Certain locations scream possessed by ghosts. Old cemeteries and abandoned asylums. Eastern State Penitentiary clearly looks like a haunted prison.
Do the ghosts of past prisoners still roam the halls?
Eastern State Penitentiary is said to be one of the of most haunted places in America. It’s no wonder. When Charles Dickens visited it years after its creation he wrote, “I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers.”
It Began with Good Intentions
Built in 1829 in Philadelphia Eastern State Penitentiary marked the end of public punishment as entertainment. It was one of the most expensive building of its time with seven cell-blocks with 252 apartments. Each cell had heating and plumbing ensuring inmates never interacted with each other.
It was built as a road to repentance for prisoners. It didn’t start off bad. Prisoners had amenities not available to most. They received an education. Each inmate had their own exercise yard. Their cells had a high ceiling and a skylight.
A Life of Solitary Confinement
Designed to keep prisoners isolated, Eastern State Penitentiary sentenced inmates to years of silence and loneliness. Though, prisoners found creative ways to make noise. Some shouted through flushing toilets or banged on pipes.
Unfortunately, this momentary relief from silence brought on punishment. Guards would cover the skylight. During winter, they’d chain the noise-making inmate outside and throw buckets of water on them until ice circles formed. In summer, inmates were strapped to a chair until their legs swelled. Some had a iron gag stuffed in their mouths.
The administration believed silence and isolation were the perfect recipes for prisoner reform.
The Haunted Prison
Eastern State Penitentiary has become a popular spot for paranormal investigators. Ghosts Adventure and Ghost Hunters filmed episodes there. People have heard ghostly cackling in Cellblock 12. Others have seen shadow figures and ghostly faces in Cellblocks 6 and 4.
One of its most famous inmates, Al Capone, said he was haunted by the ghost of a men killed during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Gary Johnson, tasked with maintaining the prison’s locks, claimed he saw tortured faces in one of the cells.
This haunted prison is now a historic site open to the public.
Interested in reading about more haunted locations? Learn about the Pennhurst asylum, also in Pennsylvania.
–Levinson, Martin H. “PRISON NATION.” ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 75, no. 1-2, 2018, p. 83+. Gale Academic OneFile.
–Bell, Richard. “Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America.” Early American Literature, vol. 52, no. 1, 2017, p. 201+. Gale Academic OneFile.
-GRIEST, S. E. (2012). The Torture of Solitary. Wilson Quarterly, 36(2), 22–29.
–Is Eastern State Penitentiary Really Haunted?-NPR-https://www.npr.org/2013/10/24/232234570/is-eastern-state-penitentiary-really-haunted
-Prison of Horror. Travel Channel. https://www.travelchannel.com/interests/haunted/articles/prison-of-horrors