Was this part of an old jail complex once located in the neighborhood? Were condemned prisoners marched to the gallows nearby? Asheville paranormal researcher Joshua Warren believes so, and he's made the old building a destination on his latest ghost tour of historic Asheville.
Tonight, Warren will host a free screening of the rarely seen 1921 silent film “Conquest of Canaan,” the first movie made in Asheville that was partly shot in that vicinity. After the film is shown at Pack's Tavern, Warren will lead a ticketed ghost hunt into the old building out back.
“Over the years, many of those buildings (in the area) burned down or were destroyed or were moved, and it's kind of confusing,” he said. “By looking at the historical records, we determined this is the only standing structure from that old very haunted jail complex.”
Warren is a nationally recognized author and investigator of paranormal activity. Through the years, he's prowled Asheville's historic spots in search of the odd and unexplained.
“There are very few places that are semipublic accessible that I have not been to in Asheville,” he said.
The Marjorie Street area was long used for jails and gallows in the late 19th century and the first years of the 20th century.
A detailed January 1913 fire insurance map unearthed by Asheville historian Rob Neufeld places a jail about a half block from Pack's Tavern, the site of a current parking lot. That 1913 fire map does not show the building now behind Pack's Tavern.
An earlier jail was also on the site, and was the location of a freak double hanging on Feb. 26, 1902. A huge crowd gathered to watch. The men twitched on the rope for minutes before finally dying, the Asheville Citizen reported.
The second Marjorie Street jail was under construction in 1908, when the county's final “legal hanging” on the old scaffolds took place in 1908. The second jail included “a fancy trapdoor for making hangings more efficient,” but it was never used when the state took over capital punishment in 1909, the Asheville Citizen reported in 1951, when the building was demolished.
Warren has two 1908 stories from the old Asheville Gazette-News in which terrified Marjorie Street jailhouse prisoners claimed they were visited by some monstrous spook. Warren wonders if this was some “ghostly impression” due to the hangings that once happened there.
The area has a spooky vibe, and Warren has put it into his ongoing Haunted Asheville Ghost Tour, which covers a good chunk of downtown. Even in the weak economy, the tour is doing strong business, attracting a mix of both curious locals and visitors, he said.
Warren will bring “about 20 people” into the building tonight.
“I will have 50 different pieces of electronic instrumentation, which will measure a variety of electromagnetic fields, radio waves, microwaves radiation and more,” in search of any ghostly activity, he said.
This is not a haunted house-type event, and no one will be jumping from corners to frighten the tour, he said.
Warren takes his work quite seriously and has become nationally famous for his books and TV appearances about paranormal investigations
Even with all his experience, Warren admits to being a bit unnerved by visiting the old Marjorie Street building at night.
“If you come in here by yourself when it's dark and turn out the flashlight, and you just walk through these rooms, you will swear there are objects all around you,” he said. “It feels like the room is full of people.”