The Burlington County Prison

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Up until recently, the Burlington County Prison was the setting for one of south Jersey’s most fun haunted attractions. We always stopped here for a scare in October after time spent at the nearby Witches Ball.

Now that the prison no longer hosts a Halloween haunt, it occurred to me that it is open year round for tours. I was curious to see the prison when it wasn’t decked out in all its holiday glory, so I decided to pay a visit.

Located in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, the Burlington County Prison Museum is considered a national historic landmark. It opened in 1811 and closed in 1965.

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The facility is larger than I expected. Entrance is through a huge wooden door, parts of which are original, dating back to 1819. The cell doors throughout the prison are also original.

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There are three levels to explore in the prison as well as the exercise yard. This is a self-guided tour, and it is easy to navigate the various areas thanks to helpful signs posted throughout the building.

On the first floor is where female inmates were housed. The warden also had his office and apartment here. Before a separate home was built for the warden and his family, they lived in the prison, with the warden’s wife in charge of the female prisoners. A long corridor connects the prison with the warden’s lodgings.

The second floor housed the more dangerous felons, with the maximum security cell, known as the “Dungeon” in the center of the cellblock. Debtor’s cells separated the Dungeon from the other cells. Debtor’s cells were outlawed in the 1830s, but if my credit card company had their way, the prison would be my new residence.

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It’s interesting to note that each cell had its own fireplace, straw mattress, bucket for nighttime eliminations, and materials to build a fire. Inmates were allowed no personal belongings other than their clothes, and the Bible was the suggested reading material. Doorways were cut in the rear of each cell, allowing access to the washroom at the end of the cell block.

Throughout the cells are preserved prisoner graffiti. It’s a grim reminder that these empty cells and hallways were once anything but quiet. They were filled with people serving sentences of varying lengths for many different crimes. Some inmates spent part of their lives here, while others lost theirs to a hangman’s noose.

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In the basement are the kitchen and workshop of Burlington County Prison. The inmate who prepares the meals is also housed on this floor. It was here where prisoners bathed using two bathtubs before plumbing was installed. These cell blocks were used by minimum security offenders.

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The yard where inmates were allowed fresh air is surrounded by a 20 foot high wall, which seems tiny compared to the huge barriers topped by barbed wire that is seen in prisons today. It’s no wonder that some people managed to scale the wall and escape. While outside, inmates were permitted to tend to a small vegetable garden.

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In one corner of the courtyard stands the gallows, where hangings took place. They were dismantled after executions, and stored away when not needed. The gallows that are on display for visitors are not original, but give an idea of what they may have looked like.
If you happen to be in the area and have an interest in prisons, I encourage you to check out the Burlington County Prison Museum. It’s a fascinating bit of correctional history, and rumor has it that it’s haunted. For a slideshow of more pictures from my visit, please click here.

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The Creeper Gallery

I stopped in Christmas Past, a Christmas shop on my latest visit to New Hope, Pennsylvania. The stores that peddle Santa and reindeer all year almost always have a decent section of merchandise for my favorite holiday, Halloween. I picked out two new decorations, and as the clerk rang up my purchases, he suggested I check out the shop across the street, since I seemed to like scary things.

Metaltoe for Halloween?

I took his advice and found my way to the scary, rather creepy, place. Aptly named The Creeper Gallery, the unassuming store front held inside a most interesting collection of gothic fine art and curiosities. The store was neatly arranged and not the least bit cluttered, despite the variety of displays to see. There were so many different pieces to discover, that I found something new on each pass around the shop. I almost didn’t notice the dolls hanging by their necks above the register.

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There were several art pieces that included animals, and yes, they were alive at one time. Taxidermy comprises some of the art projects. I came face-to-face with a black bear, waiting for it to swipe at me with its huge claws. It was a fascinating piece and one of my favorite items available for sale.

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The store also had some antique items on display. Who wouldn’t be interested in “perfumed embalming fluid of a superior quality”? To accompany that, you may be interested in antique embalming equipment to go along with the fluid.

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Fans of Edgar Allan Poe can take home a large replica of the horror master, complete with a raven perched on his shoulder. I can’t imagine this piece staying in the store for long. It’s an uncanny likeness of the author.

