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Mysterious Handprint of the Carbon County Jail

Every day in the town of Jim Thorpe in Carbon County, a hanged man proclaims his innocence in the only way a dead man can. Since 1877, his hand has been raised in protest in the last home he ever had—the Carbon County Jail cell number 17. This permanent marker on the cell wall has resisted cleaning, repainting, and even replastering. A couple of days after every attempt to cover it up, the handprint comes back. And a story of persecution by evil mine owners comes back with it.

The coal barons of the late 1800s were an unscrupulous band of moneygrubbers who kept the mostly Irish and Welsh workforce squashed firmly under their thumbs. As the miners chipped away at the anthracite deposits in the Pennsylvania mountainside, they earned only pennies—and the coal barons sopped the cost of their supplies out of that meager pittance. It was a social situation that often leads to revolution—and the revolutionaries in this scene were the Molly Maguires. This secret society committed acts of sabotage and, according to the coal barons, murder (something the management knew plenty about, since they stooped

to it themselves if their profits were threatened). Of course, the plutocrats had money, power, and therefore the law on their side, which made it all the easier to dispose of troublemakers. In a series of trumped-up trials, the


During one of the Molly Maguire trials, the inhabitant of Cell 17 vehemently proclaimed his innocence, but he was sentenced to death anyway. On hanging day, before he was taken from his cell, he slapped his hand, dirty from the cell floor, on the wall, and exclaimed “This is the hand of an innocent man!”

In those days, innocence was no defense, so he died that day. But his handprint remained, and came back even after it was scrubbed off. Over the next century, the cell was cleaned, repainted, replastered—and always the hand reappeared in a day or so. It’s still there to this day, and on exhibit at the Old Jail Museum, housed in the old Carbon County Jailhouse. Tours are offered daily—where you can see not only the handprint, but also the National Enquirer article telling the story of it. As museum displays go, the article is a pretty sensational read—but then again, the story is pretty sensational too.

You can read more accounts of Pennsylvania’s many Unexplained Phenomena in Weird Pennsylvania.

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