Old Jail House

Old Westminster Jail, Westminster Maryland

Old Westminster Jail

Every small town has to occasionally deal with the rare misdemeanors, public nuisance, or even a criminal. Small jailhouses have been a part of American history since the beginning. They also are popular historical spots for spirits to roam.

The old Carroll County jail was built in 1837 in Westminster. It became the place of an infamous tale told today 7 years later. On Christmas Eve of 1844 a man named Tom Parkes, or Big Tom as he was known as, was arrested for public intoxication, something he was frequently arrested for. Tom was a polite man when he was sober but when he was drunk he was hostile and they would usually need multiple officers to deal with him. That night the sheriff was worried about holding him in such a small jailhouse and talked about moving him to a bigger penitentiary in Baltimore. Tom apparently overheard these discussions which lead to his suicide. There are two different versions of how Tom killed himself. One tale says he got a hold of something sharp and slit his throat. Another version is he managed to hang himself and his weight caused his head to separate from his body while it was hanging.

After Tom’s death, the coroner was interested in Tom’s head. Dr. Fletcher Zollickoffer was a Phrenologist, a person who studies the bumps on the head. Zollickoffer was the founder of Uniontown Scientific, Literary, and Philosophical Society. The last known place of Toms head was at his home located at 3403 Uniontown Rd. His original home was demolished in 1884.

Tom was buried in a cemetery in Westminster without his head. Afterwards spooky stories started circulating that a headless figure has been seen around the jail. People believed it was Big Tom searching for his head. Similar stories were also being told about his gravesite.

The old jail still stands in Westminster today. It became part of the administration office for the Carroll County Sheriff Department in 2013.


Ames,B.(2013) Old Carroll Jail Lands New Tenant [Electronic Version] The Baltimore Sun retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/carroll/

Glass Jr, J. (1982) Ghosts and Legends of Carroll County Maryland. Westminster, MD: Carroll County Public Library.

Okonowicz, E. (2010). The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, PA.

Ricksecker, M. (2010) Ghosts of Maryland. Schiffer Publishing. Atglen, PA.

Uniontown (CARR-179) [Electronic Record]; National Register of Historic Places Inventory- Nomination Form; Records of the Maryland Historical Trust; Maryland State Archives at 21 State Circle, Shaw House, Annapolis, MD 21401