NIGHT AT THE OLD franklin COUNTY JAIL
NEXT AVAILABLE DATE: MAy 4, 2019
7:00 PM - 1:00 AM
Join American Hauntings for a night that you won't soon forget -- a search for the ghosts of the old Franklin County Jail in Benton, Illinois, made famous as the “last stop” for Southern Illinois gangster, Charlie Birger, who was hanged there in April 1928 for the murder of West City mayor Joe Adams. Spend the late night hours looking for the ghosts of this historic -- and very haunted -- old jail with a limited number of ghost hunters during a private ghost hunt. Find out if the place is really as haunted as so many people claim and perhaps come face to face with one of the former occupants of the place! The evening will include a historic tour of the jail followed by a ghost hunt at a place that has been called one of the most haunted places in Southern Illinois. The night begins at 7:00 p.m. and continues until 1:00 a.m. -- unless you get too scared to continue! Don't miss out on this chilling night at a place where gangster history lives on!
The former Franklin County Jail was built in 1905 to replace the county’s previous jail, which was built in the 1840s after the county seat was moved to Benton. The building also included the sheriff’s residence, an arrangement that allowed for the sheriff to continuously watch the prisoners.
In April 1928, the jail became the temporary home to its most famous occupant — Southern Illinois bootlegger and gangster, Charlie Birger. Charlie had been selling bootleg liquor, running gambling houses and speakeasies for years. He had shot and killed a number of men, and had been fighting an all-out, guns in the streets, bullets flying everywhere war with the Shelton brothers for the past several years. But it was ordering the murder of Joe Adams, mayor of West City, Illinois, that earned him a death sentence at his trial. Several appeals, and even a fake insanity plea, dragged the case out, but by April 1928, Charlie's fate had been sealed.
All through the night of April 18, people crowded into Benton in the hope that they might see the execution. Thanks to Charlie’s notoriety, a county fair atmosphere pervaded the town. Thousands of people jammed the streets, although only a few hundred of them actually had tickets to the execution. As the night passed, Birger talked to his jailers, to newspapermen, to his rabbi, and to his attorneys. He talked about his life, his crimes, his years in the army, his boyhood growing up, and even about his first wife, who was, he said, the best of the four women he married, even though he didn’t have enough sense to know it when he married her. To the very end, Birger denied that he had planned the murder for which he was about to die. In spite of this, he did not resent anyone for it. He admitted, “They’ve accused me of a lot of things I was never guilty of, but I was guilty of a lot of things which they never accused me of, so I guess we’re about even.”
Early on the morning of April 19, Birger ate a hearty breakfast. When the barber entered his cell to shave him, his hand shook so badly that he could not continue. Birger gently took the razor and went over his face himself. He dressed in a gray suit, a tan shirt, and dark striped tie. When the doctor offered him a sedative to calm him down, Birger refused it.
At 9:30 a.m., surrounded by guards, he left his cell. As he passed other guards in the corridors, he wished them well in a voice that held no hint of nervousness. With a smile, he walked briskly to the gallows and mounted the steps. He laughed and joked with the officials on the platform and when the sun came out from behind some clouds, he turned his face to it. He grinned as he spoke, “It’s a beautiful world.”
And those became the last words of a man who had become, in his lifetime, a larger-than-life Illinois character. Those near the scaffold said that he was still smiling when the black hood was placed over his head. The hangman fastened the noose and the sheriff sprang the trap. A few minutes later, Charlie Birger was dead.
But, of course, that was not the end of the jail. It remained in use until 1990, when a new jail was constructed after the state condemned the original building. It’s since been renovated by the Franklin County Historic Preservation Society, which turned it into a historic museum.
The past remains alive at the old Franklin County Jail — in more ways that one.
According to renovation staff, who did the initial work restoring the building, and to visitors who have come to see the place where Charlie Birger breathed his last, things are not always peaceful at the former jail. It seems that spirits from the past still linger at this historic place. Voices are heard, along with footsteps, rattling sounds, banging, and knocking and some claim to have seen the apparitions of prisoners from yesterday, who remain behind, even after death.
Brave enough to explore the haunted confines of this old jail? If so, we’ll see you there!