Nestled in the middle of a residential street in Trenton, Florida, is the Old Gilchrist County Jail.
Hidden behind a fence covered in vines, the building, which opened in 1928, could not look more out of place.
“This jail is actually how it was left. Nothing’s been fixed,” said Michelle Vance, events coordinator for the jail and paranormal investigator.
The same eight cells and walls stand, unkempt and eerily vacant since 1968.
For the past six years, the owner, Arlene Hale, has been allowing locals to walk through the jail on one night around Halloween, calling it an open house.
On Saturday, Oct. 24, Hale and members of her team, Old Gilchrist County Jail Ghost Hunters, walked groups through the jail, telling them the history of the building and stories of different encounters they or other paranormal teams have had.
Vance walked the groups through each cell, telling who lived there and who still lives there.
One cell belongs to Frank.
“People come in here and report a tightness thing in their chest,” Vance said. “I don’t know whether it’s a breathing thing or if it’s a heart condition thing because rumor was he died of a heart attack in here, and… they didn’t find him for a couple days.”
One member of the tour, Sabrina Reus, University of Florida student, said she could feel it but was unsure if it was Frank or just the claustrophobic nature of the cell.
Vance said locals break in and trespass on the property all the time, and they are the reason all the windows are broken. Before beginning paranormal investigations, she and other members of the team come early to make sure no living people are there.
One of her tour stories is of Willie James, a man who was shot in an altercation off the property, brought to the abandoned jail and left for dead in 2008. Vance points to the spot where he was found — right in front of a window in the kitchen of the house connected to the jail.
“Me and him get along real good,” she said.
Hale said that one of her most unsettling moments in the jail was when she walked in on Vance, unaware she was speaking with Willie James.
“I walked through him. I had no idea what that felt like,” Hale said. “I felt like I was being vibrated.”
The last cell of the tour belongs to Robert.
“This one I won’t let you two go in,” Vance said, pointing at two young girls on the tour. She said she wasn’t sure how he would respond to children.
“Robert is a dominant personality,” she said. “He likes women, especially blondes, but he doesn’t like men in his cell.”
At the end of the tour, the groups hurried out of the building, some members running.
Hale has owned the jail for the past 10 years after buying it from a friend.
“She called me up and she said, ‘The jail’s for sale,’ and I said, ‘No, it’s sold,’”
Since then, Hale has started her own paranormal investigation team called the Old Gilchrist County Jail Ghost Hunters.
“I bought the jail just because I liked the building,” Hale said. “I became a paranormal investigator after.”
Paranormal investigations teams are much more common than people think, Hale said. There are four in Gainesville alone.
The jail has been a very popular site for these teams and others around Florida and neighboring states to visit. While the open house is an annual event open to the public, paranormal investigations team come almost every weekend to conduct formal investigations.
Hale said that for two years, Vance had the jail booked every single weekend for paranormal investigations. Now Vance makes appointments for only three weekends of the month, so she could have the fourth to herself.
Last weekend, Vance and a group of members from Hale’s team spent almost six hours in the jail performing an investigation.
Karen Morgan and Bill Davis were two members that participated.
“We were here from 10 o’clock at night until 4 o’clock in the morning,” Morgan said.
She said it was her fourth time conducting an investigation within the jail and there was a lot of activity. Seven other members of the group accompanied Morgan and Davis.
“We heard a lot of creaks,” Morgan said. “We saw a few shadows. When we would be downstairs, we’d hear them upstairs. When we would go upstairs, we’d hear stuff moving around downstairs.”
She also spoke of a flashlight experiment they did downstairs. Two flashlights were set up, one designated as a “yes” and the other a “no.” The flashlights lit up in response to some questions, but Morgan wanted distinct proof that they were reaching someone.
“I said, ‘If you could just light both of them up at the same time, then we’ll know that we’ve got something going on,'” Morgan said. “Both of them came on right at the same time, and that went on for about half an hour.”
She said that the team has collected multiple EVPs, electronic voice phenomena, and video footage of paranormal events.
“At this time, it was like the whole room was just screaming at me. I looked at [Bill] and I said, ‘It’s really loud.’ I meant spiritually it was very loud, and on the recorder as soon as I said [that] something said, ‘loud,'” Morgan said.
Morgan and Davis were also giving tours through the jail at the open house on Saturday. Before turning to leave, visitors asked if ghosts from the jail ever followed them home.
Without skipping a beat Davis said, “Yes. We learned that the hard way.”