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In a small, darkened room off the main store is a coffin display. It was so well done that you couldn’t help but be quiet and respectful, as if the “departed” were once a real human.

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If smaller corpses are more your thing, there was a small coffin filled with three dolls that had seen better days. They resemble toys that may have been enjoyed by Wednesday Adams, if she played with toys.

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If you would like to write down your thoughts and prayers and store them away, you can take home this intricate prayer box. It would make a lovely conversation piece for the home.

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This is one of the artists responsible for some of the wonderful artwork found throughout the store. I believe she was manning the register the day we visited. She was very friendly, answering questions with grace that she’s probably been asked several times before.

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If you have an interest in the dark and different, be sure to check out The Creeper Gallery whenever you’re in the New Hope, Pennsylvania area. The store is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, allowing the artists the other days to work their macabre magic. To see a slideshow of more photos my from my visit, please click here.

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Remembering Annie 1998-2015

IMG_20150218_064250413 When I wrote “To Annie, With Love,” in April, I expected her to live into her twenties. She was always a healthy cat, never having issues. I had no clue we would have to make a painful decision two months later. Annie hadn’t been eating very much, she weighed just over 7 pounds when she died, down from the 14 pounds she weighed as a young cat. In addition to the appetite reduction, we noticed she was no longer jumping into her bed on top of the fridge. That was her favorite place in the house. From that vantage point she was free from the harassment of two dogs and three other cats. She was the queen of the house and her throne was perched atop a white Whirlpool. Our girl appeared to have difficulty getting comfortable. I pet her head to hear purring. One thing about Annie was that you could pet her for only seconds before she tried to bite. This reaction was so different that I knew something was wrong. I assumed it was arthritis, and the vet would prescribe a med to make her feel better. I held onto that assumption as I pushed her into the carrier, telling her not to worry, she would be home soon. My husband drove her to the vet while I stayed home. He called to say she was spending the night, as she was dehydrated. He wasn’t back from the vet yet when the office called. They asked me if I wanted her put down. I was dumbstruck. What were they talking about? Annie’s belly was distended, filled with fluid. In their experience, in cats of the age of 17, it was either stomach cancer, or a heart or liver issue. More tests could be run to discover the cause, but the outcome would be the same. Once the fluid was drained, it would return in 24-48 hours to require more draining. It was five minutes before the office closed. I wasn’t going to let them kill her before I could talk to my husband. I managed to tell the vet to keep her comfortable, I would speak with another vet who was on in the morning about her prognosis. I hung up the phone and lost my mind, my worst fear realized. I gave my husband the diagnosis through sobs when he returned. We held out hope that somehow she was wrong, that a more seasoned vet on duty in the morning would have a different opinion. The second vet agreed with the first. Annie was not going to get better. We told our vet we would euthanize her, but we wanted to visit to say our goodbyes. Later that day we went to the veterinary office. Annie was brought out to us, her eyes dilated from the pain medicine. We took turns holding her, telling her how much we loved her, and if there was anything we could do to keep her with us, we would have done it. We took a lot of photos that afternoon. IMG_20150602_162546383_HDR I wished I were strong enough to stay with her until the end, to hold her as she left for the Rainbow Bridge. I couldn’t do it, I was a coward. I couldn’t let my last memory of Annie be her lying dead on a steel table. Maybe that’s why I don’t like viewings, I prefer to remember people alive. Handing her over to the vet tech for the last time was gut wrenching. I knew she would be surrounded by people we knew, and our favorite vet in the office promised to perform the procedure. She had been the third vet involved and came to speak with us. She agreed we were making the best decision for Annie. It’s a month today that our girl has been gone. Annie’s homecoming was bittersweet, I couldn’t wait for her to be home, even if it was not in the same form. The house didn’t feel right without her. Her urn sits in her bed above the fridge, returned to her rightful place. Her food dish, a straw, and foil ball surround her. IMG_20150615_213719511 This was the first time I ever had to go through this. Previous pets belonged to my parents, and they dealt with the end of life decisions. In a way I was relieved it happened the way it did, so fast, so unexpected. There was no lengthy illness, no period of time where we wondered what day we would give her peace. I love and miss you, Annie.