Even though “freed” from prison through death, spirits are stuck.
Spirits of the executed still hang around the gallows.
Designed by Robert Mills, it was one of his first efforts as an independent architect. This crowning achievement was open for business as the Burlington County Prison in 1811. Robert Mills, one of America’s first native-born, trained architects, came up with a well-thought out plan, which spared this prison what other prisons experienced; fire, destruction and loss of life because of it. The prison has interior vaulted ceilings of poured concrete, and with brick and stone walls, the prison was fire-proof, which gave it a long life, in constant use until 1965.
This solid building which was in use for 154 years, had a basement, and two floors, originally built to handle 40 guests of the state. The warden’s house eventually was located next door to the prison, connected by a tunnel.
Originally when the prison opened, the warden and his wife lived in two large rooms located on the main floor. The warden’s wife was to supervise the women inmates, while the warden ran the ship as enforcer of the rules of the jail.
Throughout the prison, cell blocks were organized into units of 4 individual cells, each with its own fireplace, opening off a short hall at each end of the floor. Each cell block held people accused of the similar offense/criminal type & sex. Women inmates, habitual criminals and first offenders were three of the categories, segregated in the housing plan.
Then, there were those imprisoned because of their debts, still being done in 1811. They were kept in the larger rooms off the main hallways, which could accommodate 3 or 4 men in each room. They were allowed to move about the place in daylight hours and be employed in the basement workshops, probably with the idea of working off their debt.
The Basement – Was designed to house a workshop, where the incarcerated, both men and women, were expected to learn a skill, so that when they had done their time, they had a way to be in lawful employment. The kitchen and all supplies used in prison life were in the basement. Another room in the basement was designed to be the dining room, and a controlled access to the exercise yard, which was surrounded by a twenty foot, imposing wall.
The dungeon or maximum security cell was not in the basement but was located in a room in the center of the second floor, surrounded with small areas for guards or visitors, with an iron ring in the center of the floor for the incarcerated person. It was the only room without a fireplace, but had a small window, located high up on the wall. It was a cold place to spend the night, often used for the last night before the condemned would die by hanging out in the yard.
Outside the main building in the yard there was a area where the inmates could tend a small garden and also a place where a set of leg stocks was located where all could see, for the punishment of uncooperative/rowdy ones, which is a more humane way to punish than what was used in other prisons. There was also a place in the yard for a portable gallows to be put up on the many occasions when people who were convicted of a capitol crime were hung without exception, as authorized by law by the state of New Jersey. All persons who were convicted in Burlington County came here for the carrying out of their sentence. The last such execution was in 1906, a double hanging of the murderous duo, Rufus Johnson and George Small. I guess, after 1906, executions took place in another facility.
There were some escapes planned and executed, with a few successfully gaining their freedom, if only for a short time. In 1875, some enterprising souls made a hole in the roof from a cell and then climbed down a huge pile of wood stacked by the prison wall.
In 1965, the prison was bursting with 100 inmates so they were moved to a bigger location, an old converted armory located behind the prison. In 1983, a new bigger prison was built somewhere else, becoming the new place of incarceration.
The Prison now is a Historic Landmark and a nice museum, a fascinating place to learn about prison life. It still holds a few entities who don’t want to leave. This became evident when in 1999 renovation work began on the run-down building, in order to create this museum for the public.
The Prison now is a Historic Landmark and a nice museum, a fascinating place to learn about prison life. It still holds a few entities who choose to stay here. There is much psychic research done to support this haunting of the old prison. Thanks to the brave souls such as the North and South Jersey Paranormal Research groups, who don’t mind rubbing space with the entities there. In a joint effort, they investigated this prison with video, photos, EVP equipment and came up with some interesting results.
- During the renovation work, workmen experienced some paranormal activities.
- They were treated to loud noises, voices and screams from their new friends – The entities who stayed behind.
- The workers would find their tools missing and later found on another floor or other location much later in the day.
Because the workers were uneasy being the last ones in the building, they started to leave early, prompting the officials to call in the South Jersey Ghost Research team to confirm or deny the claims of the now scared workers, in order to ease their minds. Dave Juliano of theShadowlands.net was in on these early investigations and saw first hand evidence. This was the first of several investigations.
- An apparition was seen in the shower area, and a foot print in the dust was found there as well.
- The Maximum Security Cell – Haunted by entity or entities who spent their last nights here before being hanged.
Joel Clough, who murdered his lover with blunt force, was hung in 1850. From then on, other prisoners and guards heard his moaning and chain rattling. Objects have been known to move around by themselves, and they actually saw his apparition sitting in the cell.
David Juliano observed with his team that a stretcher next to the maximum security cell moved by itself, and that the movement sensors were set off by a force in the cell itself.
Susan Bove (SJPR) meditates in the “Death Row” cell while two orbs move past.
The gallows which are on display are haunted by the condemned. Possible candidates may include convicted murderers Rufus Johnson and George Small, as well as others who were executed here.
Yes. Most definitely. Even though “freed” from prison through death, they choose to hang around still.
On High Street and Grant Street, in historic Mount Holly, New Jersey.
(609) 265-5476 or (609) 518-7667 for more information.
Contact: Burlington County Historic Prison Museum Association //P.O. Box 483, Mount Holly, NJ 08060.
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr