Not all history is pretty, as students of the Civil War will attest, but would tourists really travel and pay good money to walk through an old prison? For the past two years, they've been doing just that at the site of the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville, proving again that the unfamiliar and the bizarre can be fascinating.
We commented on the proposal when it was first announced, noting then that if Moundsville could turn a dreary Civil War-era prison into a tourist attraction, then other communities with more attractive historic structures could do the same, with a little bit of imagination.
Up until two years ago, the state penitentiary had operated for nearly 130 years in Moundsville, located about 50 miles southwest of Pittsburgh on the Ohio River. It had a well-earned reputation as a mean and nasty place where three inmates were tortured to death during a 1986 riot.