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Haunted Places: Eastern State Penitentiary, PA

Updated on July 9, 2012
Diagram of the pentagon model of prison architecture, designed to segregate and confine inmates 24 hours a day
Diagram of the pentagon model of prison architecture, designed to segregate and confine inmates 24 hours a day

If you've ever seen the episode of "Ghost Hunters" on SciFi where they visit Eastern State Penitentiary, you'll recall the shadowy figure they caught on video up on the catwalk. Apparently this particular catwalk, like a number of other locations within the prison, is a hotbed of paranormal activity. When my mother, my sister and I visited the penitentiary in 2004, we caught not one, but two EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) in the exact same spot. We were up by ourselves on the stairs that lead to the (now closed off) catwalk, snapping a few photos, when a voice came through sternly instructing us, "You don't have to take a damn picture." Just moments later, the same voice manifested again, this time forlornly stating, "I'm lonely..."

Eastern State Penitentiary, located in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was built in 1829 and designed to hold 250 prisoners, but was estimated to have held up to 1,700 at it's height in 1913. Built on the pentagon prison model, Eastern State has five wings which all extend outwards from a central point, similar to a wagon wheel. Believing that criminal activity was a product of one's environment, the building's structure sought to rehabilitate inmates through "confinement in solitude with labor." The prison is best known for housing famous mobster Al Capone in 1929, who insisted he was haunted by the ghost of James Clark, the brother-in-law of Capone's rival, murdered in the St. Valentine's Day massacre. Fellow inmates reported hearing Capone screams nightly, begging "Jimmy" to go away and leave him alone.

After it closed in 1970, Eastern State was virtually abandoned for 21 years, until it was selected for historic preservation and reconstruction began in 1991. Although it is open during the day for guide-led or self-led tours, Eastern State is also available at night for the hardcore ghost hunters willing to pay $10 each for a private, orvernight investigation. The only downside is you must have a minimum of 20 people in your group in order to gain access to the building overnight, which is offered only on selected days in September, October and November.

As early as the 1940s employees and prisoners alike began reporting unusual activity within the prison's walls. But by now the sightings have increased a hundredfold. In 1951, the prison began to house more violent criminals such as murderers and rapists and this fact, combined with the prison's history of using physical torture as a form of punishment, have both contributed to it's being haunted. In addition to the catwalk I mentioned above, voices, laughter and cackling have also been heard in the restricted Cellblock 12 area. Other active areas include Cellblock 6, where shadowy figures have been seen against the walls, and Cellblock 4, where ghostly faces have been spotted. Visitors have reported hearing footsteps in the long, dark corridors and wails that seem to originate from the secluded cells.

One of the most popular ghost stories comes from a locksmith named Gary Johnson who was at the prison to do some restoration work on a particular cell door when he had the sudden feeling that he was being watched. When he finally turned around, he witnessed a large, black shadow jump out of a nearby cell and leap into the cell across from it. Another common ghost sighting takes place in a guard tower high atop the prison's confining brick walls. The figure is thought to be some former prison guard, destined to stand watch over his wards for eternity. While some paranormal encounters give the spectator a sense of peace and benevolence, the spirits at Eastern State are usually angry and malevolent.


View from the catwalk of the now restricted two-story Cellblock 12
View from the catwalk of the now restricted two-story Cellblock 12 | Source
Stairs leading up to the catwalk where we caught the EVPs
Stairs leading up to the catwalk where we caught the EVPs | Source
Al Capone's cell restored to it's original state
Al Capone's cell restored to it's original state | Source
Courtyard watchtower where a figure, possibly a former guard, has been spotted
Courtyard watchtower where a figure, possibly a former guard, has been spotted | Source

"Night Visitors" take on Eastern State


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    • profile image

      jaja 5 years ago


    • rc-x3 profile image

      rc-x3 5 years ago from Romania

      The way the prisoners were forced to stay in deadly silence was cruel. And the tortures if they hadn't keep quiet... I don't want to think about it. It's just not human. I don't think those people would get penitence for their crimes. And let's not forget that there weren't only murders and trespassers there.Innocent children, women and men were also inprisoned there. It is just awful. It is a very dark part of the history of the US. And the part that some ghosts are tormenting the place, it is just fascinating. I have never seen a ghost before. But who knows? I want to visit 'haunted' places so badly. I want to visit this Penitentiary, Salem (the city with the greatest witchcraft kills in the US) or The Tower of London sometimes in the future. These paranormal stories fascinate me quite a lot.

