Random Ghost Fact: The Prison of Alton

The Alton Prison was built in 1833 as one of the worst designs in history. It was a stone building in the middle of a marsh. The cells were so brilliantly designed that a prisoner could effectively block the inward-opening cell door by lowering his bunk. A prisoner once famously held off the guards for days this way, holding a guard hostage inside the cell.

The prison was closed in 1860, but the need for POW space during the Civil War reopened it a year later. Nearly 12,000 Confederate prisoners would pass through its gates, and many of them would die, usually of yellow fever, pneumonia and dysentery. The number of dead prisoners was so high that they were trucked out to an island in the middle of the Mississippi because the local residents wouldn't allow diseased bodies to be buried near town. The island, of course, is said to be haunted, though most believe it to now be underwater.

In lighter days, the bodies would be carted up the bluffs to be buried. Keep in mind that only substandard soldiers would be relegated to prison duty in wartime, and only the most useless would be given something as nonessential as burial duty. It is said these layabouts would often dump the bodies in the woods, unburied, and laze about drinking for the time it would have taken them to bury them. The woods, of course, must therefore be haunted by the souls of the unburied soldiers.

There is a portion of the old Alton Cemetery that contains many of the dead from the prison. It was closed after the war, and the building was demolished. Allegedly the stones from the prison were used in buildings throughout "the most haunted small town in America." Only a piece of the wall remains as a monument, located next to the Madison County Urban League building in downtown Alton.

It, of course, is also supposed to be haunted.

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