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Escape the Old Jail lets people act like a prisoner all for a cause

Escape the Old Jail lets people act like a prisoner all for a cause

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Those who want to feel like a criminal without the rap sheet can take part in Franklin County Historical Society’s fundraiser Escape the Old Jail.

The society’s location at 175 E. Franklin St. in downtown Chambersburg is the original jail of the borough. It was built in 1818; an annexed section was added in 1880.

Neil Rensch, Franklin County Historical Society board member and volunteer, said the prison was in operation from 1818 until the 1970s. Next year the jail will recognize its 200th anniversary.

To help defray costs and support the capital campaign fund, the historical society decided to host Escape the Old Jail as a fundraiser. Rensch and his wife have attended other local escape rooms and thought this would be a great way to bring people to the Old Jail while raising funds, as well.

And it looks as if the community wants to be able to escape. Originally, the event was supposed to run for two weeks in November this weekend and next weekend, but  as of press time Wednesday there is only one slot left for November, 4 to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10.

Because of popular demand, the historical society has expanded it for several dates in December (see if you go box for dates).

Rensch said they might even extend the escape rooms into January and February, depending on the popularity of the event. 

Escape rooms are becoming more frequent across the country. To play, a group of people are locked in a room of some sort and use clues figure how to get out. The Old Jail event will run similarly. 

“People come in the front door and are treated basically like prisoners, and then they’ll be led back to the 1880 part of the jail and be locked in one of the jails,” he said. “Their objective is to be out of the cell and be able to get out in the cell block.”

And, he said, visitors need to get out in just an hour.

The cell blocks are tight and would usually hold one to two prisoners during most of the time the jail was active, until the 1970s when growth created a need for prisoners to be moved to a larger facility. 

That’s why, Rensch said, four to six people in a group are allowed in the cell at a time. The cost is $20 per person.

“I think it will be challenging for people and they will get to experience what a jail would be like in the 1880s,” he said.

And it’s because of that history that he would like people to come out and support the Franklin County Historical Society. 

“The jail has been here since 1818, it’s part of Chambersburg history, and if you’re from Chambersburg you should feel proud of this because there are very few existing jails in the whole United States that is this old,” he said. 

If you go ...

WHAT: Escape the Old Jail
WHEN: See slots below
Where: Franklin County Historical Society, 125 E. King St., Chambersburg, Pa.
COST:  $20 per person; four to six in a group 
CONTACT: Must make a reservation for a slot by calling 717-264-1667

Available slots, as of press time Wednesday: 

• Friday, Nov. 10 — 4 to 5 p.m.
• Friday, Dec. 8, Saturday, Dec. 9;  Sunday, Dec. 10
• Friday, Dec. 15, Saturday, Dec. 16 and  Sunday, Dec. 17
Call 717-264-1667 to reserve any of these spots. Payment is due upon reservation.

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