Old jails are full of intrigue, especially when they’re reputed to be haunted. A few weekends ago, we stopped in to see Barnstable’s “old gaol,” a small, 17th century building now located behind the Trayser Museum on Route 6A. The jail, which was moved in 1972 from a previous spot on, you guessed it: Old Jail Lane, is considered the oldest wooden jail in America. Used during the 20th century as a barn, its historic importance wasn’t realized until 1968, when the owner found a plank engraved with the message, “W. Bartlett 13d October 1698 and 27d he was let out.”
We were met at the jail by Derek Bartlett, founder of Cape and Islands Paranormal Research Society, which oversees the property. He showed us around the rustic building, noting other interesting wall carvings possibly doodled by bored prisoners. The jail was a holding cell for the usual 18th-and-19th-century ne’er-do-wells, but its most notorious prisoners were buccaneers from the pirate ship, Whydah, which sank in 1717.
Bartlett said there have been reports of apparitions and voices, the usual ghostly stuff. He’s a professional ghost hunter, who with his team from CAIPRS, investigates paranormal sightings throughout the region. They also lead various Haunted Cape Cod walking tours, and Barnstable Village seems to be Ground Zero for many haunted sites.
The old gaol is also Ground Zero for a new geocache, “Ye Olde Jaol House.” It’s a tiny micro-cache hidden in plain sight. Most geocachers find it right away, but for some reason I seemed to look right over it until I phoned a friend. Maybe it was paranormal interference.
After finding “Ye Olde Jaol House,” I went in search of a traditional geocache located a mile or so away in the Jail Lane Preserve, called “Old Jail House.” There obviously was a connection between the two sites. This second cache is off of a quiet trail in a town conservation area, where the old jail previously stood. There have been reports of apparitions here, too, but it looked like typical Cape Cod woods on a Saturday afternoon.
Who knows what you’ll find geocaching: A hidden trail? A secret beach? A little-known nugget of history? Or maybe, ghosts?