Burlington County Prison Museum – Haunted Mt. Holly
Mount Holly, New Jersey is a bustling small town full of character and history. Flowing through the town is a tributary of the Delaware River – the Rancocas Creek. The main thoroughfare – High Street – is filled with quant little shops and restaurants, including a micro-brewery that serves amazing Craft Beer and several of my favorite restaurants housed in historic buildings.
This historic area is well known to residents and visitors alike to be the home of several haunted locations rife with paranormal experiences. Originally owned by the Lenape Native Americans, the town was settled by the Europeans in 1677 when Walter Reeves acquired the land from the Lenape and constructed a dam on the Rancocas Creek to channel water through a raceway to power a grist mill and a sawmill. The mill race, which is still visible today, was hand dug between 1720 and 1723. The mills were built shortly after – drawing settlers from far and wide. Although the mills are no longer standing, the town still has many historic homes including the Shinn Curtis Log House, built in 1720. This unique log home is still standing and visible today.
In 1811, the Burlington County Prison was constructed. Designed by Robert Mills, a Quaker who believed inmates should be reformed through religious instruction and education, the jail proved to be an imposing stone structure and is known to be the first modern prison in the country. The prison was in continuous use from 1811-1965, becoming a museum in 1966. Throughout its lifespan, the prison held inmates for crimes varying in severity from owing a debt and adultery to arson and murder. Records show that inmates included men, women and even children as young as 12. Although there was a separate wing for females, inmates were all housed together no matter the severity of the crimes they committed.
The outside of the building hasn’t changed much over the years and the iconic massive front door and large handle are original – as are the cell doors throughout. Detailed records of the prison, including inmates and their crimes, are available to the museum and many original historical pieces are on display.
One of these displays is suspected as the cause behind a lot of the paranormal activity in the building.
In Burlington County, NJ it is estimated that as many as 40 people were executed before 1905 for crimes including murder, burglary, horse theft, rape, home invasion and robbery. 7 of these executions took place at the Burlington County Prison – right in the jail yard. In addition, two other inmates convicted of murder, Elizabeth Freeman and Joel Clough, were held in the prison’s dungeon but were executed elsewhere. The dungeon would have been the last place they slept.
Two of the prison’s most notorious inmates – George Small and Rufus Johnson – were executed in the jail yard in a double hanging on March 24, 1906 for the brutal murder of Florence Allison in January 1906. Florence Allison, a maid and a single mother of a 5-year-old adopted daughter, was found brutalized in a barn at the farm where she was employed. She was raped and strangled with a strap removed from a cow’s blanket. She was then beaten over the head with a club, crushing her skull. It is believed that the assailants then went to her home, gaining access from her 5-year-old daughter who later provided descriptions, and stole several items (which were later recovered).
There was a lot of publicity, fear and anger surrounding the murder of Florence Allison – racial tension and the sheer brutality of the crime were the driving force. Small and Johnson were executed within two months of the crime. Their executions were witnessed by many and the rope used to hang Johnson was immediately cut up and taken as souvenirs by several witnesses.
Drawings of both Small and Johnson, as well a piece of rope from the actual execution, are on display in the dungeon of the Burlington County Prison.
We frequent Mt. Holly since it is a local jaunt for us and the brewery produces some of my favorite Craft Beer. A historic restaurant – Eagles Nest – is a great place to eat or have a few drinks and they even have an outside seating area that is on the Rancocas Creek.
Mt. Holly is also home to a unique annual festival – The Witches Ball – that highlights the paranormal as well as all the local shops. We have visited the Burlington County Prison Museum several times over the years. In fact, in the past they had a haunted house in the jail yard during Halloween. Although we have toured the museum several times, the first paranormal investigation was with my team – PCINJ. Check us out here: www.pcinj.org
We had private access to the full prison as well as the jail yard for 4 hours. The prison has 3 floors. We split up into two teams, keeping a floor between us, during the paranormal investigation. We set up several night vision video cameras and carried one with us as we investigated. Following is a list of equipment we used throughout the investigation:
Night vision cameras – video and still
Trigger objects (dice, cigars, cards)
EMF Detectors (K2 and MEL)
REM Pods/Motion detectors
EMF Activated “DOG”
Flashlights for communication
During our investigation we heard a lot of banging and noises. However, sound travels very well in this building and a lot of what we heard during the investigation, as well as on playback of audio, could have been interference from other team members talking and/or moving. In addition, a lot of the banging could have been the old pipes that run throughout the building. There were several times throughout the night, however, when the banging did occur on command – as if in response to questions we were asking.
