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The Odd Truth, Oct. 31, 2002

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Big House Haunts

HUNTSVILLE, Texas - Haunting tales abound at the oldest prison in Texas -- where the ghosts don't wait for Halloween.

Inmates at the Huntsville Unit say they sometimes hear strange noises.

Some talk about people flitting through walls, or appearing briefly in the musty darkness.

The prison is known informally as the Walls Unit. It got the name for the some 20-foot red brick walls that surround the place.

The state's first prison was established in 1848. It accepted its first prisoners one year later -- and today, it houses about 15,00 convicts.

The unit has been the site of 285 executions since Texas resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1982.

Warden Neill Hodges dismisses the ghost stories. He says old buildings tend to pop and creak.

Creepy, Crawly Capitol

RALEIGH, N.C. — They haven't quite called in the ghost-busters, but the state has given the OK for a paranormal screening of the old state Capitol.

Staffers at the Capitol say they have heard floorboards creak with invisible footsteps, keys jangle and doors squeak open and shut.

"To be honest with you, I've always made it a rule to be out of the building at quitting time," said Raymond Beck, the Capitol historian. "I've had enough of those strange vibes here that I don't like sticking around after it gets dark."

Researchers from the Ghost Research Foundation will give the 162-year-old landmark where the governor has his offices a "spectral inspection," using infrared cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and audio recorders.

The Capitol has gone through a number of night watchmen who begged off the duty after one night of creepy noises, Beck said. But Owen J. Jackson, 84, managed the job for 12 years before retiring in 1990.

Strains of gospel hymns, the thump-thump-thumps that followed him down stairs and the angry slams of doors never bothered him, Jackson said.

"You get used to something like that," Jackson said. "I think there's a couple million dollars buried somewhere there, and they're just trying to tell us where it was."

That's A Lot Of Pumpkin Pie

KENOVA, W.Va. — It started innocently enough: Ric Griffith carved a few pumpkins to fill his porch and teach his daughters about Halloween.

As his children grew, so did the project.

Twenty-four years and 14,226 pumpkins later, Griffith's annual Halloween display of carved jack-o-lanterns has reached a new plateau. This year, 2,624 pumpkins will create a lighting display that can be seen across the Ohio River.

"It has a magical effect on people," says Griffith, a pharmacist and president of Kenova's City Council. "The response both amazes and amuses me."

He expects more than 10,000 visitors to flock to Kenova, a town of 3,485 on the Ohio River, to visit the house. On Halloween, a police officer directs traffic along his street.

What began with four pumpkins was up to 12 in 1979 and swelled to 800 by 1997 during what Griffith calls his "days of minimal insanity."

"Because of people's reaction, it jumped into an obsessive-compulsive disorder."

Griffith has spent $1,000 to wire his front lawn with electrical outlets; only about 20 pumpkins are lit with candles. Eventually, he would like to move the display to the former Ceredo-Kenova High School and get the whole town involved.

"This is crazy," Griffith said. "But it's one of the prices of my lunacy."

Filthy Rich

WASHINGTON - A national women's organization says a lot of big corporations are getting filthy rich from the pornography business.

In a new report, Concerned Women for America says companies such as AT&T, MCI, Echostar and Direct TV earn hundreds of million dollars by distributing X-rated material.

CWA chief counsel Jan LaRue says major credit card companies are involved as well. She points out that the logos of Visa, Mastercard and American Express all appear on hard-core pornography Web sites.

LaRue says her organization is writing to the CEOs of various organizations and asking them to get out of the porn business.

Vibrator Ruling Leaves Alabama Buzzing

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama is buzzing -- about a court ruling that legalizes vibrators. Attorney General Bill Pryor is appealing a federal court ruling that overturns the state's sex toy ban. A federal judge tossed out the sex toy prohibition, saying it violates the constitutional right to privacy. The law was challenged by six women who either sell sex aids or say they need them for gratification.

Not Exactly The Birdman Of Alcatraz

TEXARKANA, Ark. — A man who escaped from jail in Texas didn't get far.

A sheriff spotted Jason Ward, 29, of Texarkana, at a friend's house shortly after his escape.

Ward escaped from the Bowie County Correctional Center Wednesday morning, apparently climbing over a 9-foot wall topped with razor wire, investigators said.

Sheriff James Prince got a tip that Ward might be headed for a friend's house so the sheriff went there and waited.

"He came walking up to the front door," Prince said.

The sheriff called police and they caught Ward after chasing him on foot. Ward, had been held on a failure-to-appear charge in a drug case, was arrested on an escape charge.

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