the haunting of Eastern State Penitentiary

Cell block 7

Cellblock 7 at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Cell block 7

Cellblock 7 at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A stairwell in Cell block 7

A stairwell in cellblock 7 at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A cell in Cell block 4.

An old cell in cellblock 4 at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Al Capone's cell in Cell block 8

Al Capone’s luxurious cell in cellblock 8 at Eastern State Penitentiary.

Cell block 7

Cellblock 8 at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The original door to the synagogue in Cell block 7

The original synagogue door in cellblock 7 at Eastern State Penitentiary.

The alley between Cell block 11 and 14.

The alley between cellblocks 11 and 14 at Eastern State Penitentiary.

A window in the intake office.

An intake office window at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The exterior walls and battlements of the penitentiary.

The exterior walls and battlements of Eastern State Penitentiary.

Several months ago, Patty and I visited the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The prison, which was designed by British architect John Haviland, opened in 1829. Originally, Haviland planned for 256 cells but by the time the prison closed in 1971, there were 980 cells.

Eastern State Penitentiary is considered to be one of the most haunted places in America according to several sources. It has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted Live, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and MTV’s Fear. Several visitors, staff, former guards and inmates, all tell the same stories of hearing voices, footsteps, whispers and cries, as well as seeing shadowy figures and ghostly faces in the halls during the prison’s 142-year history.

One of the most famous ghost stories featured on the prison’s audio tour is about Gary Johnson, a locksmith who worked at Eastern State in the 1990’s. Johnson claims he was repairing a broken lock in cellblock 4 when he encountered a “negative, horrible energy” that pushed past him.

Although Eastern State had a death row, no executions ever occurred at the prison. However, life within its stone walls was difficult and many prisoners died from suicide, mental illness, disease, murder and torture. Some people believe that many of these prisoners still haunt the cellblocks.

Approximately 75,000 men and women did time at Eastern State including gangster, Al Capone. He was arrested outside of Philadelphia for carrying a concealed, unlicensed gun. Capone was sentenced to a year at Eastern State and served eight months in 1929. He lived in a luxurious cell with furniture and a radio. He also had his tonsils removed in the prison’s hospital the same year.

Several movies and music videos have been filmed at Eastern State Penitentiary including: 12 Monkeys starring Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe and Brad Pitt; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen starring Shia Labeouf, Megan Fox and Josh Duhamel; and Tina Turner’s “One of the Living”.

Eastern State Penitentiary was named a national historic landmark in 1965 and the Pennsylvania Prison Society opened it for tours in 1994. More than 200,000 people visit the prison every year.

Patty and I enjoyed our tour at Eastern State. We spent hours exploring the cellblocks, the old bocce courts and baseball diamond. We also peeked in the original synagogue and The Hole, or solitary confinement area, and we never experienced any paranormal activity at the prison. Instead, we were fascinated with the aesthetic beauty of its decaying, gothic architecture.

-scott weaver

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