Old Allegheny County Jail

There is an old jail in downtown Pittsburgh. It took two years for the Norcross brothers to build our old jail, while the courthouse wouldn’t be finished until 1888. The old jail and the courthouse were connected by a bridge, the “Bridge of Sighs”, across Ross street.


Photo courtsey of PittsburghBeautiful.com


4 short years later famed anarchist Alexander Berkman was held while awaiting trial for attempted murder of H. C. Frick. 10 years after this the condemned brothers Jack and Ed Biddle would escape thanks to the warden’s wife.

You would think this is where the ghost stories begin. But no it’s not.

The site of the jail is also where the Battle of Grant’s Hill waged during the French and Indian war. There are fiver murals, commissioned in the the 1930’s, in the courthouse that depict the war.


Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Art Places

You see the Biddle brothers were seen to be very dangerous, handsome, and rugged. At the time, women went crazy for these convicted murderers. One of those women was the warden’s own wife. Kate Sofel. On January 29, 1902, after Sofel had smuggled guns and saws in to the brothers, they made their daring escape. Two days later the brothers were dead. Kate would go on to spend just 19 months in prison for her crimes. She would end up dying alone in 1910. Her husband and children having abandoned her.

After Kate Sofel died reports of her ghost began to creep up. As the former warden’s wife she was involved with prison affairs. Quite literally with the Biddle brothers as mentioned above. She had a fondness for trying to rehabilitate the men as well as doing basic clerical duties. It’s said that her ghost roams the old jail still shuffling her papers and getting a bit handsy with some of the guards.


It was in 1907 that some of Pittsburgh’s most hardened criminals began to beg for reassignment. They claimed the spirit of an inmate who committed suicide was tormenting them. Who was this inmate? None other than W. A. Culp. He was awaiting trial for murdering his brother. The guilt grew to be too much and he took his own life. Shortly after the suicide is when the prisoners on death row began to complain.

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Photo courtesy of Seeks Ghosts


Have you had an experience in the Old Allegheny County Jail or courthouse? I’d love to hear your experiences!





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