Ex-Guard TELLS ALL
MOUNDSVILLE – Chuck Ghent began his career as a correctional officer at the former West Virginia Penitentiary shortly after a group of inmates took about a dozen staff members hostage on Jan. 1, 1986.
“Thankfully, I just missed that,” he said of the riot, while guiding a tour of the facility that operated from 1866 until its 1995 closure.
Though many now know the prison for the annual Dungeon of Horrors haunted house Halloween celebration, the prison can be quite creepy without actors and decorations.
“The inmates actually hand cut the stones to build this prison,” Ghent said while guiding the tour of the facility famous for its Gothic-style architecture.
Ghent believes about 1,000 people probably died inside the facility over the years, including the nine put to death in the electric chair.
During his time working as an officer at the prison, Ghent said one of the most challenging aspects was the temperature, which he said could reach as high as 135 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
“With all the showers running, and no air conditioning, it could get pretty bad in here,” he said.
Ghent said those hunting for ghosts often visit the prison in the evening upon making appointments. He said several movies and TV shows have been filmed at the facility.
The April 18, 1886, edition of the Wheeling Register described the then 20-year-old penitentiary as follows:
“The cosmopolitan nature of the prison is one of its peculiar features. All classes of society and many professions are represented. The ex-minister and pick-pocket work side by side, while the ex-legislator marks time with the sneak thief, and the ex-treasurer of some large institution sits elbow to elbow with the scum of the lowest purlieus. There are no class distinctions and no preferences.”
“It is really something to think of how old it is and everything that happened here,” Ghent added.
Tours of the prison are available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, beginning on the hour.