In the tiny town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, once voted the fourth most beautiful small town in America, a macabre mystery well over a century old sits locked in a jail cell. For 137 years, an executed man has proclaimed his innocence in the form of a bloody handprint, a mark that won't go away no matter how hard anyone tries to remove it.
In 1877, four men accused of being Molly Macguires, a group of Irish revolutionaries accused of murder, arson, kidnapping and other crimes aimed at an unscrupulous coal indutry, were sentenced to hanging in the Carbon County Jail. To this day, many believe the men were innocent victims of coal barons intent on sending a message to potential revolutionaries.
One of the accused was Alexander Campbell, a man who shouted his innocence loudly from jail cell 17, but to no avail. Legend says that on the day he was to be executed, Campbell leaned down to rub his hand on the dirty cell floor before pressing it to the jail wall.
"This is the hand of an innocent man!" he proclaimed. "It will remain forever, to shame the county for hanging an innocent man."
He was hung just hours later.
Sooner after his body was buried, jailers scrubbed Campbell's handprint from the wall. To their surprise, the print reappeared days later, clear as ever. As the efforts of increasingly frightful guards continued to prove unsuccessful, it began to appear that Campbell's last statements were coming true. Despite crowding, they never used the cell to hold prisoners again.
Today, the mysterious handprint is still visible on the wall of the Carbon County Jail, having reappared after countless scrubbings, repaintings, replasterings, and even the demolition and rebuilding of the entire wall.
Via the Morning Call:
In 1930, Sheriff Robert L. Bowman decided to put an end to the legend of the "hand on the wall." One night he brought the county road gang into the jail and had them tear out the wall that bore the bizarre shadow of a human hand. When the rubble was cleared, the workers put in a new wall and covered it with fresh plaster.
Sheriff Bowman, who supervised the work, retired for the night, confident that he had removed the "Irish miracle" forever. When he awoke and visited the cell the next day, he was shocked to see that the fresh plaster was marred by the vague outline of the hand. By evening, the palm of a hand was clearly visible on the cell wall.
The current owners of the Carbon County Jail have given up on trying to hide the handprint, and have instead embraced the last remnants of a legend. Tom and Betty Lou McBride, who purchased the jail in 1995, have turned the building into a museum that houses some of Jim Thorpe's most interesting history, but Alexander Campbell's bloody handprint remains the most intriguing draw for visitors.
"The sheriffs here did not want it," Betty Lou McBride told local news, "because it was an annoyance, because it not only bothered the prisoners, but people were always knocking on the front door wanting to come in and see it."
Those looking to see the bizarre handprint for themselves can swing by the museum when it reopens for the season on May 24th, and if they're feeling particularly brave, sign up for one of the jail's ghost hunts this fall. Who knows, you just might meet the man who left his mark on the building over a century ago.
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