Couple bought Old Gilchrist County Jail and turned it into a place of paranormal investigations

Nicole Sigers and Eric Penfield have become accustomed to encounters with the inexplicable.

Just a few weeks ago, the back window of Penfield’s car smashed in the garage of his home in O’Brien, Fla., Right next to a shelf of ashes of his loved ones. Often times, the couple find the television on at 3 a.m. when they both remember turning it off, and the cups of soda and coffee seem to move on their own.

Despite their experiences with the paranormal world, Sigers felt uncomfortable in the Old Gilchrist County Jail. She refused to enter the abandoned cells.

“I stayed in the hallways where I couldn’t be trapped,” she said. “So I took my ass out of there.”

Sigers was one of some 40 participants who gathered under the low moss at Ghost rock, a classic rock concert and historic tour that took place last Saturday night on the grounds of the notoriously haunted Old Gilchrist County Jail in Trenton. It was the first event planned by Cheryl and Lee Irwin, the couple who bought the prison and surrounding property last June.

The Student Prison, located at 313 NW Second St. in Trenton, operated from 1928 to 1968. Although overgrown vines hide the concrete walls and a handful of Halloween props decorate the exterior, the structure is remained the same since it housed inmates – although visitors say the design is not the only thing that remains.

Group based in Daytona Beach Redgate performed an almost 4-hour set as guests made their way through the haunted prison for tours led by Lee Irwin.

Fascination with the paranormal

Sigers and Penfield were two of the first to enter jail on Saturday. As the evening approached, more and more groups crossed the jagged gray threshold.

Tyler Laborde, a resident of Newberry, said he visited the jail at least three times before Saturday’s event. Although he believes in the paranormal, he believes the history of the property is fascinating enough to attract skeptics.

“This is not a movie set or a prop,” he said. “People were really held back here. “

Besides the disembodied footsteps and moving objects he has witnessed in the past, he said Spooktober Rock had left him feeling like “a kid in a candy store.”

The turnout was lower than expected, but co-owner Lee Irwin said such events are not intended to generate income. Its main purpose is to tell the stories of former incarcerated residents and shed light on the poor conditions they endured.

Until 1966, law enforcement officers left detainees unattended in the prison’s eight cells every evening from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., resulting in violence among those detained there. said Lee. In the summer, the Florida heat seeped into the building without air conditioning for relief.

Sing with the spirits

RedGate guitarist Ron Poulin and Lee have been friends since Lee was 15, Poulin said. The musician also installed new thermal cameras in the prison after working in surveillance technology for 40 years.

Poulin and his wife both experienced vertigo in the building, which quickly scared his wife away. She hasn’t returned yet, but Poulin said he wasn’t afraid to go to jail on Saturday.

“They aren’t demons here,” he said. “They are not dangerous; they are not mean.

The group hopes to make the trip to this unorthodox place an annual event.

It was the first concert held on the prison grounds, Lee said. But hearing music reverberating throughout the property is not uncommon – Lee queues up a mix of Johnny Cash and swing music for the spirits of the prison when the couple or investigators are away. When he is alone, he often plays the didgeridoo, a long-tube instrument native to the Australian aborigines, for his captive audience.

“I play them a lot of their music,” he said. “If an unbeliever saw me singing and dancing and whistling with the spirits, he would probably think that something really was wrong with me – I agree with that.

The Old Gilchrist County Jail sits in a sea of ​​trees near homes and a basketball court. (Avery Lotz / WUFT News)

Start new traditions

Former prison owner for 15 years, Arlene Hale, conducted mini-surveys the weekend before Halloween and hosted professional groups investigating the supernatural. The Irwins plan to Carry on these traditions, but they also want to foster community engagement with a public approach to property.

Cheryl Irwin said once the sheriff’s quarters are renovated, the couple hope to lease the space as Airbnb.

Cheryl and Lee saw the SEO for the eight-bed, eight-bath prison in April. Although the prison is three hours from Irwin’s home in Sarasota, Cheryl said the rumors of ghostly residents were too compelling to ignore.

Both Irwins have a strong connection to the paranormal world.

Cheryl’s mother was a psychic medium who seemed to always know about her daughter’s childhood issues before seeing it for herself, Cheryl said.

Lee remembers watching the glass door handles of his childhood home in New Jersey swivel, even though no one was standing on the other side.

When the property was put up for sale, the Irwins did not hesitate.

“We decided instead of buying a restaurant during the COVID era or a bar during the COVID era, we would buy a paranormal prison,” Lee said. “And one thing led to another, and we are now the proud owners of Old Gilchrist County Jail.”

The couple have offered two to three surveys a week since purchasing the property, and a single visitor hasn’t had an inexplicable experience, Cheryl said. In early October, a group of three skeptics organized an investigation – and after one of them had her hair hit while she was blindfolded in a cell, the group left as a believer.

Professional ghost hunters and celebrities investigators visited the property, but ordinary people who want to learn more about the paranormal safely are the couple’s target audience, she said, adding that they also plan to create an app where subscribers can view selected images captured by thermal cameras inside the building.

“I would love to share this with anyone and anyone who would like to see if they can have some kind of experience in a very active place,” she said. “And my prison is very active.”

Cell four is the first cell to climb the precarious steps. A detainee allegedly committed suicide in this cell after learning that his father had been arrested. (Avery Lotz / WUFT News)

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