Yes, I spent the night in a haunted jail. And you can, too!
The rural, mountainous roads through northeast Tennessee can be both beautiful and terrifying. Curves jump out at you from the darkness; the road signs ominously warn of falling rocks and steep grades. And you don’t see another human being for miles.
During the day, the drive is equally sublime. The landscape is dotted with occasional farmhouses, churches, and old general stores. The mountains appear like hundreds of giants poking their heads up from under a vast blanket of trees—old, silent, and secretive.
This is the setting for the Historic Scott County Jail, which friends Miranda Young and Dr. Kristy Sumner recently leased to preserve the jail’s history and offer paranormal tours. Despite the building’s rural setting, accessing the jail—which is in the small and historic town of Huntsville, Tennessee—is relatively easy. It lies about an hour north of Knoxville, two hours north of Chattanooga, two and a half hours east of Nashville, and two and a half hours south of Lexington. I drove four hours from north Atlanta so I could experience the history and ghosts of this jail firsthand.
(And my husband called me constantly along the way, letting me know what a nut I was for wanting to do this and when would I turn around and come home. Well, he’s the nut for not wanting to explore a haunted jail at night.)
History of the Jail
The jail itself was built in 1904; however, before its construction, lawmen conducted executions and trials on the land where the jail now sits. Constructed of stone, the surprisingly beautiful structure sits three stories high and ends with a crenellated wall, giving it the appearance of a small castle. Kristy and Miranda reconstructed the jail’s history into an exhibit located in what would have been the sheriff’s living quarters years ago. Visitors can study the well-researched timeline that Miranda has put together, as well as confiscated items from prisoners, letters, and other jail memorabilia.
After I closed myself into this little room to do my business, I learned that these drunk tanks are some of the most haunted places in the entire jail.
The sheriff and his family lived on the first floor of the jail. In addition to the sheriff’s living quarters and workspace, the first floor contains several drunk tanks (which were painted Pepto-Bismol pink in their heyday). The drunk tanks could and did serve as isolation cells when necessary. Today, they are painted white and serve as the museum’s bathroom facilities. These rooms were the first thing I visited after my drive. And of course, after I closed myself into this little room to do my business, I learned that these drunk tanks are some of the most haunted places in the entire jail.
On the second floor sit several communal cells, which at times held as many as fifteen people each. Some of the rooms held women; some held men. The third floor contains the higher security cell blocks, again divided by gender. As we explored these areas, strange creaks and sounds jumped at me from every corner, making me wonder which sounds were the building, and which sounds were the ghosts.
Visiting the jail (and seeing the ghosts)
While history buffs can visit the jail just to learn a little bit about history (see ticket options below), I opted for the public ghost hunt, and invited my friend Katie of Lady Teal’s Curios to accompany. As I arrived, Miranda and Kristy greeted me with warm tea and introduced me to the others we’d be investigating with. Our group consisted of six: Miranda, Kristy, Katie, myself, and two other enthusiastic women who were veterans of the tour.
They’ve witnessed pictures flying off the walls, and they’ve heard footsteps on the staircase when they’re alone in the building. And yet, they are not afraid. They are merely intrigued, and they want to learn more.
The caretakers of the jail, Miranda and Kristy, are professional paranormal investigators themselves. Miranda Young’s Tennessee-based company, Ghost Biker Explorations, is a world-recognized web series exploring the history and hauntings of various locations, and Dr. Kristy Sumner is the founder of Soul Sisters Paranormal, a professional paranormal investigation and tourism team. As you can imagine, both women also have very prestigious careers in other areas as well; Miranda has 21 years experience in design, communications and marketing, and Kristy used to be a professor at two different colleges. How cool is that?
Haunted Jail Hospitality
As you can imagine, getting to spend time in this jail with these ladies was a top-notch experience. Miranda and Kristy began by giving us a detailed tour of the jail. Then, they shared some of the creepier things they’ve experienced within its walls. For instance, Miranda and Kristy have both noticed sharp objects going missing without any explanation; they’ve heard humming and whispers and felt unseen hands touch their shoulders. They’ve witnessed pictures flying off the walls, and they’ve heard footsteps on the staircase when they’re alone in the building. And yet, they are not afraid. They are merely intrigued, and they want to learn more.
We heard people whispering behind us when no one was there, we heard footsteps on the stairs when the stairwell was empty, we caught things on tape. Yeah, I’d say we talked to ghosts. It was freaking incredible.
After learning about the jail’s history and where the paranormal hotspots are, our hosts turned out the lights and lent us investigation equipment. Also, we were allowed to use our own if we had any (I, being the most amateur of investigators, brought only my phone). Katie brought a ghost box, and those of us that used it heard strange voices answering questions in the static. The flashlights that Miranda placed in the doorways of the cells turned on and off in response to questions she presented to the ghosts. We heard people whispering behind us when no one was there, we heard footsteps on the stairs when the stairwell was empty, we caught things on tape. Yeah, I’d say we talked to ghosts. It was freaking incredible.
Solo Investigation Time
After about an hour together in complete darkness, we split up and explored on our own. And, that was when the real magic started happening. Our only lights came from the flashlights we occasionally turned on, and the streetlights streaming in through the sparse windows.
Katie and I took the upstairs maximum security cell blocks. At one point, the ghost box told me to look in another room, leaving Katie alone. When I called out that I would not separate from her, she heard someone loudly yell “No!” The cell bars behind her shook as if someone had fallen against them. As we tried to figure out what the noise was, Kristy came running up the stairs. She asked if we had just been in the stairwell. Then, she explained she heard what she thought was us running toward her in fear. But no, we had been stationary, no one had been in the stairwell. And we caught it all on tape.
After several more hours of filming, wandering around, and asking questions, we left for the evening and stayed at the nearby Grand Vista Hotel in Huntsville. The exhilarating experience left us absolutely elated.
Haunted jail hostesses for the win!
Not only did we experience some creepy feels first-hand, we did so in a warm and inviting space thanks to our delightful hosts. Kristy and Miranda are warm and friendly people who love what they do. We even took a hot cocoa break at one point. And I loved how they feature local artists in their small gift shop. Everything about the evening—from the design of the materials, the depth of the historic research, and the hospitality of the hosts—was absolutely top-notch. These ladies know how to run a business that makes you feel at home.
Kristy and Miranda are warm and friendly people who love what they do.
If the idea of an unusual and spooky experience excites you, please consider checking out the Historic Scott County Jail. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Some things to know before you go:
Private Paranormal Investigation: $375 for a 6.5 hour investigation for up to 8 people. $25 extra per person up to 10 people.
Guided public/private ghost hunts – $35 per person for 3 hours and up to 6 people.
Flashlight tours (kid friendly!). $20 per person for a 1.5 hour tour.
Daytime general admission history tours – $10 gen admission tickets. The jail offers senior and military discounts for $7 per person.
Address: 214 Litton Covered Bridge Rd. Huntsville, TN 37756.
1 hour north of Knoxville, 2 hours north of Chattanooga, 2.5 hours east of Nashville.