Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was also known as ¨the end of the line¨ and forced inmates to mine for coal.

Sara B

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary opened in 1896 in the coal mining town of Petros, located in Morgan County, Tennessee, also known as ¨the end of the line¨. The Penitentiary wasn't like any other; the location was carefully chosen by geologists consulted as the best place to build a prison and take advantage of the coal boom.

Coal mining goes back centuries, and during the industrial revolution, it became even more critical, as coal was used to heat buildings and run locomotives; coal during this time was the primary fuel. The coal miners at the time were working for meager wages and lived onsite due to the coal mines located in remote areas; however, the mining companies also were the ones who provided the housing and offered small shops onsite, the prices being absorbant.

By the time the miners paid for food and lodging, they barely had any money left and dangerous working conditions. At this time they decided to create an organized labor movement and in 1891 the Coal Creek War began. A labor uprising started when the owners of the Coal Creek watershed began to remove and replace their company-employed private coal miners with convict laborers, that the Tennessee state approved.

The mine owner wanted to avoid paying a fair wage to those who worked in the coal mines and preferred free labor. Convict leasing was a forced penal labor, providing workers to coal mines but to plantation owners and corporations. The lessee was responsible for feeding, clothing, and housing the prisoners.

Eventually, the state sided with the side of the coal miners to abolish the convict labor system and replaced it with the Brushy Mountain Mine and Prison. The prison was initially to house incarcerated mine workers.

However, forced mining, which led to deadly mining accidents, chronic illness, and prison life, was full of fatal diseases such as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and syphilis. In addition, the care for the inmates was poor, and they would often get beaten for underproducing in the mines, and many inmates died.

The inmates weren't only miners; they were also used to build the first structure of the prison, composed of barracks and guardrooms. The sleeping area was separated by race and designed to hold 100 inmates. In addition, there was a hospital, an office building, a kitchen, and a passageway outside the walls called the ¨manway¨, the entrance to the mines. The building was only to house 100 inmates, which at one point housed 976 men in 1931.

The state's solution was to build a new prison and make the inmates break sandstone out of the nearby quarry, built in the shape of a Greek cross, four stories high and surrounded by an 18-foot stone wall. As a result, the prison became safer and less overcrowded, and the cross was meant to offer a path to redemption.

Brushy, at the time, was a maximum security prison; however, in 1969, they began to house minimum security inmates outside the walls. They had jobs that served outside the walls and worked in the community of Petros.

However, the maximum area continued to expand; other prisons would send the worst of the worse to Brushy. Until 1957, they had The Hole, where the worst inmates would often end up, they were usually sent to the Hole for 30 days and in complete darkness, with no human contact, and many became blind or died.

After the Hole was closed, they built D block, an area to house the worst offenders; it was constructed on the site of the old ¨death house¨, where dead bodies were kept until they could be released to their families; some were buried on the onsite cemetery if their family didn't want them.
Photo byPhoto courtesy of Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Brushy Mountain also had its validated execution chamber; it was primarily used for electrocution, and over 100 executions took place here. The prison often had race riots, fires, random killings, and natural deaths. Many speculate that the fact that the prison was built on top of limestone amplified the paranormal activity and the energy of the prison, causing it to be the worst and the end of the line.

In 1972 the staff went on strike, declaring unsafe working conditions. As a result, the prison was closed until 1976, when they thought they could finally handle the violence at the prison, and the prison was the biggest employer in the area.

The most famous inmate was James Earl Ray, after being convicted of assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. Ray was sentenced to 99 years at Brushy Mountain. However, he was there less than a year when he tried to escape in 1971, and he also tried in 1972 and 1977.

The last time he succeeded; however, he was caught and brought back to Brushy Mountain, where he stayed until 1992, and he was transferred to a state facility in Nashville.

Is the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary Haunted?

Rumors and paranormal investigators have reported that it is haunted by an inmate named Jack Jett. He was known for snitching on other inmates, and one night, other inmates stabbed him while on the phone; he eventually bled to death. Inmates have reported seeing the phone receiver levitating off the hook, as well as the area many have felt a cold chill in the area, with a sense of dread.

Other inmates have reported the prison chapel as the most haunted area in the institution. Ghost hunters have reported EVP readings saying ¨beast¨ and ¨pain¨, as well as seeing objects in the chapel floating across the room, as well as cold spots.

In the courtyard is a spirit known as Bonnie; no one is sure why there is a female spirit, as the prison did not house any females.

At the whipping post, there have been reports of people hearing cries from those who were beaten, sometimes to death.

Closure of the prison.

The prison officially closed in 2009 and, in 2018, turned into a tourist attraction, with self-guided and guided tours, often with former prison inmates. Also, former correctional officers are onsite to ask questions and hear stories about their time working at Brushy Mountain.

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