The year is 1908. The place: the Buncombe County Jail in Asheville, NC. Hardened criminals filled the two large cells of the stone structure.
The April night began like any other at the jail. Jailer Mitchell fed the men in the two cells, then left for the night. As the sun set through the high, barred windows, only a single electric light remained to illuminate the jail. The bare bulb threw the shadows of the prisoners on the walls as they milled around, before settling down for the night.
Not everyone could sleep, and a few men always stayed up singing or swapping stories. A handful of others wept silently into their threadbare pillows, hearts aching for the loved ones they might never see again. The hours slipped away, until the clock tower of the distant courthouse counted midnight.
Something moved in the open space outside the cells. Had the jailer returned for some unknown reason? One of the prisoners stood up and stepped toward the bars, peering against the glare of the single electric light. A human-like shape drew nearer, but there was something odd about it…
An instant later, the man lurched back with a scream as something impacted the bars he’d been pressed against moments before. A thing clung to the bars, clearly visible to all the men who had been waked by his shriek, and if it had once been human, it clearly was no longer.
The creature clinging to the bars had a monstrous visage, pale as death and with great, glaring eyes. It swung back and forth on the bars, staring horribly, as if it saw the sins of every man within–and as if those sins gave it leave to torment them.
Most of the men immediately ran to the far corners to hide, dragging blankets up over their heads, clutching each other and praying frantically for salvation. But prisoner Ben Johnson was made of sterner stuff. He stepped up to the bars and demanded to know what the “spook,” as he later called it, wanted.
Very slowly, the creature crawled across the bars until it hung before him. Then its head all but split apart in a grotesque grin, and its tongue lolled out.
That was enough for Ben; he dove under the blankets with the rest of the men in the cell. But still the presence lingered, swinging on the bars, glaring and grinning, for at least two hours until it vanished.
After, the jail was haunted by many other occurrences: the haunting sobs of a mother and baby, and the ghostly sound of a gallows trap falling open again and again. But the strange presence which had so terrified the prisoners that April night never returned.