BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) — Long before animatronics and skeletons lined the walls, detention deputies suspected the old county jail in Bartow was haunted.
“In the cameras that were sitting up on the walls, you would see somebody walking in the halls and it’s like 2 in the morning, and so we’d have to go into emergency head counts all the time,” said Lt. Kimbra Wiegert with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Wiegert said the elevators would be called on their own and one hallway was haunted by an inmate named Calvin.
“It was always creepy because you always felt like somebody was right behind you, you know, you had that feeling every time you were in that hallway,” she said.
The jail, which opened in 1962, stopped functioning as a jail in 2000.
In 2010, Wiegert had the idea to transform it into a haunted house for, at first, sheriff’s office employees and their families, to eventually, the general public.
“It was originally though just because I enjoyed watching those paranormal shows. Which is funny because I’m terrified of coming up here by myself. I do not come up here by myself,” she said.
In the 13 years since, it has taken teamwork throughout the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to bring the jump scares and frightful scenes to life.
“I think this house is probably the best it’s ever looked,” said Lt. Jonathan Bowman, who is at the helm of the project this year.
The 15-minute walk through experience changes paths every year.
It includes plenty of gore and dozens of volunteer scare actors.
“For the $15 price point, you’re not going to get a better value for that,” Bowman said.
Each $15 ticket goes to the United Way of Central Florida, which conducted a United Community Needs Assessment last year.
“That assessment brought to our attention that end hunger, financial stability and so many of the things that we’re already providing services for in our community are at a higher need,” said Ileana Kniss with United Way of Central Florida.
The organization disperses $5.5 million a year to 79 partner agencies in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.
United Way of Central Florida expects there to be a $750,000 increase in requests this year.
Bowman said this could be the last time the haunted jail tour is held at this location, as the building is set to be demolished.
“While this building is still standing and we’re able to create these memories, allow these parents to come in and create these memories with these families, and for a cheap cost, I think it’s an excellent idea,” he said.
The tour is open Friday and Saturday from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at the old county jail at 455 North Broadway in Bartow.
There will be sheriff’s office members available to watch children while their parents take the tour.
There will also be a street carnival with arts & crafts booths, a dunk tank, bounce houses, and fun for the entire family.