Old Fauquier Jail: Doing Time with the Spirits

Old Fauquier Jail

Yes, this old jail is haunted. Whether you go during the day on a historic tour of the Old Fauquier Jail, in Warrenton VA, or seek out its spirits during a ghost hunt at night, this historic place is fascinating.

Today, the old jail buildings house the county historical society museum. The museum documents not only the history of the old jail itself, but also county and local history. My favorite part of the museum are the recreated rooms of a barber and a dentist — the way they were way back when.

In 1808, the local government constructed a four-cell brick jail to house the county’s indigent and criminal residents. The four cells held multiple people, not uncommon for that time. Also not uncommon, children often accompanied their mothers into the jail. The jail added a larger, second building in 1823. The addition allowed space for the warden and his family to live on one side of the original building. The exercise yard behind the newer, 1823 building provided space for both a latrine for the inmates and a gallows.

In addition to executions, historians have documented accidental deaths and suicides at the jail. Thus, the place has a well-earned reputation for being haunted. In fact, visitors, volunteers and museum staff have reported multiple experiences. Playful ghost children perform pranks. Some have seen full body apparitions and shadow figures lurking in the cells. And of course, like many old buildings, folks have heard the usual footsteps, knockings and bangs.

Still Doing Time at Old Fauquier Jail

Quite a few ghosts still serve out their sentences at the old jail. Visitors and docents frequently hear sounds like footsteps, the grating of something heavy dragged across the floor (mostly within the older building) and whistling. Docents also frequently report lights going on and off in the 1823 jail building.

In the kitchen, a jailer’s wife died of burns after her skirts caught fire on the open hearth fireplace in the late 1800s. Ghost hunters and story tellers now know her as the Lady in White.

The ghost of McG or Mr. McGracken, or Mr. McG, an old man who died in the jail in the 1920s, haunts the second floor. Apparently his family had been trying to get him to give up his home. Mr. McGracken preferred instead to die in his own home, so he set it on fire — while he was still in it. His neighbors rescued him, but brought him to the jail (because that’s what you did in the 1920s). He died in the upstairs holding cell of pneumonia and burns.

Ghost haunt some of the objects in the museum as well. The large mirror in the 1808 jail sometimes reflects more than just a living person’s reflection.

Two inmates still reportedly haunt the Old Fauquier Jail: Winter Payne and John Williams. These two men were hanged for their “unspeakable crimes” in the late 1870s. Perhaps they’re the shadow figures that wander the halls of the 1823 jail.

Finally, women who venture into the maximum security jail cells — added in the early 1900s — report inappropriate touches.

The Investigation

One of the museum’s volunteers, Seth, served as our tour guide and story teller. He told a lot of stories — all of them fascinating insights into the history of the jail, his own experiences there with both the paranormal and other museum visitors. We spent time in the museum’s entrance and gift shop, then moved upstairs into the museum’s office/conference room.

The high point of our investigation was when we went up into the attic. According to the history Seth provided, the attic was where those enslaved at the jail stayed, but also where people had hidden as they sought freedom. It was dusty, of course. Any “orbs” showing up in photos taken in the attic were discounted. The cat balls lit up a couple times at the beginning of the evening, but then remained obstinately dark.

We moved into the 1823 jail building, conducting question-and-answer sessions in the jail cells. We encouraged different members of our group to say alone in those cells — I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In the middle of the night, those max security cells are creepy.

We spent time in all the main spaces: the 1808 jail in the first and second floors, in the 1823 jail as well as the courtyard and behind the jail in the execution spaces.

What We Experienced

We’d expected an active night.

In the 1808 building, the dousing rods were lethargic, at best. We also used PhasmaBox, an app on my laptop that like a spirit box, spits out words and sounds. Interestingly, when we were in the jailer’s kitchen, it identified a member of our party by name. That was a freaky moment, especially for her!

At one point, we were in the room with the barber shop and dentist’s office exhibits. During the session there, we encountered a stick figure showing up on a “ghost hunting” app. In the max security cells, the EMF meter flickered the most often, seemingly in response to questions. But again, the cat balls remained dark. Had we turned them on? We checked but they were, in fact, turned on.

Lights stayed off — or on, or in whichever state they were at the beginning. If we heard footsteps above, it was most likely other members of our group. We weren’t touched, even appropriately.

I do believe the Old Fauquier Jail is haunted. But the highlight of our investigation wasn’t the ghosts — it was Seth. He is a story teller and should start a podcast telling these stories. He was fascinating. His stories, shared community memories and legends of the jail throughout its more than two centuries of history, made our evening!

Know Before You Go

Getting there: 10 Ashby St, Warrenton, VA
Hours: Please contact the website below to arrange your ghost hunt; sometimes the museum schedules public ghost hunts as well.
Website: Fauquier County Historical Society Museum

Can’t get enough ghost hunts? Check out other ghost hunts and paranormal investigations we’ve participated in!