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Tales of the Warden's House at OSP

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OSP

The warden’s house at Oklahoma State Penitentiary is shown here as it’s under construction. Stories and legends about the house have accumulated over the years, leaving some former residents thoroughly spooked.

It’s more than 100 years old, currently uninhabited and is across the street from the state’s largest maximum-security prison.

No one is currently living in the residence known as the Warden’s House at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester — but some of those who’ve lived there in the past aren’t so sure the house is empty.

It stands just south of the prison’s main gate, like a sentinel facing the chalk-white walls of OSP — the scene of bloody and destructive prison riots in 1973 and 1985.

Built in 1911 by convict labor following plans created by famed architect P.H. Weathers, the house has been at its current location for 107 years. Its role in the state’s history and its architectural features have earned a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Seven arches adorn the front of the house — a reminder of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 Gothic novel “The House of the Seven Gables.” It includes a number of other features traditionally connected to spooky stories and legends: An upstairs, an attic and .... a basement.

The Warden’s House was built as a residence for the prison warden and his family — but some who have lived inside the sprawling residence are adamant they’ve sometimes have felt the presence of things they can’t explain.

Stories have circulated through the years about voices heard, about people feeling someone was watching them or even grabbing them — when nothing could be seen.

• He quotes her as saying “Ghost at the Warden’s House at OSP? Yes.

Former OSP Warden Dan Reynolds has heard a number of spooky stories regarding the home — including some he’s gathered from former residents and even from a member of his own family.

Reynolds served as warden at the state’s maximum-security prison from 1991-94. He also previously served as OSP’s interim warden for approximately seven months in 1991, after then-Warden James Saffle left with the Oklahoma National Guard during Operation Desert Storm.

Since retiring, Reynolds has authored several books about OSP, including the voluminous “History of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary,” published in 2017.

So did Reynolds ever experience something out of the ordinary while living in the home?

“I didn’t, but my daughter did,” Reynolds said, adding that his daughter, Amanda, believed the house was haunted. He asked her to write about it for another of his books: “On the Other Side of the Bars: Lessons Learned as a Prison Warden/Administrator.”

He quotes her as saying “Ghost at the Warden’s House at OSP? Yes.

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Oklahoma State Penitentiary

Barbed wire lines an exterior fence at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. A new warden, Terry Royal, is working on a long-term plan to address facilities, staff retention and training at the prison.

“Once I stood in the middle of the white room and felt someone, or something, brush up against my back. Or the time a hand lay on my back while I brushed my teeth as if to make sure my daily good habits were taking place.

“How about the cough and the feel of someone sinking down on the edge of the twin bed where I slept, or the faint sound of footsteps that whispered over the wood floor? It was pretty intense.”

She also tells of her friends hearing people talking in her bedroom, hearing her name called a few times and how her pet cockatoo “would go nuts in his birdcage when no inhabited body was near.”

The creepiest experience, she said, occurred in what she called “the eerie basement.”

“I used to love playing pool in the basement all by myself, until the most creepiest thing ever happened. I had a few girlfriends over for the weekend, and we wanted to play pool. While we walked down the narrow staircase, with narrow plush carpeted steps, the barroom door slammed in our faces. My mother said it sounded like a herd of elephants trampled up the stairs and a slew of monkeys screaming.

“With white faces and pounding hearts, I slammed the door to the basement that day and swore to never return by myself, ever again.”

She never did.

• “How about the cough and the feel of someone sinking down on the edge of the twin bed where I slept, or the faint sound of footsteps that whispered over the wood floor? It was pretty intense.”

Reynolds said he has talked to the daughter of another warden who lived at the residence in the 1960s. She told of hearing a woman’s voice call her name and how she frequently felt she was being watched. Another time, she was getting into bed and felt someone grab her ankle in what she called “a vice grip” and related how she kicked repeatedly to free herself. She also told of hearing someone coming from the foyer up the stairs and to the attic all night long and she said her aunt heard it as well.

A former deputy warden who lived just west of the Warden’s House in what was at one time the deputy warden’s house told Reynolds that on two different occasions his dog began to “bark like crazy” while it was upstairs.

“When I went to see what was going on the dog was in the hallway just outside the bedroom in the southwest corner of the house, barking at the bedroom and wouldn’t enter.” He related that he went into the bedroom and didn’t see or hear anything, but the dog continued barking and growling.

“It happened the same way both times. Who knows what it may have been?”

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Oklahoma State Penitentiary

A rusted and crumbled wall at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary is one small example of maintenance work that has been neglected at the state prison due to budget cuts. The prison administration is working on issues like this as part of a long-term plan to improve the prison.

Reynolds is continuing to gather information regarding the Warden’s House at OSP. He’s looking to locate interior photos of the house, identify any celebrities who’ve been in it and hear any recollections regarding the historical residence.

Several wardens who have lived there at one time or the other still have families and friends living in the area. Reynolds asked anyone with photographs or information regarding the Warden’s House at OSP to send it to: Dan. M Reynolds; C/O Jet Tire Center; 2605 North Main Street; McAlester, OK; 74501.

He’s hoping to hear more stories about the dwelling to go with the ones he’s already gathered.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com