Handprint on Jail Cell Wall: Ghostly Sign of Innocence

The Carbon County Jail
The Carbon County Jail
The city and the Molly Maguires were forever bound up by historical occurrences. The town is located in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal areas. When the Molly Maguires protested hazardous and unfair mining conditions by violence, the name of the two municipalities were Mauch Chunk and East Much Chunk.

The towns had declined and, after Jim Thorpe died, widow Patricia promised them that, if they would built a monument to Thorpe, she’d help them improve their economic fortunes. Townspeople erected a memorial as a tombstone, merged and renamed the city Jim Thorpe.

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In addition to dangerous and horrendous working conditions, employees have been paid in script, which can only be redeemed at the company store. Rents were high in business accommodation where the miners had to live. Workers had to pay for their equipment and supplies. There were low wages. Children had to work. Those who protested were fired.

The Molly Maguires and the Handprint, Cell 17

Attempts at unionization were quashed. A secret society, the Molly Maguires, was formed. Some believe that the name was taken from a secret society in Ireland; others, that it was the name of the wife of the first man who died in a mining accident.

Frank Gowen, chief of the Reading Railroad, wanted to destroy the group and hired Alan Pinkerton to help. The detective agency owner planted one of his men, James McPharlan, into the society to gather evidence. The agent found evidence that resulted in murder convictions and executions by hanging.

The Incident that Led to the Cell 17 Handprint

In 1877, four men, John Donahue, Edward Kelly, Michael Doyle and Alexander Campbell, were found guilty of the murder of mine boss John P. Jones and sentenced to be hanged.

The trial was a kangaroo court. Not all of the jurors spoke English. The judge was prejudiced against the Mollie Maguires. Today, appeals would be granted on these grounds. Then, there were no appeals.

Campbell said he was innocent. He didn’t kill Jones. Although he admitted to being an accessory to murder because he was present when Jones was shot, he was found to be guilty of this capital crime.

As proof of innocence, he put his hand on the cell wall before being forcibly removed to be hanged, swearing the print would forever remain as evidence.

The Handprint on Jail Cell 17

Over the years, county sheriffs have tried to remove the handprint to no avail.

In 1930, Sheriff Biegler had the wall torn down and replaced. The next day, the handprint reappeared.

handprint
The handprint, allegedly left by one of the Molly Maguires before he was executed

Around thirty years later, Sheriff Charles Neast covered the handprint with latex paint, but it reappeared. His son, Tom, in the 1960s, loved to tell friends about the ghostly phenomenon. Word spread and people visited the Carbon County Jail to see the print.

Attempts to wash the image away failed.

In recent years, James Starrs, George Washington University forensic scientist, and Jeff Kercheval, Hagerstown MD police chemist, analyzed the handprint using high tech equipment. They found no logical scientific explanation for the handprint’s existence.

They finally measured the exact location of the image in the event it there were attempts to remove it and it reappeared, they would know if the phenomenon returned to the same location or a different one.

The jail’s last sheriff, Bill Juracka, said he wouldn’t try to remove the handprint.



The Jail Today Still Has the Handprint

The prison was closed and is now the Old Jail Museum. Tour guides show groups Cell # 17 where they can see the ghostly handprint. Campbell’s story is told.

It is pointed that, although multiple attempts were made to remove the image, it always returned. Many of those who have visited the museum say the atmosphere is eerie.

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