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A place to see this season in Jim Thorpe, PA: The Old Jail Museum

I feel I have done a great disservice to readers.. I had a wonderful experience this weekend at a 'haunted' attraction and failed to do any in depth posting about it.. My apologies..

I am relatively close to the beautiful town  of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. If you are too, or willing to take a drive to get there, it's worth the travels over the next few weeks until the end of the Halloween season.

The town itself is filled with culture, classy restaurants, cool stores, and one of the most interesting court houses you'll ever be in: The Old Jail.

If you have a lack of knowledge of the coal region of Pennsylvania, know only this: Coal barons were in charge at one time. There were company stores.. there was slave labor.. child labor .. any kind of labor. Deaths in coal minds occurred regularly. Even  the town of Ashland, PA, in Schuylkill County, had a hospital established that, at that time, served only the miners who succumbed to often life threatening injuries in their daily work. I have miners who were in my family.. A great grandfather that I sadly never met had a career in mining before his untimely death prior to my birth in 1980..

And also know this: Molly MaGuires became the first true labor union that organized and often fought their way to social justice. It's worth your research or simple Google searches if you wanted to read anything further about the Mollys and their brand of unionization..

The 'old jail', then the Carbon County Prison, Molly Maguires who were convicted of murder (that they perhaps never committed) and met their fate: Public hangings.

The Old Jail Museum website explains the story of why their prison this way with emphasis added by me in bold:
"The building is best known as the site of the hanging of seven Irish coal miners known as Molly Maguires in the 1800s. On June 21, 1877, today known as the Day of the Rope, Alexander Campbell, Edward Kelly, Michael Doyle and John Donohue were hanged at the same time on gallows erected inside the Old Jail Museum cell block. On March 28, 1878, Thomas P. Fisher was hanged here, and on January 14, 1879, James McDonnell and Charles Sharp were hanged on the same gallows. Historians today feel the Molly Maguire trials were a surrender of state sovereignty. A private corporation (a coal/railroad company) initiated an investigation through a private detective agency (Pinkerton Detectives), a private police force (the Coal & Iron Police) arrested the alleged offenders, and private attorneys (employees of the coal companies) prosecuted these men. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provided only the courtroom and the gallows. "
The site goes on to explain this, bringing in that strange paranormal element:
"Before their hanging, the men proclaimed their innocence and today historians believe many of the condemned men were falsely accused of murder. Before his hanging one of the man, thought to be Alexander Campbell, put his hand on the dirty floor of his cell and then placed it firmly on the wall proclaiming, " This handprint will remain as proof of my innocence." That handprint is visible today for everyone to view even though past wardens tried to eradicate it by washing it, painting it, and even taking down part of the wall and replastering it."
Not mentioned in the description: Children of the rich, powerful, and important in then Mauch Chunk, were playing on the gallows the night before the hangings. The privileged few were reportedly mocking the men who would die the next day at the hands of injustice and wealthy coal barons being in charge of law..

I did see the hand print in cell block 17 when I was there.. You are not permitted to photograph the hand or touch it. No photos because the current owners copyrighted the print.. Smart move, I suppose.  So while you may not be able to have a photo proving you saw the hand, you can buy some sweat pants to prove it!

The overall atmosphere wasn't filled with actors jumping from behind curtains, or groans in the dark with speakers.. No, this ambiance of the Old Jail Museum is just plain, maybe low key to some, and filled with dark history for others. The real paranormal story is the hand print--and a couple other little tales of whispers and pats on the back.. One of the tour guides told me after the show that he is aware of a female tour guide that, during one particular evening, had her hair not only touched but moved up into the air while she was conducting her presentation..   The website has a few photos of 'ghosts'.. I personally did not see any this weekend when I was there, though I really didn't want to. There is a certain amount of 'ghost hunting' that I find a little disingenuous. If there are truly spirits, I don't think we should talk to them.. I am sure they'll talk to us if they need something.  Sometimes it's better to let things be....without the EVPs ...(A few folks did have recorders on my experience)..

The aspect of the Old Jail Museum that amazed me more was the history of it all: This old jail, filled with concrete windowless solitary confinement cells and a history of wrongful public hangings, was still used until 1995 after an inmate sued the county for 'wretched housing' at the prison.. imagine! A cell in which prisoners were being injured on a regular basis just under 20 years ago.. My friend remarked to me, 'imagine a guy being picked up for drunk driving, being put into a cell with a freaky hand print that never goes away?' ...too true.

Some researchers have tried their best to debunk the hand..  The very idea of the hand has been  the talk of the town for decades.. Some still think it's a fraud.. others think it's a sign of innocence..

Other legends of the area are as profound.. For example, Molly Maguires were being called out during church services at Saint Ignatius in Centralia Pennsylvania (maybe you've heard of this town, the 'hottest place on earth'?) .. a priest was reportedly taken to the back of the cemetery where he was beaten by activist Mollys.. The priest then,  legend would say,  condemned the town to misery. A mine fire later consumed it and now only a few people remain under imminent domain..

Tales like that are fun.. curses, hexes, and stories of mystery and intrigue.

And while the Old Jail Museum may not scare you as other attractions, it will allow you to get a glimpse into the past, examine your present, and wonder about your future. Did Alexander Campbell leave his mark for generations to come? ...and the deeper question... did the Molly Maguires win the battle against unfair corporations, or are they still in charge?


  1. […] Last year, I actually wrote a review about the museum here.. quite frankly, I faced some consternation from the Old Jail for what I wrote, namely a section where I said “The real paranormal story is the hand print—and a couple other little tales, probably tall, of whispers and pats on the back.. ”  There was offense taken from that section.. but I refuse to take it out. The hand print may not be faked, but there are no doubt other embellished stories that provide atmosphere during the Halloween season. […]


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