Women search for ghosts at former Montana State Prison

Cindy Mullet
Thursday, October 31, 2019
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The former cell blocks at the Montana State Prison resulted in some haunting experiences during a ghost hunt tour of the facility.

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(L to R) Mona Humphrey, Colleen Lee and Margie Deseth snuggle up to a prison mannequin during their recent ghost hunting trip at the former Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

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Mona Humphrey’s experience sitting in and getting out of the barber chair at the old prison gave the women reason to believe there may have been spirits in the room with them.

Armed with a flashlight and an EMF (electromagnetic field) meter, three Glendive women recently went looking for ghosts at the old Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

Mona Humphrey, Margie Deseth and Colleen Lee share an interest in ghosts and hauntings. They learned the prison conducted ghost tours and thought it would be fun to go on one, Deseth explained.

As a nursing student, Humphrey had visited the prison in 1973 when it was still in use. The students spent a day there, talking with inmates as a way of experiencing the criminal justice system. There was no talk of ghosts at that time, so she wanted to see how different things were now, she said.

They started out at 9:30 p.m. with 13 other ghost hunters in a two-hour group tour where two facilitators took them through the pitch black prison and pointed out hot spots, Deseth said. After the group tour, they were on their own to explore wherever they wished. They didn’t leave the prison until 3 a.m.

The facilitators took them to cell block one where prisoners had been housed, opened up cells, put two or three of them in different cells and then asked questions to try and identify if ghosts were present, Humphrey said.

Lee was holding the EMF meter which detects fields emitted by moving electrically charged objects and is used to indicate the presence of a ghost. It was not responsive to questions until the facilitator began asking about the influenza epidemic and then it started flashing, she related.

They were sitting on a cot in the cell and Humphrey had leaned back against the wall so couldn’t see the meter. When she leaned forward to look at it, she felt a little tug on her hair. She knew there had to be a reason for the tug and was sure it had nothing to do with ghosts, but when she examined the wall behind her she could see nothing that would have caught her hair, she said.

Just before Humphrey felt the tug on her hair, the facilitator had asked the ghosts to give them a sign if any were present, Deseth added.

In the maximum security block of the prison, the facilitators divided the group up, putting one couple in a cell, directing others to stand in front of the cells and sending some down another hall by what they designated as the “black boxes,” Humphrey said.

It was a place where strict rules about talking and making noise had been enforced in the prison so the facilitators told them to be noisy and rowdy and then asked the ghosts how the noise made them feel. After that question was asked, all three women felt a cold breeze.

“It was like standing in front of an open door,” Deseth said.

The tour included a visit to the prison chapel where the group sang “Jesus Loves Me.” Their singing had all the meters going off but they didn’t feel anything special there but then someone spotted holes along the walls, close to the floor. The facilitators told them these led to tunnels from which the guards used to watch the prisoners, Humphrey said.

The facilitators were reluctant to take them into the tunnels but finally agreed, dividing them into two groups and sending them to opposite ends of the tunnel, telling them to hold one meter out so the facilitators could see it. When they were in place the facilitators started hollering at their group, telling them someone was standing in the front of the meter, blocking their view of it, she said.

Lee was holding the meter for their group and said she felt like someone was standing in the middle of the tunnel, keeping her from seeing the green light on the meter held by the group at the other end, she said.

When they realized no one from the group was blocking the meter, the facilitators started yelling at them to come out. After Humphrey asked them a couple times what they had seen, the facilitators finally said they didn’t know for sure but it had scared them and they felt the need to get everyone out quickly, Humphrey said.

After the group tour, the three set out on their own with Deseth and the flashlight in the lead and Lee with the meter in the back. They headed for cell block one, but decided to go up a couple levels where people making a paranormal film had reported “anxious feelings.” As they walked along, Lee started hearing footsteps behind her. She switched places with Humphrey who then also heard the footsteps. They ruled out anyone else from the tour following them as they could see both ends of the block, Humphrey said.

They also explored the dining room which had a barber chair sitting in the middle of it. Humphrey decided to sit in it while Lee asked if any spirits were there, if they were upset that Mona was in the chair and if they wanted her to get up, Humphrey said.

The meter turned red at the last question so Humphrey decided she should get up. As she leaned forward to stand, the chair slowly began to turn. She looked at Lee and said, “I didn’t turn it.”

After she was out of the chair, the three checked it for wires or anything that could have moved it. Humphrey and Deseth tried to turn it, thinking maybe when Humphrey had shifted her weight as she leaned forward something had turned the chair, but discovered it was hard to move, Humphrey said.

They had been told of a life-long prisoner who had been appointed to take care of the turkey farm and so was called “Turkey Pete.” When dementia set in, he started selling turkeys for 25 cents each and had to be relieved of those duties. People who visited his cell often left quarters behind so when they stopped in, Humphrey asked, “Turkey Pete, would you like a quarter for a turkey.” Nothing happened until she asked if he wanted her to keep her quarter and then the lights on the meter went crazy, she said.

At the end of the tour, the group met in the courtyard where the facilitators made an announcement that the humans were leaving now and asked the ghosts to please stay at the prison and not go home with them, Humphrey said.

The cold breeze, the turning barber chair, the hair tug and the flashing meter haven’t totally convinced the women that ghosts haunt the prison, Deseth said. They are already planning a return visit with their own equipment to see if they can debunk ghostly happenings.

Reach Cindy Mullet at crmullet@midrivers.com .