GRANDPA WHITWORTH'S TIME IN THE MOUNDSVILLE PEN
MOUNDSVILLE PENITENTIARY 1876-1995
On February 7, 1866 the West Virginia State Legislature approved funding for buying 10 acres of land near Moundsville, West Virginia for the subsequent construction of a prison for the new state. At that time the land was not within the city limits of Moundsville but its location was considered ideal since it was near the (then) State Capital of Wheeling. The construction began in 1867 and was completed in 1876 and the pen became fully operational.
GRANDPA WHITWORTH IN THE PEN
Yes my Grandpa Whitworth did hard time in the Moundsville pen. It was a nightmare he told my Dad. The whole family moved to Moundsville because of Grandpa’s doing time starting in 1915 at the pen. My Dad was 6 years old at the time and he had been born in Clarksburg. Dad told me about Grandpa Whitworth’s most harrowing time on death row in the Moundsville prison. I prayed about disclosing this family secret, but the time has come to air this family secret. The shame of the Whitworth family is that a lifelong Republican my Grandpa Whitworth took a GOVERNMENT JOB as a guard in 1915. His most harrowing ordeal in the pen occurred two years later in 1917.
HARD TIME FOR GRANDPA
I don’t know a lot of our family history but I know Grandpa had lived in Bluefield on the border with Virginia. I don’t know when or where he met Cora Enid Burton who would later be my Grandma Whitworth. I’m not sure when they moved to Clarksburg, but I know my Dad was born there and he was the third child out of four. I got my middle name from Grandpa Whitworth, but Dad had wanted to honor his father by naming his last son after his father who had died while Dad was gone during WWII. Mom could be stubborn and she put her foot down and relented on the middle name only. I don’t think even Grandpa liked his name because I was always told he went by H. O. instead of Hiram Oakley.
Back to Grandpa his hard time in the prison was a harrowing ordeal. Grandpa worked on death row in the prison and he hated the job. After just working for two years Grandpa was taken hostage by the inmates in an uprising on death row. He told the family an inmate held a shiv to his neck. He was saved by a large black inmate who Grandpa described as being 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 265 pounds who had been saved by Jesus. “He grabbed the assailant and shook him like a rag doll.” Grandpa said. It was shortly after this incident that Grandpa decided to go into the grocery store business.
MY OWN HISTORY WITH THE MOUNDSVILLE PRISON
As long as I can remember I have had a relationship with the Moundsville Prison. My Dad’s store the B & K Market was located ½ block east of the northeast corner of the Moundsville Prison. Grandma Whitworth lived 1 block further east of the prison. When I was a little boy in the early 1950’s I would go to the store to help my dad at the B & K Market. On the warm summer nights inmate trustees were regular customers at the B & K Market. They were wearing their prison uniforms with a big T on the back of the shirt. The inmates purchased Coke, chips, ice cream cones, Hostess Cup Cakes and various merchandise. I never had any fear of these inmates because they were always joyous in their free time. They loved to joke around with Dad and his little boy.
Growing up in Moundsville was a joyous time. The old gang would often go fishing in a pond at the prison farm. The farm was located about 1-1/2 miles east out 11th Street in Moundsville. The pond was well stocked with bass, bluegill and catfish. Inmates worked the farm and grew vegetables for the institution. They were even quartered at the farm, as they were all trustees. In the late 1950’s the farm was discontinued because the walk away rate grew to about 30% per month.
Then in June 1959 my sister Barbette had got married and moved into a little apartment at the side of the B & K Market. Barbette got pregnant in late 1959 and she was walking on the sidewalk on the north side of the Moundsville Prison. She had just passed west of the wagon gate when she heard two large thuds. She turned around and there were two large escapees who had jumped off the wall getting up off of the ground and running. She almost had my nephew early right then. She called the Moundsville Police Department of which my brother Kimmie was a member immediately. The escapees were captured within ½ hour and she got $100 for each escapee.
MYTHS OR TRUTH ABOUT THE PRISON
I grew up in Moundsville and I always heard a story that Moundsville had first choice of whether to have the Moundsville Prison or West Virginia University located in Moundsville. The State Legislature approved both institutions on February 7, 1866. Back in those days prison labor was a major economic incentive because industries could be set up within the prison using prison labor. These economic incentives along with the undesirable element of having a group of teenage college students around caused Moundsville to select the prison. I can’t vouch for the truth of these stories but these are the stories I always heard. The prison industries part is absolutely true but I can’t vouch for the choice part.
The Moundsville Penitentiary is said to be the most haunted institution in the country.
Since 1995 when inmates were transferred to the new prison there are tours available for the prison.
Every Halloween there is a haunted Halloween exposition within the Moundsville prison is named “Dungeon of Horrors”.
One week ago today on January 17, 2010 my daughter Jen was visiting with me and we got talking about the pen. Jen had seen the TV show “Paranormal States” which featured the pen. There is said to be a lot of paranormal activity at the pen. I remarked to Jen how similar the pen was to the prison in the movie “The Blues Brothers”. Imagine my surprise when doing research for this hub when I found out from Wikipedia that the architecture of the pen is a direct copy of the Illinois facility in Joliet, Illinois only smaller. Jen said they had shown a wall in a tower above the original warden’s quarters that they took down. Once down the wall revealed a colored glass inverted pentagram. Since all original plans have been lost no one knows when this was installed.
I want to thank fellow hubber Robert “Putz” Ballard for being my inspiration for writing this hub by a comment he made on his hub about the pen answering my comment about a lost child.