Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ghost Hunting at the Old Montana State Prison: Deer Lodge, MT

A ghost made me throw up.  It could have been the tostadas I ate right before we left but I really think it was the ghost sitting on my dashboard.

David somehow found out about a ghost tour being hosted by the Old Montana State Prison museum.  The prison, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, opened when Montana was still just a territory back in 1871.  It officially closed in 1979 and all inmates were moved to a new facility.  Our tour guide, Mel, tells us that over 200 people died in the prison over the years.  Some murdered, some suicide, some natural causes.  The tour will take us through the prison grounds and out into several different buildings.  After the official tour ends, we will be allowed to go back out anywhere we want (that isn't expressly blocked off or locked) on our own.  Did I mention the tour doesn't even start until 10 pm?  We have to check out with the front desk and leave the premises no later than 2 am.

Deer Lodge is almost 2 hours from our house.  We set out around 7:30 because that's how David and I roll.  If you aren't early, you are late.  I am driving and David is looking up apps to download that have ghost hunting capabilities.  The museum has encouraged people to bring any equipment they want.  After downloading the GhostObserver app, David discovers there is a ghost right in front of him on the dashboard of my car.  I guess I could have been on the hood but I can't see it so I can't be sure.  Right after this happens, I get the very strong feeling that I am going to throw up.  This is not because I am afraid of ghosts, I'm not.  I am pretty sure my grandmother Meriam, who I have written about before, has been hanging out with me since her death on Halloween in 2000.

The feeling goes down a bit but never leaves me the rest of the night.  In fact, about 60 miles into the drive, I have to pull over.  Later, at the exit for Deer Lodge, I go to the first gas station I can find, primarily because we are going to be almost a hour early, but also to see how clean the bathroom is.  I can personally attest to the reasonable cleanliness of the Conoco station there.  I had a pretty intimate look.

As a rule, I hate most pictures of me and this one is no exception.  In fairness, it is almost 10 pm, it is cold out, my bed is a distant 100 miles or so away and my tostadas decided to make an encore performance tonight.  It could be worse.

There is a gift shop where the 22 of us here to take this tour mill around waiting to get started.  When the time comes, the guide has us gather around and the stories begin immediately.  She is telling us about a riot that happened back in 1959 and how the National Guard had to be called in.  The assistant warden has his throat cut.  One inmate shoots another (who was also his lover) and then himself.  Somehow a national guardsman ends up with a fragment of the first inmates skull and part of his jaw with three teeth still attached.

He has since gifted them to the prison.  They tell us that in the meantime, these have been used in cadaver dog training.

While she is telling us this really detailed, horrific story, a very large spider descends from the ceiling right in the middle of the group.

Yeah, not that one but he might as well have been that large.  One woman freaks out and backs away from the group.  Her friends are helpfully telling her there will be more spiders in the prison.  They seem to enjoy her distress.  In the meantime, the real spider is knocked to the floor and becomes the most recent murder victim at this prison.

This tour was worth the drive and the fee.  Even if we hadn't been allowed to go back out alone to our possible death or severe psychological trauma (which we of course had to sign a waver for), it still would have been interesting.  They spent almost 3 hours taking us around and that time flew by.  Even with me not feeling good.

Deer Lodge isn't a big city so there isn't a lot of ambient light here.  We are issued flashlights.  David and I are sharing and it is nearly inadequate at times. A few people brought headlamps or higher quality flashlights from home and that helps.  When we went back out on our own we got a second one from the museum and we are barely able to see a few feet in front of us.

We spend time both outside and in the prison buildings.  As you walk by these barred cell windows, it does give one the sense of being watched.  I shine my flashlight up in the rooms as we go by and I don't see anything I shouldn't.

Both inside and out we stop periodically to hear a story.  Always about a murder or a death or some gruesome act a prisoner committed.  Twice we stop to use the equipment.  There is a device she has that is supposed to allow spirits to communicate through that device (called an EMF reader).  She played a recording back in the gift shop that was taken the week before.  A woman put the recorder by "the hole" (isolation cell, where of course, an inmate died) and something was recorded that I didn't catch all of.  Something about a "redhead".  Our group hears nothing either time.

David and I take these opportunities to consult our apps (incidentally, there are others who brought apps or other personal ghost hunting equipment including a woman who took a large number of Polaroid pictures).  The GhostObserver app located a 192 year old ghost that looks something like an alien.  We also see "specters" and "errant souls" but I don't really understand the difference. Frankly, when you are standing in a dark prison at 1 am, does it matter?

