Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From Palace to Prison

Follansbee, West Virginia
Meadowbrook RV Park

Why is it you never have the time or desire to visit places in your own back yard?  It took Bill and I a visit to this area to see places we  never saw when we lived here.  Today we took a drive to Moundsville, West Virginia.

I did our homework last night on planning a visit to the Palace of Gold.  There were directions to get here from as far away as Dallas.  I noted that the first tour began at 10 am and there was a warning not to follow your GPS.

We followed the directions and had no trouble finding the Palace.  Thankfully, Bill drove over the very narrow, twisty, potholed roads with 11% grades.  

Peacocks were the official greeters.
The Palace was impressive at first glance, but drastically in need of repairs.  

The doors were locked and we were very disappointed to have come this far and not find anyone.  We walked around the palace and found a sign that said tours started at 11 am.  It was almost 11 so no problem.  

Upon entry you had to remove your shoes or wear the supplied blue booties.  
We were told once we entered we were not allowed to take photos.  
Our guide rattled off the statistics for the pounds of gold, number of different kinds of marble, jewels in the chandeliers and all the art in the Palace.  I was amazed at all the needlework and the paintings which were in the ceilings.  

Here's the history of the palace from their website.

A miracle in the West Virginia foothills.

Original plans for the Palace of Gold began in 1972 as a simple residence for Srila Prabhuapada, Founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), during his stays at the New Vrindaban Community. As construction progressed, however, devotees became more and more ambitious in their design, wishing to create a residence befitting their beloved Spiritual Master. As plans became more ambitious, the devotees, themselves unpaid and with little experience, trained themselves in the traditional artisanal skills. The result surprised even those who built it. Countless sculptures, extensive woodwork, cut marble and semi-precious stones, carved teakwood, stained glass and cut crystal, as well as extensive gold leaf (more than nine pounds) all were used in the final design. Because of the enthusiasm of his young disciples, Prabhupada’s home resembled a Indian palace rather than a simple Holy man’s residence.
Sadly, His Divine Grace passed away in November of 1977 before he could witness its completion. Further determined to now complete the Palace as an enduring memorial to their founder, the devotees finally unveiled this magnificent gift of devotion in 1979 to widespread national media coverage. The Palace of Gold, with its iconic gold-leafed dome with a sacred flag on top, has since become one of West Virginia’s biggest tourist attractions with over 50,000 visitors a year.
As of mid 2011 an ambitious five-year, 4.27 million-dollar restoration effort has been underway to restore and renew the Palace to its original pristine condition.
The Rose Gardens were pretty but June is the month when everything is in bloom.  Our $8.00 admission also included the temple and the grounds.  
Can you see me on the left?

There are a few inside photos on the website that show how exquisite  the interior is.
What do you do after visiting the Palace of Gold?  Why, of course, we went for a tour of the WV State Penitentiary which was only about 10 miles away.

The Penitentiary was built in 1866 and served the state until 1995.  The next tour began in 20 minutes so we had a short time to look at the artifacts.  Just as the tour was to begin two other couples joined us.  
 This is the actual electric chair which was built by an inmate and was referred as "Old Sparky".  Eighty-five inmates were hung and nine were electrocuted until the death penalty was abolished in 1965.

 Our $9.00 tour took 2 hours and our guide told us the stories of the inmates.  At one point there were 2400 inmates in this prison with 30 guards during a shift.  998 murders occurred inside the prison.  WV State Penitentiary was considered one of the most dangerous prisons in the United States.  

The third and fourth floors of this building were the personal housing of the warden and his family which were required at that time to live on site.  

The Wagon Gate housed Confederate prisoners during the Civil War.  This prison was about 25 miles north of the Mason/Dixon line.  They have no written records of hangings being held there, but it did have this trap door.  Could it have been used for hanging?

Our guide told us that they used to have public hangings until one hanging decapitated the man's head.  After that, to attend, you had to be a family member, clergy, victim's family or the press.  
This was the cell of a mafia boss from Wheeling.  He lost both legs from a car bombing.  The door was modified to accommodate his wheel chair.  He never went outside for 18 years while he was an inmate here because his chair wouldn't fit through the steel door.
 The cells were 5 X 7 and at one point housed 3 inmates.  The third one had to have his mattress on the floor.
All of the sandstone walls were made by the inmates from a nearby quarry.  You could see where they put their initials in all the blocks. They were hand quarried and chiseled. The walls were completed in 10 years by 100 prisoners. 

Our guide told us they have fund raisers of ghost tours for $20.  He said there are a lot of people who end up peeing their pants....and they aren't all women.  I think I'll pass on that one.

It was a very informative and enjoyable tour.  If only those walls could talk.  

Inmate 071948 has a very long history, which in his day he worked with the warden, Donald Bordenkercher. I'm not sure which side of the bars he was on. What do you think?  The rest of the story saved for a campfire topic.   

Turtle Safely.....


  1. What a full day you two had. The Palace is amazing. I love the garden.

    The prison looks awful! I can't even image three people I one of those cells. No wonder fights broke out.

    That last prison looks very dangerous. I can't believe you got so close for your photo. Lol.

  2. I have always been fascinated with prisons. Love prison movies etc.

  3. Not sure that would be a place I would consider parking our RV at. Doesn't look like a fun place to live at all. However, it would definitely be an interesting one day tour.

    1. This area of the country is NOT RV friendly.

  4. Looks like an interesting day! I had no idea Krishna built a temple in West Virginia...Prison tours always remind me of Alcatraz.

    1. I wish I could have taken photos inside. The inside is in perfect condition.

  5. That's what I would call a couple of great looking tours - thanks for letting me come along. I never would have guessed the Hare Krishna's would have been into that kind of opulence especially for their own 'Leader'.

    The prison looked to be a dreadful place to be locked up and Old Sparky has to be right out of the middle ages!!

    Scary looking dude in the last pic!

    Rick’s Bits ‘n Bytes, Pics and News

    1. The inmate that designed Old Sparky was transferred to another prison for his one safety.


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