The Old Franklin County Jail is more than 200 years old. It has survived the burning of Chambersburg PA and witnessed much of the town’s history. And it is haunted.
Like many other such old buildings, the Old Franklin Jail also serves as the local historical society museum. And there’s a lot of history — some 300 years’ worth.
Ghost hunters, tourists and docents have reported a variety of paranormal experiences, including shadows, mysterious noises, disembodied moans and being physically touched.
A Brief History of Old Franklin Jail
The sheriff and his family lived in one half of the original building; the rest served as the jail with cells on three levels. The jail served the community from 1818 through 1970.
A 20-foot high wall surrounds the jail yard, which is divided into two sections. Surprisingly, the sheriffs over the years only executed seven prisoners on the premises. The last, William Reed, hanged in April 1912, less than a year after he killed his former sweetheart, Sarah C. Mathna. Before that, the community executed two men in 1879.
During the 150 years of service, The Old Franklin Jail housed numerous local criminals, including Captain John Cook and the creatively named “Lewis the Robber.” Cook was one of John Brown’s men who was captured after the unsuccessful raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
And over the years, prisoners have died or committed suicide. The Old Franklin Jail has seen its fair share of death and misery.
The Ghost Hunt
Our ghost hunt had been arranged by Inspired Ghost Trackers, a Maryland-based Meetup group. About 10 folks gathered for the investigation; we split up into two groups. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to go into the museum exhibit rooms in the front of the building. So we were unable to go into the sheriff’s residence, the gift shop (which had been the intake room for the jail) and the apothecary shop.
But the rest of the facility was open to us, including the 1818 cells, the dungeon and the 1880 cell tiers, including parts of the jail that aren’t open to the daytime guided tours. As we began the investigation, dark clouds gathered in the dimming sky. By the time we got set up, lightning lit the sky and thunder rumbled throughout the jail.
Spoiler alert: the evening was really active. And that was a relief — for the last several ghost hunts, we hadn’t experienced any activity. The theory is that thunderstorms can energize spirits, allowing them to interact more actively with the physical world. Maybe so. Or maybe this is just a very active space.
The 1880 Jail Spirits
We started on the third floor of the 1880 jail, in the women’s section, a noted hotspot. An opened window blew the storm’s wind into the upper tier, a relief from the prevailing stifling air. We began with an Estes Method spirit box session. One individual sat alone in one of the cells with their back to us; they had on noise-canceling earphones attached to the spirit box while the rest of our group sat outside of the cell asking questions. During the session, we took turns with the “cans” on. I also had the Ghost Tube Vox app active. We got some interesting results!
At one point, nearby church bells rang out the time. From the spirit box, the individual with the headphones on called out “prayer time.” The Ghost Tube Vox app stated “church,” nearly simultaneously, and then “Christian.” Between the spirit box and the app, we gathered we were talking with a female spirit, possibly an “Elizabeth,” who had “two friends.” Toward the end of our “conversation,” as we were wrapping up, the app said, “Don’t leave” and then “Talk with me.” Although we’d deployed the light-up cat balls during this session, they remained obstinately dark.
We shifted over to the men’s side on the third tier. Immediately, the app asked “Why are you here?” We established that we were interacting with a different spirit than before. We began another Estes session, but didn’t get many results. Instead, the cat balls and the EMF reader were the highlights, frequently hitting red in response to a question. The app spit out a name, “Eugene” and expressed “remorse.” The question-answer session seemed to indicate that the entity was an male inmate, one who’d spent a long time at the jail. It was freaky when we asked where the entity was and he responded, “I’m close.”
After sweating for the previous hour in the 1880 jail, we descended to the cool relief in the dungeon. It wasn’t very active. We got nothing in cells themselves. The other group also reported low activity. However, one of the legends of the jail indicates there’s an unmarked grave in the root cellar, just off the kitchen. So, we went into the root cellar. We had the Ghost Tube Vox app running and we also deployed the cat balls. Almost immediate the app spit out “grave” and “back.” A few minutes later, “chased.”
The scariest part of the dungeon was the rubber mouse on steps leading up to the first floor and the camel-back cricket crawling on one of the cell walls!
Finally, the app indicated several other names while we were in the basement: Gary, Sara, Jacob. Later that evening, it also indicated “Deborah.” I wonder how these names relate to the entities at the Old Franklin Jail.
Know Before You Go
You can reserve the Old Franklin Jail for your own private ghost hunt through the website below. During the summer months, the jail in parts is likely to be stifling hot. I imagine it’s just as cold in the winter. Dress appropriately. In addition, the building is three floors. Steep, irregular steps lead downstairs to the ‘dungeon’ area. Other stairs may be less steep, but equally narrow.
Getting there: 175 E King St, Chambersburg, PA
Hours: Contact the website below for either public ghost hunts or to arrange a private ghost hunt.
Website: Franklin Historical Society
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