “You should be more afraid of the living than the dead.”As I found out for myself, I was more afraid of the unknown, than the facts, along with fearing the dead.
Although my reason for attending the tour was based upon curiosity, other people mostly attend to take a look at what is inside cell number 17. Almost towards the end of the cell block, cell number 17 is the only cell in the entire building that has its metal door shut and locked tight. In it, lies the proof of an innocent man, a single handprint, left unfading for one hundred thirty years to date. Tom McBride, owner of the Old Jail, informed me that historians are not exactly sure if the handprint belongs to Alexander Campbell or Thomas Fisher. The more famous of the two legends goes something like this: Alexander Campbell, a member of the terrorist group the Molly Maguires, was charged with murdering mine boss John P. Jones. Alexander Campbell swore he was innocent, and wanted to prove it, so he rubbed his hand in the dirt on his cell floor and stated that “This handprint will forever remain on this wall, proving I am innocent.” He then placed the dirty hand on the wall. He was hanged on June 21, 1877.
Many attempts have been made to remove the handprint, such as painting over it and even placing a wall over it, but every time, the handprint comes back, in the exact same place, as the exact same size. All of these failed tries have been documented throughout history. It has been examined my modern day scientists, and even they do not have an answer. The only logical explanation: he was truly innocent. As history would have it, Alexander Campbell was proven innocent by his great nephew, Patrick Campbell, many years after his hanging.Visitors are not allowed to enter the cell block. “When we first opened the jail to the public, cell 17 was vandalized with spray paint, we don’t want that to happen again.” the owner said.
The Old Jail contains more history than meets the eye when you first see its high stone walls and the metal bars that cover every window. When you walk inside, an old musty smell will strike you, and you realize just how old the place really is. It is hard to imagine all of the lives that once were held there and what exactly happened to them behind closed doors. But something in the building screams out to its visitors that they are not alone. Although the jail is now abandoned, it still seems alive, and full of an unexplainable energy. I left the building and looked behind me one last time as I was walking away; I took a deep breath of fresh air, and looked at the stars shining above, happy to be outside of the jail’s walls. My experiences will not be forgotten anytime soon and everyone else that I walked out with said the same thing. “It was not what I expected, it was so much more,” Caryn Brent, a woman who traveled from South Jersey to see the jail said.
I am still a skeptic, and as for now, I think I will sleep with the lights on for a few more nights.