Gary Crowe laughs at reports that the Old Parish Jail is haunted. His wife lived there for 10 years.

Gary Crowe laughs at reports that the Old Parish Jail is haunted. His wife lived there for 10 years.

Crowe, a retired deputy and currently building and grounds chairman of the Beauregard Parish Police Jury, and Margaret Harper, were married on one Friday the 13th and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on another.

Margaret Harper's parents, Dutch and Verlie Harper, were the jailer and jailhouse cook from 1952 to 1962. They lived in a ground floor apartment in the jail; prisoners were housed on the top two floors.

When her parents were out, Margaret was in charge. She only had a problem once.

"She was 16 when a drunk set fire to the stuffing of a cotton mattress," said Crowe. "Margaret got a water hose and put the fire out."

A spiral staircase connects the floors and goes up to a skylight. The staircase winds back down to a tunnel that connects the jail with the Beauregard Parish Courthouse. Prisoners were once walked through the tunnel for court appearances.

Meals were sent upstairs on a dumbwaiter in the kitchen and served by a trusty - though then, a trusty was called a "run-around."

Crowe said the jail held up to 48 inmates. There usually were two or three women, who were housed separately.

"Prisoners were issued one blanket and one cotton mattress," Crowe said, "and the blanket was washed every 30 days. They had a cup of coffee for breakfast, a hot meal for lunch and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a sweet roll for dinner. If they were smart, they saved the sweet roll for breakfast."

Prisoners drank from stainless steel cups and ate from a bread pan, and the "run- around" was responsible for returning them after meals.

Crowe said for a time, groceries had to be bought daily because there was no refrigerator.

The Gothic-style jail, built in 1913-1914, earned the nickname "the Hanging Jail" in 1928, when Joe Genna of DeRidder and Molton Brasseaux of Sulphur were hanged for the murder of J.J. Brevelle, a DeRidder taxi driver.

The jail, long in disuse, is now in the first phase of renovation by the Beauregard Parish Police Jury.

Jeffrey Robinson, project manager with Insulation Technologies Inc. of Belle Chasse, and Robby Ferguson, president of Breathe Safe Environmental Services in Baton Rouge, arrived last week to work with Lee Ritter of Ritter Consulting Engineers Ltd. in Lafayette, and police jurors.

Robinson is in charge of the asbestos and lead paint abatement, mold remediation, installation of fire systems and the application of structural fireproofing. He has up to 120 days to finish, and estimates it will take about two months.

Ferguson is on hand to ensure state environmental regulations and specifications are followed and to monitor air quality.

Robinson said workers will enclose the jail and install air cleaners and wear protective suits and respirators. He said no one will be allowed in the jail until the work is complete.

Ritter said the project should be completed by August or September.

Robinson said the jail will be primed and painted after the lead and asbestos is removed and restored to a clean rough surface.

Betty Cunningham, administrator and secretary-treasurer for the Police Jury, said police jurors will continue to apply for grants to fund renovations.

She was on hand for the walk-through.

"I am so glad this project is off the ground and moving again," Cunningham saud. "This Gothic-style building is a masterpiece for the city and parish."