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21Country: The Columbia City Haunted Jail

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WPTA21) - In 1875, one of the finest buildings in Indiana was built: the new Whitley County Jail.

The first jail, constructed of logs, burned down. 

The second sat on the land now home to present City Hall.

And with a price tag of $34,486, the third jail cost nearly seven times more than the one before it.

But it would only be a few years before a man would escape the elaborate building, and be put to death and displayed in front of it.

Photos courtesy of the Whitley County Historical Museum

Paul Harrington, who owns the jail now, shared part of its violent past.

“We have our local legend, which is Charles Butler getting hung,” he began. “He shot his wife — killed her. The short story is, they put him in the jail, he escaped, they caught him, and then there was a state sanctioned hanging.”

“They built the gallows, and then they hung him,” he continued. “The legends is that his ghost still stalks the jail.”

Documents of that event, include a ticket to the hanging, dated October 10, 1884.

Harrington bought the property, and turned it into a business: The Columbia City Haunted Jail.

Every halloween season, its a hot spot for customers to purposely be scared!

“It’s an activity we do to get your adrenaline going,” he said. “We design sets and gags to get you to jump, scream, laugh — maybe sometimes pee your pants.”

“We’re not one of those haunts that jumps out and grab you — we’re a no-touch haunt,” he clarified. “Things will touch you, but nothing alive will touch you.”

Harrington works on the haunt nearly all-year long. 

As soon as the season wraps up, he begins redesigning so customers can experience something different the next year.

He’s also an airbrush artist, and finds his two passions mesh nicely.

“I’m originally from New Orleans, so I’m a big voodoo, Mardi Gras guy,” he told us. “It was just a natural mesh for me to get all the art, and the voodoo, and the scares. I feel like I’m home when I’m here.”

In 2019, the Columbia City Haunted Jail was ranked #5 in the country by USA Today.

“It was the biggest honor we’ve had,” Harrington explained. “The writers come through and go through every haunt in the area they can get their hands on. We got nominated in the top 20 and then it goes to a national vote, and the people decide.”

“When the vote finally came to fruition, we ended up number five nationally,” he added. “We absolutely try to live up to it, every minute.”

You can find the haunt's open dates here.

Hours of operation are 7-9pm on Sunday-Thursday & 7-11pm on Friday and Saturday.

If you need something a little less terrifying, or fun for the entire family, Kid’s Haunted Jail is Oct. 17, 24, & 31 from 4-6 p.m.

Author Profile Photo

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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