Some of the rooms still have equipment and furniture in them.  This is the dentist office.  This one doesn't scare me any more than a present day dentist office.  They are all equally terrifying. 

Every once in a while, there is a mannequin.  I won't lie, these startle me every time.  The people in the group get strung out and separated sometimes and they never scare me but these always do.

We went around poking around in dark places, talking about scary events, stopping to listen and record what ultimately was nothing, but that doesn't mean nothing happened.

We were inside the original women's prison.  Something like a dozen cells.  Outside, the guide tells us that this is the building were the most physical things have happened.  People have been scratched, touched (inappropriately at times), pushed.  Last weekend a man was pushed so hard his hat flew off.  So all 22 of us and the 3 employees are wandering around two small adjacent rooms, look at the displays, looking in the cells.  There is a cell that has an 8x10 photo of the woman that stayed in there after she murdered her daughter.  They thought she was the one causing the problem and the photo was suggested as a remedy but so far, they say they haven't found it helpful.  The girl that was afraid of the spider (she isn't a girl exactly, she is probably 30ish) is there with 2 other ladies.  One of them says something and then crouches down by the wall like she got dizzy.  Then someone notices her face is isn't right.

Outside, her face is inspected with a lot of flashlight power and there are several red welts on her right cheek.  It looks like she was slapped or scratched.  She says it doesn't hurt only that they feel hot.  Several people feel her face and claim it does feel hot and that the welts are definitely raised.

Here's the thing.  I don't think she faked it.  We were all in the room so it would have been hard for her to hit or scratch herself hard enough to make those marks without someone noticing.  She claims she "isn't a believer" but she seems genuinely shaken up.  The rest of the tour she is more subdued and she kind of hangs back from her friends and the rest of the group preferring to stay next to one of the museum employees.  That employee helpfully offers her an obsidian stone from her pocket that she claims will help ward off evil spirits.

I am not saying a spirit scratched this lady.  I am saying that whatever happened she didn't appear to cause it on purpose and it couldn't easily be explained.  One of the employees theorized that the spirits are upset right now after a group came in recently and burned sage and did some "smudging".  I did think it might be possible that this girl touched the wall where the sage was rubbed and transferred it to her face and turned out to be sensitive but she claimed it didn't itch or hurt and she wasn't rubbing it or acting like it really bothered her like an allergic reaction would.  Later, when we were getting ready to leave, she was in the gift shop and the welts were completely gone.  I had something on the skin under my nose making me tingle and burn a little and even though I did scratch and rub it, when I went in the bathroom later and rinsed it off, it wasn't red at all.  So again, I don't think she faked it.

After the official tour, David and I went back to the building where that happened.  We were playing around with the app and this time, a word came up on the EMF reader:  writer.  Even if the app is throwing up random words, the irony of that specific word wasn't lost on me.  And something DID ultimately happen to us that is really odd but we didn't discover it until today.

At the prison, we came across 3 dead birds.

You know I took pictures of all three.  This is bird #2.  Bird number three was completely skeletonized and I found it creepily fascinating.  If I could have brought it home I would have.  I recently ordered a microscope to take photos with and it should be here this week.  I could have added it to the partial chupacabra jaw/teeth segment I have in my car from a walk with Karma over the summer as a specimen.  Unfortunately, the photo of bird 3 I took with my iPhone, because of the angle and darkness, makes it hard to tell what it is.  I didn't ask David if I could bring it home.  I wanted him to let me ride with him on the way back.  The second and third birds were discovered when we were off on our own.

David and I are in the midst of a photography class that we have an assignment due for on Wednesday.  I was setting up to take a picture of him in the backyard today when I saw something over by our well pump.

It was a dead (and also headless) bird.

Because this coincidence (it is a coincidence, right?) freaks me out a little, I decided to look up the symbolism of seeing a dead bird.  Happily, it doesn't have to be bad.  The second most common thing I could find (as there were many) was that seeing a dead bird symbolizes a new beginning, akin to getting the Death card in Tarot. 

The most common thing I found was that I should call my county health department because we might have a rampant case of West Nile or Bird Flu.  Or because everything living dies, including birds, and this is Montana, the bird died of natural causes and a fox or a coyote or a mountain lion or a bear or some other carnivore made off with the head.  I am going to explain coincidence this using my original explanation in regards to the woman that had the welps.  

I didn't fake it and sometimes things happen that just can't be explained.

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