Updated: Dec 12, 2022
If you’re looking to get terrified this Halloween season, and to feel that eerie chilling sensation on the back of your neck, you need look no further than the Old Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. Here, those fascinated by the paranormal can experience a hands-on investigation hosted by Ghost Hunts USA. Much more than a haunted house, this close-up with the supernatural offers an unforgettable interface with the spirit world.
“Ghosts have a story to tell,” says Pam Crisci, location coordinator and lead investigator for Ghost Hunts. “They are there for a reason. They are there to speak up. Some want to hold a conversation.”
Crisci is a psychic medium who first crossed paths with Tyler Evans, Ghost Hunts USA owner, one year ago. The organization will conduct paranormal investigations in the Old Montana Prison – which was operational for over as century, from 1871 to 1979 – led by two to four organizers.
Typically, about 30 participants attend each event, Crisci says, but the event is not capped. The investigation takes place on the evening of Friday, October 11, through the night from sunset to sunrise.
During the event, participants experience events such as shadow walking, being touched, hearing footsteps and voices, and have emotions transferred onto them by resident spirits – often including anger and rage. “Spirits can even affect personality and emotions, making you angry and sad, sick or nauseous,” Crisci explains. “The body is the best equipment you can use.”
When participants arrive, they are broken into groups, shown how to use equipment such as electromagnetic field detectors, which pick up energy fields the spirits give off; REM pods (trigger-objects that have to be touched to go off); spirit boxes that spirits can speak through via radio frequencies; temperature readers and Sony voice recorders that gather electronic voice phenomena; and laser grids that show shadows and motion detectors.
Next, they rotate to different parts of the building in groups, and test their hands at using the equipment as they explore. A crowd favorite is responsive knocking, where participants rap out a pattern and often receive a response. “You have to experience it to understand it,” Crisci insists.
A highlight of the hunt is the chance to go up to the State Prison “death tower,” an area not generally open to the public. The prison was the scene of one of America’s most notorious prison riots in 1959, when two hardened criminals – Jerry Miles and Lee Smart took numerous hostages, killed Deputy Warden Ted Rothe and took the prison under siege for over 36 hours. When finally cornered, Miles and Smart either killed each other or committed suicide; both were found dead shortly after they shot a bazooka into the tower, which burst into the wall.
At Deer Lodge, the Ghost Hunts’ organization utilizes four buildings that are all part of the Old Montana State Prison – the administration building, known for historic murders; two penitentiary areas that hold the main cells, for maximum security and for the general population; the death tower; and the auditorium, which houses a traveling gallows, once used for hangings. Some participants are lucky enough to visit what is known as “Siberia,” which had no heat, and was freezing cold in the winter, as well as “the hole.”
The current site was the first Territorial Prison in the western part of the United States, and was constructed by convict labor in the 1800s. Sandstone walls that stand 24-feet high, and are buried 4 feet underground to prevent escape, surround the structure. Long before the 1959 event, the prison was notorious for its poor conditions and difficult inmates.
Today the Old Prison grounds form an interesting a historic monument, one that houses five unique museums within its walls. The paranormal investigations Crisci’s group hosts in Deer Lodge help enhance the state historical commission’s mission to educate the public on the remarkable historic events that occurred there.
Ghost Hunts USA now has 29 such locations across the country, including the Idaho Reformatory and Infirmary and the old Idaho State Tuberculosis Hospital in Gooding, the Missouri State Penitentiary, the West Virginia State Penitentiary, the Ohio State Reformatory and the Abbey Monastery in Cañon City, Colorado.
“We privately hire haunted locations all over the country that are deemed to be haunted,” Crisci explains. Locales include hotels and asylums, manors and mansions, penitentiaries and infirmaries, as well as ships. The company’s team of four are all experienced investigators, and are credentialed psychics and mediums. The group accompanies participants on their investigation through the night at every event.
In their second year of operation in Montana, Ghost Hunts USA hosts two hands-on paranormal events in Deer Lodge this season, one last month and a second coming up in October. Their efforts bring in funds that help with maintenance and repairs at the Old Montana State Prison.
Montana Ghost Hunts:
Location: Old Montana State Prison
1106 Main Street, Deer Lodge, MT 59722.
Dates and Time: Oct. 11-12, 9 p.m. – 7 a.m.
What to bring: Participants should bring a phone to take video, photos and record voices, warm clothing, and a flashlight. Snacks provided – chips, coffee, water, soda.
Phone: (866) 313-4592
Before You Go: How to Tune Up Your Frequency
Ghost hunting is a skill that can be learned and refined. “We all have this gift,” Pam Crisci, lead investigator for Ghost Hunts USA. “Since the 1950s, parapsychology has been studied. The more you use it, the more it develops. It is like a muscle.”
Word of mouth brings a lot of return customers from all over the country. Crisci believes one reason for Ghost Hunts success is the highly organized nature of the events, and the communal experience. “A lot of people worry about going alone, but you always meet people,” Crisci adds. “You are never alone. You just have to do it and take the time to experience it.”
With the rising fame of paranormal television shows, obsession with the spirit world is gaining traction year over year. Pam Crisci thinks “people are interested in life and death; participants love the way we speak to the spirits. It’s not like going to the movies where you are going to watch. Not knowing what you are going to come into contact with or what you are going to find is the fun part.”
The most important item to bring on a ghost hunt?
“Just come with an open mind,” Crisci suggests.