Old Jail Museum

Posted by amber in Philadelphia Ghost Tours
Old Jail Museum - Photo

Once known in its past as the Carbon County Jail, the Old Jail Museum is now operating as a fully functional museum and ghost-hunt tourist spot. Resembling a fortress standing guard over the town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, the historic Old Jail Museum is a beautiful two-story stone structure. Containing about 72 rooms in total, the building is home to 27 old jail cells, as well as a few cells in the basement, or the ‘dungeon’ used for solitary confinement of the inmates who resided here while the jail was in operation.


Real Life Jail Turned Tourist Attraction



It contains women’s cells, an apartment for the jail warden, which comes equipped with a large living room, dining room, two bedrooms, as well as a kitchen that was shared with the prisoners. For many years, the warden’s wife did the cooking not only for her family but also for the inmates in the jail. It was added to The National Register of Historic Places on November 8th, 1974. The building itself was constructed in 1869 and resembles a fortress, its thick stone walls and massive guard turret towering above all who enter it.


The Molly Maguires


The building is best known as the site of the hangings of seven Irish coal miners, known as Molly Maguires, in the 1800s. The Molly Maguires were an Irish 19th-century secret society that was active in Ireland, Liverpool, and parts of the Eastern United States. They were best known for their activism among Irish-American and Irish immigrant coal miners in Pennsylvania. The group was active in land disputes, where they had their own set of rules on how they should conduct themselves when settling arguments over properties. Some of their rules included not paying rent without harvest, no overpayment for rental land, and don’t hold grudges. The Molly Maguires were dead-set (no pun intended) on receiving fair treatment for their work and held a number of labor strikes to try and accomplish their mission. Their reputation was not a good one, as law enforcement of the time saw them as a menace to society. Franklin Gowen, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal & Iron Company, deluged local newspapers with stories of murder and arson committed by the Mollies. They were threatening his way of life, his estate, his money. He was not going to stop until the Mollies were brought to justice in his eyes.


Not everyone saw the Mollies as a threat, and the governor of Pennsylvania in 1979, Milton Shapp, even granted a posthumous pardon to them and said that they were ‘martyrs to labor, heroes in the struggle to establish a union and fair treatment for workers.’ It seems like the Molly Maguires just wanted to keep peace and fairness, but the group did not always peacefully protest. In the late 1800s, twenty of the Molly Maguires were involved in a series of violent conflicts, and soon after were convicted of murder and were set to be executed by hanging in 1877 and 1878 at the Carbon County Jail and one other. After an intense and uphill battle at trial, six men were hanged at a prison in Pottsville, and four were brought to the Carbon County Jail to be executed. A scaffold was erected outside of the jail, and state militia with their bayonets fixed surrounded the prison and the gallows. Miners arrived with their wives and children from the surrounding areas, some even traveling through the night to come and honor the Mollies. By nine that morning, the crowd was stretched as far as the eye could see. Families fell silent, and they paid tribute to those who were about to take their final walk, their final draw of breath, and their final moments here on earth. One of the accused, Thomas Munley’s aging father walked ten miles from Gilberton to assure his son that he believed in his innocence. Munley’s wife arrived a few minutes later but was not allowed to enter, and she said her grief-stricken goodbyes from the gate. The four were hung on June 21st, 1877, for the murders of mine bosses and their constituents.



Alexander Campbell, one of the Molly Maguires set to be hanged at Carbon County, left his mark on the jail. Just before his execution, he allegedly slapped a large muddy handprint on his cell wall, stating, ‘there is proof of my words, that mark of mine will never be wiped out, it is proof of my innocent, it will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man.” This eerie story leads us to our next section…


The Legend of The Unwashable Print


Even these days, with the Old Jail Museum in operation, Campbells’ handprint is said to remain. Over the years, there have been numerous attempts at removal, replastering, painting, sanding, even the construction of a brand new wall and the handprint remains. All of the men proclaimed their innocence, and today historians believe that many of the condemned were falsely accused of murder and innocently hung. The print stands as a testament to the fact that while the American justice system does its best, sometimes it fails those who are innocent, and history cannot wash that away. It is said that the spirits of the coal miners who were hanged here remain, and visitors to the Old Jail Museum corroborate that belief.


Hauntings at The Old Jail Museum


Spectral handprints aside, the jail itself is a hotbed of paranormal activity. Not only did it house some of Pennsylvania’s most dangerous criminals, but it was also the final destination for self-proclaimed innocent inmates. The terror felt by them and their families as they stepped up to the gallows is palpable, and the energies coursing through the museum are felt by all of those who step foot onto the property. Visitors come away from the museum with reports of apparitions and strange shadow figures, loud bangs from the darkness of the solitary confinement cells down below, and even shoving when the spirits feel as though they’ve overstayed their welcome. Legends say that these are the inmates’ spirits and even the ghost of the old warden himself ‘checking in’ on his prison and the inmates he was responsible for. In the warden’s apartment area of the museum, objects will move around the kitchen area, and visitors can hear pots and pans clanging. Could this be the warden’s wife, still hard at work to provide meals for those who resided here?



Regardless of who is up in the kitchen whipping up some ghostly meals, the Old Jail Museum is one of the creepiest spots in Jim Thorpe, A scenic hour-and-a-half drive from Philadelphia. It is also with no doubt one of the spookiest places in all of Pennsylvania. Jails and prisons hold a special kind of energy, especially if that energy believes it was wrongly accused and deserves justice. There’s nothing that will create more of a haunting than unfinished business, and if the track record of the Molly Maguires says anything, then the spirits here are going to keep fighting until they receive the justice they are seeking. If you’re interested in visiting the Old Jail Museum, there are a few beautiful hotels within walking distance of the museum and the rest of the quaint town of Jim Thorpe, PA, including the Times House and the Inn at Jim Thorpe. To check out another haunted location on your trip down to the museum, why not stop by the ever-so-haunted Hex House?


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