Rawlins, WY is home to one of the most haunted places in the state, The Wyoming Frontier Prison. Come Explore its mystery with Haunted Journeys.
The cornerstone of the Wyoming Frontier Prison, at the time known as the State Pen and sometimes Old Pen was laid in 1888. Upon opening in 1901, the final count of inmates incarcerated during its 80 years of operation was about 13,500 people, 11 being women. One of these women was Annie Bruce, who killed her father with a poisoned plum pie. Another notable resident was William Carlisle. A serial train robber, Carlisle was also known as the “Gentleman Bandit” because he never shot anyone and only robbed men, apologizing to women and children for disturbing them. Carlisle escaped from the prison in 1919, only to be caught a month later. Built to house 104 cells, the facility had no running water or electricity. The concept of reform at this time was to break the spirits of hardened criminals and force conformity, with the hope that the criminal would conform to society’s rules. Wyoming Frontier Prison at Rawlins was equipped with 104, dark, cramped cells in its cell house, but with no electricity or running water, and an inadequate heating system. Hot water wasn’t available in the cells until 1978. Two inmates even died of the cold, which stopped the prison from using those particular cells until a better heating system could be offered in a newer, improved version of the Dungeon House.
When Wyoming neared statehood in 1890, the state made plans to build and manage its own penal system. Earlier, during its years as a Territory, the Federal government had built and managed the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary at what’s now the city of Laramie. But with money being dried, this took a long time. The justice system had to rely on the Death House accommodating the needs of the most hardened criminals.
One of the horrific stories involved the act of intimidation. An inmate took the skin from a condemned man who tried to fight his way out of the death house was made into a pair of shoes. His head was given as a present to a friend of the warden. Some prisoners cracked under the pressure and committed suicide by throwing themselves off the upper floors of the cell blocks. A guard who worked at tower 9, committed suicide. The stress of work got the better of him.
In 1912, A Block, the oldest part of the prison, has a particularly grim history where an inmate was lynched. Offenders met their deaths in other ways. The prison houses gallows and a gas chamber, the latter of which was installed in 1936. These facilities were contained in what was called the Death House. Five inmates were executed in the gas chamber and nine others were hanged. A total of 200 died within the prison walls due to execution, suicide, inmate violence, and natural causes.
The prison was closed in 1981. Today, it is a historical museum, where between 15,000 and 17,000 people visit the prison each year. They offer guided prison tours and there is also a walking path that will take you up to the old prison cemetery. Ghost tours and paranormal investigations are also offered to those that dare enter this property.
The Wyoming Frontier Prison is considered by many to be the most haunted building in Wyoming. The complexities of horror ignited with a very violent, oppressive prison history, has generated an above level of negative energy. These troubled, restless, and angry spirits are still there today. So heavy are the haunts here, several celebrated paranormal investigators have targeted this prison as a "must do & dare" investigation locations. One of them were the stars of Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures.
One of the most troubling stories about the Frontier Prison is that of an elderly kind woman called Esther Higgins, known as the "Pie Lady". Legend has it that a local woman took a caring and empathetic role with the inmates of the prison shortly after it was opened. She would bake pies for the men and bring them by the prison weekly. One unknown inmate was released on parole. The story says he sought to find the Esther, raping and murdering her. Shortly after he was tracked down and imprisoned again. The prisoners that had a soft heart for the Pie Lady, applied their own swift justice. They hung him over the balcony on the second floor. Perhaps caused by residual energies, the scene plays on a loop in the prison. If you catch it at the right time, you can watch the man being punished for his crimes by fellow criminals.
Apparitions are frequently reported to be seen out of the corner of the visitor's eyes. In various cells throughout the cell blocks, phantoms are felt, and at times disembodied voices are heard. An angry, crazed presence is said to threaten anyone who dares to enter certain sections of the prison. The reflection of an apparition of a man wearing a brimmed hat has been seen in the room where men were once horrifically executed by the feared hanging/strangling contraption. Some sensitives have felt an increase of pressure on the chest and a feeling of anxiety as they climbed the steps to the death house.
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