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6 notorious prisons offer ghostly thrills

Image: Alcatraz
Considering taking a spooky trip for Halloween? Try Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, where mysterious clanging and screaming — from the ghosts of inmates past, perhaps? — has been heard, even though the prison closed in 1963.Eric Risberg / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Looking for ghostly thrills this Halloween? Head straight to prison.

Old closed prisons are often crumbling, dank fortresses with histories of flying orbs, moving furniture, noises in the night and chilly bursts of air. They draw serious-minded paranormal explorers who blame ghosts of mistreated inmates looking for a way out, or those of prison personnel killed in escapes or riots.

The Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfield in north-central Ohio has it all and flaunts it in its Halloween "Prison of the Evil Dead" haunted house experience through Nov. 1. Children under 13 are forbidden.

The prison, with a soaring six-tier cell block, was used for the film "The Shawshank Redemption" and other productions. It first opened in 1910 and wasn't completely closed until 1990. The Halloween presentation, offered late at night like most, includes actors, animatronics and other special effects.

Nothing special is planned for Halloween at the notorious, fog-shrouded Alcatraz prison on the "Rock" in San Francisco Bay, but national park rangers who accompany regular night tours often take small groups into rooms not seen during the day, including the cafeteria, hospital and basement.

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Opened as a federal prison in 1934 and closed in 1963, some inmates went crazy at Alcatraz, and the place has its share of mysterious clanging and screaming reported in areas once used for punishment. Famous residents included gangster Al Capone. Round-trip ferry service and an award-winning cell house audio presentation included.

In downtown Philadelphia, there's "Terror Behind the Walls" through Nov. 2 at the massive Eastern State Penitentiary, where ghost sightings date to the 1940s. Abandoned in 1971, the prison is a hot spot for ghost hunters. The Halloween presentation is not for the easily shaken, with children under 7 barred and kids 7-12 steered to family nights, when they can scream "Monster be good!" — and they will.

Not exactly a prison, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium atop a hill in Louisville, Ky., is now a walkthrough museum with a Halloween haunted house that plays up a ghostly past through Nov. 1.

Opened in 1910, the sanatorium has an underground "death tunnel" used to discreetly remove bodies without destroying the morale of patients. Reported apparitions include shadowy childlike images on a rooftop deck where the stricken young once played.

At the Burlington County Prison Museum in historic Mount Holly, N.J., a Halloween show dubbed simply "The Prison" begins Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 1.

The prison was in operation for more than a century, closing in 1965. It had its own gallows and housed the Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo. Reports of moaning and electromagnetic spikes in its dungeon are numerous. Some visitors report the sensation of being watched and darting, dark human forms on the first floor. The ghost of Joel Clough, who killed a girlfriend and was chained naked to the floor of the death cell after an escape attempt, is the suspected culprit of lots of ghostly activity.

Riots, escapes, executions, fires. The imposing former West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville tallied many dead prisoners from 1876 through 1995 and has drawn a hefty share of paranormal investigators to the chapel, shower cages and death row. For Halloween, it offers a "Dungeon of Horrors" through Nov. 1, promising an introduction to "one of the scariest places behind bars!" Separate, regular night tours let you lock yourself in until 6 a.m.