I personally had the following experiences in the building throughout the night:
Visibly seeing a light anomaly in a dungeon cell – this was witnessed by other team members as well
Seeing a shadow move down the hall – motion detector alarmed at this time and the trigger object (dice) was knocked over offering validation of the experience
REM pod, EMF and motion detector alarming in succession after feeling a physical tug on my hair
Several teammates, on both teams, witnessed unexplained movement and had physical reactions to energy that was unexplained throughout the night
The most profound experience I had at the Burlington County Prison was outside in the jail yard. The yard is quite big and has two large, very old trees. As I came down the steps, from the back door of the prison, I was drawn immediately to the left-hand back side of the jail yard – under the tree. I walked over to a specific spot, near the corner and the fence, and felt that I needed to stand “there”. I could see an “X” on the ground and was “told” to dig, dig, dig. I kept seeing “bones”. The feeling was very strong, very vivid and I found it difficult to pull myself away from the spot. I am not aware of any history on this spot or of this area of the yard, however, so I can’t verify these impressions.
The opposite side of the jail yard holds a replica of the gallows used to execute 7 convicts.
That entire area has a foreboding feeling that is almost a physical “push” to stay away. Despite my better judgement (I seem to do this a lot), I eventually made my way back to gallows. Without even realizing what I was being drawn to do, I began climbing the gallows steps.
One step, two steps, three and four… five steps…Sixth step and I felt like I hit a wall. I could not lift my leg or climb any higher.
Everything inside of me was screaming to get off the steps… get off the steps now… go, go, go, go.
But I couldn’t go. My legs wouldn’t carry me down the steps either.
Here I am – Stuck in place, my heart racing, my body sweating, my mind starting to gallop towards panic, and I saw them………………
The two men being led out of back of the prison…. I don’t believe the gallows, at that time, were in the same spot as the replica (I don’t have confirmation of this, but it feels true) but the men were being led to the same steps I was stuck on anyway…. They were ragged looking, clothes in tatters… sweat and tears running down their faces…. Far away, glassy look in their eyes…. One man’s lips were moving, silently and it appeared as if he was mouthing “no, no, no,no,no,no,no”.
As the men reached the bottom of the gallows steps, the trance like image vanished and so did my paralysis. I retreated down the steps feeling shocked, saddened and drained.
After going over what I witnessed with my team, we decided to try and help these souls. I felt as if they were repeating the journey out of the prison and up the steps to their death over and over and over again. Was this a version of penance for them? I could feel their guilt for their crimes – it felt evident to me that they were convicted justly. They paid for their crimes with their lives. Over a 100 years later, they are still paying for their crime. My heart hurt for them – but my mind was telling me that it was what they deserved.
We decided to listen to our hearts and try to help them.
With my teams help, I began to enter a deep meditative state – pulling it in and surrounding us all with light and love. Opening up the lines of communication with these condemned souls, we began to reach out to them and talk to them – trying to get them to unburden themselves of their sins and let go of what is binding them.
It was then that I saw “it” come around the side of the prison and it stopped me cold. My entire body broke out in goosebumps and I was chilled to my core. My breathing became shallow and I felt something caress the back of my neck. The air temperature dropped, and it felt like the oxygen was pulled from the air. My teammates were asking me what was wrong, there were birds squawking as they hastily left the area, and there was a car horn blowing in the distance…
But all that faded away and I could only see the entity that stood before me.
Although I couldn’t “hear” its voice, it clearly told me NO and shook its birdlike head. I was not to intervene. I was to STOP.
The energy that stood before me at first glance looked like an eagle. Then it looked like a man. It stood over 6 feet tall – well over – and its head reminded me of an eagle’s head. It had arms but it also had large wings folded to its side – again like an eagle. The energy before me did not feel negative but it did feel powerful and strong, beautiful and terrifying.
I was not to help or assist in anyway or there would be consequences to pay. These doomed souls, that committed atrocities during their lives, were to be left alone to meet their fate.
It was made very clear that I was not supposed to have seen or witnessed these events. Why they unfolded before me is unknown. I do know, however, that I listened. I pulled my light back in, packed up my equipment, grabbed my teammates and left the jail yard immediately.
I would do it again.
I don’t know what exactly happened that day in the jail yard. I don’t know why I witnessed what I did. I do not know what the entity was that I encountered. I do not want to know.
I honestly believe that we, as living souls, are only meant to know and understand so much.
And I am okay with that.
A small town in New Jersey. A historic prison. Native American land. A tributary running through, which was damned up and built around. A large number of reported haunted locations, many which I have personally encountered spirit. A town that celebrates “Witches Ball”.
Is this a recipe for the unknown? What do you think?