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The Haunting of Eastern State Penitentiary

Updated on June 17, 2013
Aerial of Eastern State
Aerial of Eastern State

Anyone who is familiar with the paranormal has most likely heard of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The prison was opened in October of 1829 and was considered to be the world’s first penitentiary and at the time it was the most expensive structure built for public use. Along with being the most expensive, it was also the largest structure and was built to accommodate 300 inmates in separate quarters; this too was a revolutionary innovation. Dubbed the “Pennsylvania System” having inmates be segregated from one another was supposed to promote rehabilitation rather than punishment; it was also required at that time for the warden of the jail to visit every inmate, everyday. The guards themselves were required to also visit the inmates three times daily to promote “rehabilitation.”

Eastern State was closed in 1971 and had long since rid itself of the “Pennsylvania System” of individual cells for its inmates due to extensive overcrowding. But the prison was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1966 and is often most notorious today due to its abundance of paranormal activity. The prison did however house some of the most notorious inmates, such as Willie Sutton who along with 11 other inmates spent a year digging a 93 foot long tunnel under the wall and managed to escape. The two most famous occupants of the penitentiary however were Pep, “The cat-murdering dog,” sentenced to life imprisonment in 1924 by Governor Gifford Pinchot for murdering his wife’s beloved cat, and Al Capone.

Al Capone
Al Capone
Al Capone Cell
Al Capone Cell

It was rumored that Al Capone would often be heard talking and screaming for “Jimmy” to leave him alone. Jimmy is the infamous James Clark, whose real name was Albert Kachellek, who was second in command for George “Bugs” Moran. This slaughter was better known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre where seven men lost their lives. Capone, however, was not charged with murder, he was charged with “carrying a concealed deadly weapon,” and bargained his jail time down so that in the end he spent about a year in prison, and calling it a prison for him was stretching it. Capone was allowed to furnish his cell with Oriental rugs, several fine pieces of furniture, paintings and even a radio. But nonetheless was he a man tortured by a ghost or was it his own demons that caused his cries in the night.

Inside Eastern
Inside Eastern
Mad Chair
Mad Chair

It should not be surprising that Eastern State is believed to be one of the most haunted places in the United States, even though it was supposed to be a “rehabilitation” penitentiary it had some of the worst punishments given to any inmate. The “Hole” was under cell block 14 and essentially was nothing more than a hole in the ground where inmates could be kept anywhere from days to weeks, where they would have to fight off rodents for a slice of bread or a drink of water, if it was given at all. The “Mad Chair” was seen on Ghost Adventures when they did an investigation of the penitentiary, the chair, that looks a lot like an old fashioned dentist’s chair, bore leather straps that were used to strap an inmate tightly in place making it near to impossible for the inmate to move. Food and water were often withheld during the inmates stay in the chair and it was not unusual for circulation to almost cease due to lack of movement causing many inmates limbs to begin to turn blue and for all feeling to be lost.

Inside Eastern State
Inside Eastern State
Eastern State Welcomes You!
Eastern State Welcomes You!

Two of the most often feared punishments in the prison was that of water torture and the Iron Gag. Water torture was more prevalent during the winter months as it was deemed most effective then as an inmate was dunked into a vat of ice cold water and then “hung to dry” as it were, often resulting in the inmate being encased in a layer of ice by morning. The Iron Gag on the other hand was most definitely the most sadistic of tortures and suspected to have killed more inmates than the other “punishment” methods combined. The Iron Gag was an instrument that was attached to the inmates tongue; it was then connected to chains which were then connected to the inmate’s wrist shackles. The inmates arms would then be shackled high behind their backs making an movement extremely painful and it was known that inmates had bled out while in this contraption, how many died is not known.

For those with a yearning for adventure of the paranormal kind, tours are given at the penitentiary daily and there is also one of the more famous haunted attractions available during the Halloween season. Personally it is scary enough to go inside as the energy is almost palpable and it is non-stop eerie from start to finish making the tourist wish for sunshine and a shower before the tour is done. Would you ever consider visiting Eastern State Penitentiary? How about a sleep-over?


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      THX that's a great anresw!

    • JesadaB profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Home!

      Thank you so much WiccanSage, glad you enjoyed it!

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      5 years ago

      I totally agree. Prisons, psych hospitals, etc. are such ripe places for hauntings, with all the negative emotions and pain, it's all so intense and just builds up. Even if you're just a little sensitive, walking through such a place can be quite a potent emotionally distressing experience. Good job with this hub.

    • JesadaB profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Home!

      Thanks bac2 and Angie, yes just the pictures seem to give you the willies lol...and I am to the point of not being surprised anymore Angie, I have done enough of these Hubs and researched many others and it seems all of them whether a prison, hospital or institution or some sort all committed some form of torture or just out right cruelty.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 

      6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Fascinating hub, Jessada … it always amazes me how cruel these institutions were and not so long ago either.

    • bac2basics profile image


      6 years ago from Spain

      No, can´t say I would like to visit this place, looking at the pictures was scary enough, screams and cries can almost be heard from them.

    • JesadaB profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Home!

      Thanks Shelley! Yeah it is amazing the feeling that pictures can convey. I can get shivers just looking through some of them, very interesting place though, and there is often many noises that can be heard that makes you look at whoever you are with and be like "did you hear that?" lol very cool! Thanks again!

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting story, I was totally intrigued. You said the energy is palpable when walking through the place, and looking at the pictures, I could actually feel it. Up, interesting and awesome.


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