    • profile image

      raul 6 years ago

      really dum that gost are reall

    • Peter Leeper profile image

      Peter Leeper 6 years ago from Londonderry, New Hampshire

      great hub! I am from that area of the country and love to hear about haunted places. Have you ever read the book about the haunted places of berks county pa? It is a good read and goes through a lot of well known "scary" places!

    • profile image

      o----o-----o 6 years ago

      Ghosts aren't real.

    • profile image

      zaan 6 years ago

      wow this is scary

    • profile image

      huhub 6 years ago

      wow people.......

    • profile image

      billy 7 years ago

      i love vera

    • profile image

      billy 7 years ago

      oke al capone was ,

    • profile image

      I,LOVE,ADAM 7 years ago

      I am soo into ghosts and stuff and I really really want to go here. My parents wont take me because for one, we live to far away and two, they don't believe in ghosts. I had an experience with spirits before, that's why I believe in them. But this place seems like the real deal and I think it would be amazing to go there!! The only Penitentiary Ive ever been to is the Moundsville Pen. in WV. It was amazing and I loved every minute. But this place seems even scarier and I want to experience that sooo bad. Thanks for listening.

    • profile image

      Raina 7 years ago

      I was there 4 days ago

      i heard strange noises when i was on the catwalk

      i am very into ghosts and things like that but

      i am scared of seeing one right infront of my eyes

      it was really interesting though i likes death row the best.!

    • profile image

      Max Bread 7 years ago

      i was there just last week

      and i didn't hear anything.

    • profile image

      Allie Hunt 8 years ago

      i hav a pic of a ghost at eastern state penn. It was what it looked like a demon of al capone.

    • profile image

      Sabrina 8 years ago

      I'm going for my seventh grade trip!

    • profile image

      sierra 8 years ago

      wow we are going there for our 6th grade trip I cant wait!!!!!

    • profile image

      pieman 9 years ago

      i wanna visit this place sooooooooo bad u seen ghost show aboutit?omg so freaky!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      George 9 years ago

      My friend lives a block away and takes his dog there to shit on the lawn. No kidding!

    • profile image

      kaitlyn  9 years ago

      hi im goin to eastern state on sumday october 26 2008 im so scared its my 2nd time going but the first time i dindnt know it was huanted soit wasn't that bad so wish me luck that i don't get possesed or die or something.

    • profile image

      Amandabeet 9 years ago

      I visited Eastern State 1 week ago. It is sureal. Energy is strong, easy to imagine lonelyness and stark feelings. I highly recommend taking the tour there.

    • RavynSteel profile image

      RavynSteel 10 years ago from North Wales

      I'd love to visit this place - not just because of the ghosts but I just love abandoned places, espcially prisons and mental hospitals! I just wish I lived in the US...

    • profile image

      dianacampbell 10 years ago

      Hello! I like this hub. Very amusing and interesting with lots of facts about haunted places. Five stars to you! Been reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys and wants to become a private detective too. I like to investigate this haunted places. Here's a lens that I like lens about private investigation facts and links that I found very helpful. Check this to find out more.

    • profile image

      scooby_doo847 10 years ago

      i"ve been there too i went on a feild trip there when i was 16 but i did not see nothing but my sister went about a year before me and it took her about two years to get over what she saw today shes 32 and she still won't talk about what she saw if i had to i would not go back there just because of what my sister is still scared of i try to get her to tell me but she won't so i guess i'll never know what scared her so bad .

    • wolfcreekgal profile image

      wolfcreekgal 10 years ago from Sheridan

      I like your postings. They are all really informative and cool. Would you mind telling me what you think of mine? Thanks!

    • becauseilive profile image

      becauseilive 10 years ago from N.J.

      Murphspal, I never heard or saw anything either while I was there. It wasn't until I got home and reviewed the audio tapes that I discovered the (several) voices.

    • profile image

      murphspal 10 years ago

      I've been there and never saw or heard anything.

    • becauseilive profile image

      becauseilive 10 years ago from N.J.

      Thanks! Me too, I love anything paranormal, particularly ghosts. I have to say, I wasn't THAT much of a believer until I started accompanying my mom to cemeteries at dusk and picking up voices on our audio recorder that I KNOW for a fact were not anywhere around us. We were in the middle of nowhere, just me and her, so how the hell did a man's voice come through saying "We must wait til they go home"???

    • ChristineRitter profile image

      ChristineRitter 10 years ago from Ohio

      WOW ! That is so very creepy ! Very interseting ! I'm so into this kind of unexplained phenomena. Thanks !


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