Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary – Petros, Tennessee - Atlas Obscura

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Petros, Tennessee

This former maximum-security prison is creepy, sobering, and supposedly haunted. 

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Founded in 1896, Brushy Mountain was a maximum-security prison that housed people convicted of the most serious crimes. The facility was shuttered in 2009 and the buildings have since fallen into disrepair, which only adds to its haunting nature.

With many deaths, murders, and suicides having occurred within the walls of this place it’s no surprise there are reports of its being frequented by spirits. The former prison is now open to visitors as a historic museum, and both regular and paranormal tours of the complex are offered. 

This was the fictional home of Ray McDeere in John Grisham’s book/film The Firm and was the destination of Dr. Hannibal Lecter before he escaped in The Silence of the Lambs. It was the real-life home to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, who briefly escaped in 1977. That escape inspired The Barkley Marathons (the race that eats its young), which usually features the tunnel under the prison as part of the 20-plus mile loop on the 100 mile race.

The main building resembles a medieval castle; the stone for the walls was mined by incarcerated workers from a quarry on the property. The accommodations are sparse and cold—miserable to say the least. Murals and graffiti created by incarcerated people line the cell walls and the mess hall.

A short historical documentary is shown in the museum, narrated by former corrections officers who also share stories of their time at the prison. And being in Tennessee, the property now features a new moonshine distillery, with samples available for those over 21 years old. There is even a restaurant on the property that serves Southern comfort food on metal cafeteria trays.

Know Before You Go

Wear your walking shoes (closed-toe, as there is a lot of rust and jagged concrete). Also bring a sweater if you're prone to getting cold as the inside of the buildings is quite chilly, even in the summer. The property can even be rented for private parties, corporate events, and paranormal investigations.

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