Florence: Home to Arizona's WWII Camp & State Prison
In the middle of the Desert of Pinal County, Arizona, sits a city of roughly 23,000 residences. In the middle of town is the largest Arizona State Prison complex, and an unspoiled Main Street where the movie “Murphy’s Romance” was filmed. It is one of the oldest municipalities in the county and has over 100 structures listed on the National Historic Registry.
Just north of Florence was located a huge prisoner of war camp for German and Italian detainees seized during the North Africa movement and called, “Camp Florence”. This World War II site was built in 1942-43 and is the biggest prisoner of war complex ever built on American land. Thousands of POW’s were held in this 5 acre compound which had a barracks, a hospital, a bakery, a swimming pool, athletic fields, and a few theaters. The men even earned money by performing different tasks within the camp.
Camp Florence had around 13,000 prisoners by December of 1945. In 1946 it was deemed a “surplus” and in 1948 it became a state hospital and incarceration center for first time criminals. They moved most of the POW quarters to Queen Creek, AZ and used them for elementary schoolrooms. Today it stands as a location for the Florence Public Health Service Clinic, serving the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Also located in Florence is the Arizona State Prison Complex also known as Florence State Prison, and is one of 13 prisons in Arizona. Built in 1908, the Florence State Prison was to be a substitute for the territorial prison in Yuma. During its construction, the prisoners resided in tents until the facility was completed. One of the more distinctive parts of this place was a chamber that was located above the death row cells known as the “death chamber”. A prisoner was marched up there, had a noose put around his neck, stood on the trap door, and fell to the room below. Some died instantly but others were not as lucky and suffered for several minutes until their last breath. Because of a mishap while hanging an inmate, in 1933 they replaced hanging with the gas chamber. Many of the highways and bridges around the state were built by the Florence prisoners who were considered a discounted labor resource.
There are stories about the prison being haunted by those men that died either by hanging, gas, or in the hands of other inmates. In 1973, two officers, Buckley and Morey, were murdered by inmates in ASP Cellblock 3 during a riot. The men were punched and stabbed many times until they died. Some of the strange occurrences in that have been reported in this section of the prison are of all the cellblock doors being found opened by the guards after the inmate counts and shutting all the doors. Doors have been heard by many constantly opening and closing along with unexplained cold spots. Misty figures have been seen at the end of the corridors of the cellblock. There is one note of interest; this cellblock is located in the same prison as the death house, which is known to be very haunted. The claims in the death house are seeing ghostly figures, loud screams, and other disembodied sounds. Some of the guards don’t like to find themselves in the death house, especially alone at night.