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A Haunting in Barnstable

“It’s just something really different and fun to do,” says Courtney Smith-Atkin of Michigan, who made the Haunted and History tour one of the stops on her Cape Cod vacation.
The tour concludes at the Old Jail, the only building walkers are allowed to enter.

Built in 1690 by order of the Massachusetts and Plymouth Bay Colony Courts, it is the oldest wooden jail in America and served its original purpose until 1831. The cramped, windowless cells remain intact, providing vivid evidence of the stark living conditions for the incarcerated. The building was used as a barn after closing down as a jail and was moved to its current location in 1972, where it now sits on the property of the U.S. Coast Guard Heritage Museum.

It is also supposedly inhabited by five entities. Bartlett completes his tour by shutting off the lights, standing in the darkness and inquiring, “Is anyone here? If you are, please give us a sign. Make a noise. Anything.” Bartlett believes in politeness when ghost hunting. “Don’t provoke them. Talk nice to them,” he says. (For the truly adventurous, Bartlett has a “haunted overnight” when visitors can spend the evening from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. in the creepy jail hoping for ghosts to appear.)

Ayala was on Bartlett’s overnight tour when he experienced a ghostly presence. First, his tape recorder turned on by itself. And then, he saw a post shift and rock, as though someone had bumped into it. “But no one was sitting near it,” he says.

Past tours have ended with walkers maintaining they felt a ghost push them from behind, that they’ve heard footsteps, or they’ve seen a strange shadow. “I remember once being on a tour and a guy who was sitting at the back of the jail cell (in the Old Jail) suddenly got up, screamed and ran out of the room,” Ayala says. “He told us later that he felt something grab him. He freaked out.”
In the hair-raising darkness, Bartlett mentions all this. He then turns the lights back on and scans the room with a mischievous smile. Are there ghosts haunting this village? He wants you to suspend your cynicism and let your imagination run free. He wants you to consider what the past might hold.

For more information about the Haunted and History Walking Tours, visit

Rob Duca is a freelance writer living in Plymouth.

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