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Just a pinch: Territorial prison spawns legend of a ghostly girl
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Little girls who go around pinching tourists would usually get themselves kicked out of public places.
But the dead are so difficult to evict.
Just ask visitors to Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park who have toured the infamous Dark Cell — and dared to wear red. For years, people have reported feeling pinched by cold, unseen fingers, which a local legend says belong to a little girl who died nearby as she was looking for her doll.
Jesse Torres knows the story well. The Yuma man served as manager of the celebrated old prison for nearly three decades. He also handled more than one complaint from visitors whose otherwise lovely visit was perturbed by a pinch.
“The story goes that during the Great Depression, there were lots of people making their way to California, which turned them around if they didn't have money or jobs. A lot of people did go to live at the (then abandoned) prison,” Torres said. “The story goes that one family took up residence inside the Dark Cell.”
For people not familiar with the prison's most-storied cell, worst offenders were housed inside back in the day, bound in shackles and locked inside a relatively small cage. Another legend says that modern-day visitors have never been able to bear more than 48 hours inside the cell.
“I guess the little girl was outside playing with her doll, which had a little red dress, when the doll fell into the Colorado River,” Torres said. “The doll fell in and then the little girl fell in — and drowned. Now the story goes that anyone who visits the Dark Cell and wears red, she touches them or pinches them to make her presence known.”
Torres loves this story and told it many times during his years at the prison, but there's only one slight catch: He doesn't believe a word of it.
“I worked at the prison for 27 years and never once did I hear or see a ghost,” he said, adding that employees over the years reported various sightings, however. “Mostly, I think people just have active imaginations. You visit an old, abandoned prison and you start seeing things that aren't there.”
But Torres, who says he's led around many a visiting ghost hunter in his time at the prison, says he still loves a good story and he happily supports everyone else in believing in all things otherworldly.
“I think people like to live vicariously. They want to believe that maybe there is something after death. I think if you don't believe in ghosts, you aren't going to see a ghost. But if you like this type of story, you're more inclined to see a phantasm, I think.”