Abandoned Road Trip #5

We left Pittsburgh for WVA – Moundsville for a photographer’s tour at the WVA Penitentiary. http://wvpentours.com  **Expect traffic on a weekday morning and add it into your travel plans!!!!  We did not and we had to rush to get there on time. The tour is only a four-hour photographer block of time and there’s lots to see. We also saw a couple we’d met the day before at Carrie Furnace. We did take some time to talk with them about various abandoned sites we’d visited and they’d visited in the US. They always take selfies with the people they meet on their trips (which was a cool idea).


I used a tripod, a LED light on top my camera for the really dark areas, and my Nikon D750 with a 24-70 zoom for most of my shoots. I also used my backpack to store an extra lens, batteries, SD cards, water bottles, and any props I wanted to use. That seemed to work for me. The LED lights (or the paranormal activity) OR my older batteries seemed to drain really fast when shooting in these low light spaces.


We were able to wander around the facility by ourselves and separated much of the time to photograph without getting into each other’s light. There were only the four of us for a while, but regular tour groups did start streaming in after an hour or so.


I really enjoyed photographing the light and shadows on the different textured walls and doors, stairwells, and on the wing with the medical rooms. Brenda and I each felt weird in one area of that hall, but there were no real explanations for that. I wish I’d spent more time in certain areas, but with only four hours, one never knows what will be the most interesting. I guess I could have done a quick walk through, but it’s large.


*Knowing we were only spending one night in this town, I tried to pack and only bring in what I needed. Unfortunately, I like to bring camera gear, my computer, as well as clothes, snacks and drinks, so I tend to bring in more than I should…just a thought if you’re taking a road trip…how much can you leave in your car in the heat/cold/safety and what will have to come in to the hotel every day.


Moundsville to Wheeling, WVA

  One of my favorite things I saw while driving was this Mail Pouch tobacco sign on an old barn along the small highway. By the end of the day, we would see two more Mail Pouch ghost signs on different buildings! We went to Wheeling mainly because Brenda had checked online and seen lots of postings about ghost signs on buildings in and around Wheeling. We found a lot while exploring the city…and again, when we would stop, locals would migrate from inside their homes to come check out what we were doing and tell us lots of local history and politics of how government “killed off the livelihood of many workers, etc.”



Weston, WVA

Our shoot the next day was at the Trans Allegheny Insane Asylum in Weston. It was a massive and imposing building, and once inside, the female employees were dressed in 50’s nurses’ uniforms (kind of creepy) and the men in white shirt, black pants and suspenders. The different time periods were a noticeable and the first unusual thing we saw. This is the only place that we didn’t have a photographer’s tour (because they didn’t offer it on that day). We had to take a real tour, with other guests, so we picked the “Paranormal 90-minute tour.” We did pull up rear every time, but we tried to stay up with the guide. It so happened that Scott, our guide, ran the night time paranormal tours and had lots of interesting stories about paranormal encounters in night group tours. I had never been interested in paranormal events, but this asylum has been on several shows. Anyway, after hearing so many paranormal stories within the other penitentiaries and asylums, I was prepared for some, but not all, of these stories.


Many of these stories were violent. It was gruesome to hear about all of the ghosts – their names, why they “lived” in certain spaces, why they like when the guides left cigarettes, games, gum, etc. at the sites. When we started seeing “evidence” of ghostly presence in various rooms, it was creepy cool. If I can stick a video on my blog post, I will of our experiences in the asylum. In one room, the ghosts moved Brenda’s diving rods, nothing happened to the woman next, and when I tried it, they went crazy again.


We managed to get some great photos, but a tour really involves rushing through four floors of abandoned, peeling, cool, but very sad spaces.


It started pouring at the end of our tour, so our wandering around looking for ghost signs was sporadic. We ate lunch at a local restaurant, drove and walked around and found some great ghost signs.


HOME – We were only about three hours from home and could probably have driven home from the town that day, but we were hoping to stay longer at the asylum. Definitely try and get a photographer’s tour/time if you go shoot there.

We did stop in Hancock and checked out a couple of thrift and antique stores along the way, mainly because we’d never been, but it was really time for me to get home.



Things we discussed for our next road trip

  • Better packing decisions to move from hotel to hotel (that was really me needing to do that)

  • Get state road maps because GPS can be unreliable in no signal areas

  • Find hotels with breakfast included. Plan to have bigger lunch and leftovers or small meals for dinner.

  • The road trip is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Over plan, but be flexible because one can’t keep that intensity up forever.

  • Have Plan A and Plan B options in case of weather.

  • Be open to surprises.

  • Network with people you meet. Come with business cards/take photos/follow new contacts on IG.

  • Make sure your companion has compatible goals….balanced styles for food, drinks, physical activities/modifications, travel, and lodging.

I would go back to any of the locations where we photographed. I visually would pick Ohio State Reformatory, WA Young & Sons, Carrie Furnace, WVA Penitentiary among first on the repeat schedule.


Check out the other blog posts for the entire trip. Next blogs will be about the CA Road Trip!

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