Mount Holly Township is home to 9,500 souls, the county seat of Burlington County, New Jersey, and an eastern suburb of Philadelphia. It's also noted as one of the more actively haunted spots in the east, which makes sense as they trace their municipal roots back to 1688. If you want confirmation of that spooky factoid, just take a trip to 128 High Street and visit the Burlington County Prison Museum.
Built in 1811, following the design of the young and then unknown architect Robert Mills, the prison functioned from 1811 to 1965, making it the oldest continually operating lockup in America at the time of its closing. The smallish stone building (it held 100 prisoners in its heyday) not only looked foreboding, but also looked like a textbook haunted English manse. And its reputation has lived up to its looks.
Workman renovating the prison in 1999 for its conversion to the museum were the first to note some eerie going-ons. Their tools would disappear, to be found later behind prison doors that hadn't been opened in decades. They could hear footsteps where no one was at, and ghostly voices and moans added to the cacophony. Glimpses of shadow figures flashed by, caught just in the corner of their eyes. It got to the point where the work gang would leave the job site in a group; no one wanted to be left alone in the old jailhouse.
So whatcha gonna do? Well, what everybody does in those circumstances (at least in this blog) - they called in the paranormal investigators to get to the bottom of the situation. The ghost hunters poked and probed with their electronica, and came up with EVPs, orbs and mists, apparition sightings, temperature spikes and drops, and all sorts of anomalies. One set of investigators were followed by the scent of a burning cigarette that tailed them through the womens wing. The paranormal community confirmed what the workmen already knew - the prison was spook central.
Staff and visitors reported like phenomena (especially in the gallows and solitary confinement areas), and more - the senses of presence and depression, objects that move themselves, electronic malfunctions, moans and screams, but especially sightings. Shadow figures were reported from the first floor of the prison. There are tales of a spirit in the shower area who was kind enough to leave a footprint in the dust once. Others have claimed to see a legless ghost glide from the main gate toward the prison yard.
The basement is a hot spot; twice prison employees were killed near there by inmates during break-out tries. One cellar spook is thought to be that of murdered prison guard William Harry King, who has been reported roaming the lower level hallways of the prison.
But the star of the show is the otherwordly Joel Clough, who was sentenced to hang in 1833 for the brutal stabbing murder of a lover who had jilted him, convicted by a jury that didn't buy his insanity defense. He tried to escape - not much to lose, hey? - and for his efforts was tossed in the dungeon, a solitary cell with an iron ring in the middle that he was chained to while stark naked 24/7. Clough eventually had his neck stretched at a crossroads a few miles outside the jail in front of a large crowd, and was buried in the prison yard in an unmarked grave, the spot now marked by a tree.
Since his hanging, prisoners, guards, staff and regular folk have allegedly seen items in the room levitate, heard his moaning and rattling chains, and seen his apparition sitting in his cell. Security motion detectors keep going off there, even when the area is empty. Paranormal teams have all confirmed an active presence in and around the dungeon, so it looks like Joel Clough has claimed Burlington prison as his home for the afterlife.
The prison lore was featured in an episode of the SyFy Channel's "Ghost Hunters." It's included in Jeff Belanger's "Encyclopedia of Haunted Places." And if you want to catch it up close and personal, no prob. The museum (a National Historic Landmark) is open Thursdays-Sundays. If you're in the neighborhood during trick-or-treat season, they offer a "Haunt of the Prison" tour weekend evenings in October with a tricked-out Halloween prison yard.
See if you can tell the local actors from the local apparitions.