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Ghostly tales haunt historic Folsom Prison

Fright Week: Second in a three-part series
By: Brad Smith, Telegraph Correspondent
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Ghosts may haunt catwalks and corridors of Folsom State Prison. At least according to James Brown, operations manager for the prison’s museum. Brown is also a retired corrections officer, having worked many years at the prison, and author of “Images of America: Folsom Prison.” While he’s never seen a ghost while working at the prison, Brown says that he believes in them. “As a young man,” he said, “I had a few experiences that convinced me (ghosts) exists. I believe in them ... but I let them be and they leave me alone. Maybe that’s why I never had experiences while I worked at the prison,” Brown said. But, he adds, that didn’t deter him from asking about stories. “I’ve heard that places filled with tragedy and violence can be haunted,” he said. “This is a prison — you have tragedy and violence in prisons. So, I asked about stories and listened.” One of the stories he heard is about the Folsom Phantom. “I’ve heard stories about people seeing a ghost walking around the front gate,” Brown explains. According to accounts, the Folsom Phantom is the spirit of a prison guard killed during a 1927 prison right. Brown heard the story and it’s noted in Dennis William Hauck’s book, “Haunted Places: The National Registry,” a listing of haunted houses, UFO sightings and unusual creature sightings across the United States. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page Web site, two Folsom prison guards died during a November 1927 riot. On Thanksgiving Day, Ray Singleton was stabbed as he guarded prisoners leaving the prison library after a movie. The riot broke out, lasting two days. Police and local militia put down the riot, in which three prisoners died. Singleton wasn’t the only guard who died during the Thanksgiving riot. Prison guard Charles Gillies had a fatal heart attack as he manned his post at the prison’s front gate. Brown recalls an incident that happened years before. Late at night, after light’s out, some of the guards saw somebody walking down a corridor and then disappear. Since all of the guards and other staffers had been accounted for, Brown said the prison was put on alert. “We woke up all the prisoners and did a head count. No one was missing, everyone was accounted for,” he said. Finally, one of the senior guards told him, “It was one of the ghosts, I bet.” Another time, guards were alerted to somebody walking along an exterior catwalk. “They thought it was one of the prisoners. Guards ordered the guy to stop walking. He didn’t,” Brown said. Guards then fired at the prisoner — only to see the figure keep on walking and then vanish, according to Brown. “I’ve heard stories from fellow guards and even prisoners about things they’ve seen,” Brown said. Accounts range from ghosts roaming the morgue and old hospital to the old Death Row cells and Building 5, the prison’s oldest cellblock. Brown said more murders happened in the hospital than anywhere else in the prison. After years of listening to first- and second-hand accounts of the “Folsom Phantom” and other entities roaming the prison, Brown is convinced “that the prison is haunted.” Is he crestfallen that he never had an experience as a prison guard? “No. Like I said, I had my experiences before and I’m fine with that,” he said. But, he does enjoy listening to other people talk about their encounters. “I’d like to keep it that way, too,” he said.