The Thanksgiving Folsom Prison Phantom

The Thanksgiving Folsom Prison Phantom

Thirty miles northeast of Sacramento, California sets the old Folsom Prison of Johnny Cash fame.

The high-security prison opened in 1880. On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, in the year 1927, two prison guards died as a result of a two-day prison riot initiated by six prisoners.

The riot started after the showing of a movie in the prison library. Guard Ray Singleton was guarding the prisoners as they were leaving the library. Several of the prisoners involved in the riot stabbed Singleton to death.

By the time the riot was stopped by local police officers and militia, three prisoners had been killed and 13 wounded. In addition to the death of Guard Singleton, Prison Guard Charles Gilles had a fatal heart attack while manning the front gate.

The six ringleaders were convicted and sentenced to death.

The current operations manager at the prison’s museum and author of “Images of America: Folsom Prison,” James Brown, has heard many strange tales about ghosts haunting the old prison. Brown also worked at the prison for several decades.

One ghost often reported is seen near the front gate, especially on foggy days. He is called the Folsom Phantom, and is believed to be the spirit of Charles Gilles, who died while manning the front gate during the riot in 1927.

Once during Brown’s time working at the prison, some of the guards saw someone “walking down a corridor and then disappear.” It was late at night, and all of the prisoners had been accounted for…no one was missing. The guards figured it must be “one of the ghosts.”

Another similar incident occurred when the guards saw “somebody walking along an exterior catwalk.” When the person was ordered to stop, and didn’t, the guards fired at him! The entity kept on walking and then disappeared, says Brown.

Many ghost sightings and voices are reported in the morgue. Four different ghosts have been witnessed in Building 5, the oldest cellblock in the prison.

There have been reports of ghosts in the thirteen old Death Row cells where 93 men were hanged before 1937.

Most of the spirits are witnessed in the old hospital building. According to Brown, there were more murders “in the hospital than anywhere else in the prison.”

An entity likes to roam the three-story Guard Tower 13, “opening and closing security doors.”

According to Dennis William Hauck, author of Haunted Places: The National Directory, officials, at one point, found it necessary to have the prison grounds exorcised by Roman Catholic priests.

Brown was working at the prison for Johnny Cash’s last performance there in 1971. He says that was one day when “everybody got along.”


Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Registry. NY: Penguin, 2002.

Brown, Jim. Images of America: Folsom Prison. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.,0

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