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Knowing Nevada: The Paranormal at the Nevada State Prison

Exterior of the Nevada State Prison. The prison was closed in 2012.{ }{p}{/p}{p}{/p}{p}{/p}{p}{/p}
Exterior of the Nevada State Prison. The prison was closed in 2012.

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Travelers and locals alike can tell you about the ghost towns of Nevada. There's more than a-hundred at this point in history. These places become ghost towns because people wind up leaving due to scarce resources or new opportunities elsewhere.

However, places where people once were, or 'could still be', have been deemed as haunted.

In Nevada, there are some recognized resorts we consider 'the most haunted'. Many mention the Clown Motel in Tonopah or the Old Washoe Club of Virginia City.

What makes Nevada unique is the collection of passionate paranormal investigators who spend hours upon hours hunting for theses haunted spots.

I originally pursued this story back in October. I connected with Zak Bagans of Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures over e-mail. He and his crew unfortunately declined to take part in this segment. I wanted them because their show started and still (sometimes) takes place here in Nevada.

I then reached out the the Northern Nevada Paranormal Society via e-mail. No dice.

Eventually, I got an e-mail from a woman named Susan Bernard who told me about her pursuit for the paranormal at the Old Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

Susan Bernard, who is leading her next investigation, has a personal connection to Matthew R. Penrose, the Warden of the prison from 1925 to 1935. She says he was her husband's great-grandfather.

The Nevada State Prison History

The prison is located in the southeast corner of the intersection of Fifth Street and State Highway 580. Approximately 2 miles from the state capitol, it's visible from the highway. From the parking lot you may walk up to the main guard and guard toward for a look inside the fence but the doors are all locked. Trespassing is forbidden and can result in arrest. Permission needs to be granted.

The prison was built in 1862 and is the third oldest prison in the country west of the Mississippi, after San Quentin (1852 Ca.) and Alcatraz (late 1850's Ca.).

At one point in time, gambling was allowed inside the prison walls.

The prison closed to inmates on Jan. 4, 2012 and officially became decommissioned on May 18, 2012.

It's the site of the first gas chamber in the world, first used in 1924. The gas chamber is still active as an execution chamber using lethal injection, although it hasn't been used since 1979. Nearly thirty two inmates have died there.

Now, back to the story.

I responded to her with a resounding yes. We scheduled a time to go to the prison at dusk on a cold Wednesday evening.

When I showed up, the prison was in pitch black except for a few dim lights surrounding the property.

Susan's friend Joe Kinsley opened up the locked gate and directed me to a parking spot by the old court-room.

I grabbed my gear and Susan held the door into the courtroom where she and her team of paranormal investigators were putting together equipment for our four hour expedition into the dark of the state prison.

That's when I met Kevin, Kari, Ricky, and Lisa. All seven of us came here looking for something...or possibly someone to speak to us from the 'other side'.

The investigators are people who worked either at the Nevada State Prison or are currently employed through the Nevada Department of Corrections. Some are here because they have a connection to spirits and tracking them down.

The equipment we were using this evening were as follows:

  • Electronic Voice Phenomena trackers.
  • Paranormal music boxes that only play music when something moves in front of it.
  • A spirit box that detects frequencies through radio-waves.
  • Thermal camera using Microsoft Kinect and motion capture.
  • Electromagnetic meters.
  • Laser gripe scope.
  • Thermometers.
  • Our cell phone cameras.

For the next four hours, we would visit three locations at the Nevada State Prison. The third floor cell block, death row where the only gas chamber in a prison in the United States still sits today, and the commissary.

Before we grabbed our gear and turned the lights off to head to the cell block, the team demonstrated how the equipment worked.

They turned on the two music 'spirit boxes', which began playing slowly to calibrate. A few moments later, Susan attempted to communicate with the spirits in the courtroom. She asked to have them move in front of the boxes.

The music began to play.

My jaw dropped. I was stunned and began questioning a lot of how the boxes worked.

I knew it was going to be a long night.

3rd Floor - Cell Block

We walk into the dark courtyard up to the row of cell blocks. On the third floor is an area where more than three jailed men were murdered when the prison was in operation.

We placed the music boxes in the block and they began to slowly turn and play the ominous tunes. All of us had our own duties to help with the investigation. Susan was kind to the spirits and asked them questions. On Kari’s thermal monitor were two large figures that showed 'human-like forms of energy' sitting on my shoulders and on the bars in the block.

I have to admit it - I felt that cold feeling that investigators talked about. I also felt a slight headache.

We hung around for a while in the dark and sat in different cells. The spirit boxes would turn frequently detecting 'some form' of motion, Lisa heard some faint whispers or laughter through her recording device, and I monitored the ESP.

Once we were done in the cell block, we left the music spirit boxes upstairs to let the spirits 'play with them' while we were gone.

We then headed towards the execution room where the gas chamber has sat empty since the 1970’s.

Death Row/Gas Chamber

Me, Lisa and Kari walked down the long hallway to death row. We passed by a number of cells and even the law library.

Eventually, we all gathered in the cells right next to the gas chamber to try and get some spirits to talk to us. I was stunned by the large bank-vault door to the chamber and the viewing room made me feel uncomfortable.

It’s just as creepy as it looks in pictures and video. Not to mention, more than thirty people were executed in this chamber.

I began filming on my phone and news camera while Susan took pictures on her phone. She noticed a number of orbs have been circling around me. It’s easy to debunk what is dust and what is a form of an orb, says Susan.

Dust floats down and fast, orbs are easy to notice.

Susan says it means spirits are moving about and trying to use signs as a way to communicate.

We left the gas chamber and went back into the courtroom for some water, go over some footage and change batteries. A few pieces of equipment lost their charge because some of the team members say spirits can drain energy through electronic devices.

Joe Kinsley, who had worked as a prison guard at this exact prison from 1985-1990, says he believes there’s a old inmate in the commissary who would say hello to him daily that is trying to reach out to him.

“I’m not a full-on believer - but there’s propel here that have left their energy here with them,” says Joe.

We pack up the gear and head back out to the courtyard towards the commissary on the northern side of the prison.

The Commissary

This was one of the more active spots for activity that was shown through the spirit boxes and even photos on our cell phones.

There was an area where the crew on the film The Mustang would keep horses and equipment. It was a decently active area - but something you had to really be there to see or hear for yourself.

We sat in the dark, took photos, and some of the investigators heard more whispers and voices through their recording devices than in the previous spots in the prison.

Eventually - it was time to wrap things up.

Being on that investigation still makes me feel skeptical - as the paranormal party said to me.

However, like Susan says, there's a historical and spiritual energy that sits on the grounds of the old state prison.

Don't take it from me, it might be something you need to experience for yourself.

The group says they run tours throughout the year and it's been tough during the pandemic to get people to come out for investigations. However, every penny spent on an investigation goes right back in to the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society who will eventually turn this property into a museum.

To learn more about the Nevada State Prison Paranormal, click here.

To donate and learn more about the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society, click here.

Knowing Nevada is a historical heritage series that highlights some of the interesting, unknown, and known, tales about the state of Nevada. This series is researched and put together by our own native Nevadan, Miles Buergin. If you have any suggestions for our next Knowing Nevada, please e-mail him at:

For more Knowing Nevada stories, click here.

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