The 13th Floor

Burned Alive!: The Ghosts of the Ohio State Penitentiary

You wouldn’t know this place had such a horrific past by looking at it now. The location in Columbus, Ohio is now the site of fancy restaurants, trendy shopping, and condos, but this was the final resting place for some of Ohio’s most vicious criminals. Even though it’s been torn to the ground, the ghosts of the Ohio State Penitentiary have never truly rested.

It was built in 1834 to house violent criminals, and its residents included notorious mobster and Al Capone rival Bugs Moran. In its earlier years, it was home to General John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate general. Morgan and his men raided Union targets in the Northern territory. Captured in Ohio on July 26, 1863, he did his time at the Ohio State Penitentiary only to dig his way out a few months later. The Ohio Penitentiary was also the home to all of Ohio’s death row inmates from 1897 to 1863. During that time, 315 prisoners were put to death by hanging, up until 1897 when the prison switched to the electric chair. In 1952 the prison was the scene of a riot that left one inmate dead. A second deadly riot would take place in 1968 and leave five inmates dead.

However, the Ohio State Penitentiary’s most infamous incident occurred on April 21, 1930. Originally built to hold 1,500 people, by 1930 the prison had a population of 4,300. Desperately in need of expansion, crews were hard at work building a new wing for the prison. Workers erected wooden and metal scaffolding outside of a cellblock, which housed 800 prisoners. Then on April 21st, after the crew had quit for the day, a fire broke out on the scaffolding. As the fire grew, prisoners trapped in their cells screamed to be let out. As there was no way to open all the cells at once, the guards were forced to open each cell individually as smoke filled the cellblock. Inmates began slipping into unconsciousness and eventually dying from suffocation and the heat as they waited for rescue. Some prisoners began taking on the role of rescuers as they assisted guards in carrying the wounded out of the cellblock. Sadly, the fire quickly spread to the roof eventually causing it to collapse. By the time the fire was extinguished, 317 inmates were dead.

Clinton Grate and Hugh Gibbons were convicted of second-degree murder in connection with starting the fire and given life sentences. After his confession, James Raymond would commit suicide in his cell, and Grate hung himself.

The prison remained open until 1984, but was rumored to be riddled with hauntings and supernatural mayhem including the sounds of burning inmates screaming in the night. It was then open to the public as a Halloween attraction for a brief period until it was eventually torn down in 1998. Where the cellblock once stood is now a condominium. No word if the residents are still kept awake by the sound of 317 screaming convicts.

 

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