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The Haunted Eastern State Penitentiary

Updated on September 10, 2019

What is it?

The Eastern State Penitentiary is located in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. This is one of the most historic prisons and held many infamous criminals of its time such as “Slick Willie” Sutton and even “Scarface” Al Capone.
This beautiful Gothic building opened on October 25, 1829, and now sits in ruins. It was designed by architect John Haviland and was a new system of incarceration. It was called the Pennsylvania system and incorporated separate confinement to help in reforming and rehabilitating the inmates. The design was changed in the middle of construction as the cells only had entrances from the exercise yard and not into the main building itself. They ended up making small metal and wooden doors that opened up into the hallways. The doors were so small it was difficult to get in or out but this design option was to help minimize the chances of inmates attacking the guards. It also was claimed that it forced the inmates to bow to enter or exit their cells to represent penance for their crimes. In each cement cell, they had a single glass skylight that was meant to symbolize that God was always watching.
This building was very advanced for its time as it had plumbing, running water and heat for each cell. Inmates were not allowed to see each other or interact, however, and so they had separate exercise yards with high walls. The original design was for single-story cell blocks but the prison quickly became overcrowded and they needed more cells. After cell block three was built they started to make them two stories high. Cellblock 15 housed the worst behaved of the prisoners and the guards were gated off completely from that block.
Twelve inmates had planned an escape and on April 3, 1945, they succeeded. It was a major breakout for the prison and included inmate William Sutton. Sutton dug an unnoticed 97-foot long tunnel under the prison wall in just a year. A couple years prior in the 1930’s during some renovations they found an astonishing 30 other unfinished escape tunnels dug out by prisoners.
After the prison closed in 1971, it was under the threat of being turned into luxury apartments or even a mall. Luckily it never underwent this change thanks to a petition in 1988 to the Mayor to not redevelop it. In 1994 it was reopened to the public for historic tours even though most of the building is crumbling and is being overtaken by nature.

Church style hallway.
Church style hallway.

Infamous Inmates

Some of the most infamous criminals were held in this prison. Alphonse Capone “Scarface” was a mob boss in Chicago and served just 8 months from 1929 to 1930 for carrying a deadly weapon. His stay was more than accommodating as he had a cabinet radio, rugs, and fine furnishings.
William Francis Sutton “Slick Willie” was said to have robbed over 50 banks and spent 11 years in prison. He had 3 successful prison escapes and was part of the prison break in 1945 but was recaptured just minutes later. He died in 1980.
Victor Andreoli “Babe” arrived in the prison in 1937 for killing a state trooper. He was supposed to serve a life sentence but escaped in 1943 and was caught several weeks later at a diner where he was shot and killed by police.
Morris Bolher “The Rabbi” was one of several leaders in an arsenic murder ring that would find women who would be willing to murder their husbands for insurance money. He was given a life sentence in 1942 and joined the Jewish congregation in the prison. He died in 1954 in the prison.
Freda Frost was serving 20 years for poisoning her husband and was the last female inmate at the prison. She was transferred to the Muncy Industrial Home for Women in 1923.
Leo Callahan is the one in one hundred prisoners that successfully escaped this prison. He was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill. In 1923 he and 5 other inmates built a makeshift wooden latter to scale the walls. His accomplices all got caught but Leo never did.

Al Capone's cell.
Al Capone's cell. | Source

What Makes it Haunted?

As with most prisons, some inmates had life sentences and thus would die of natural causes in their cells. Other prisoners died from the guards ‘punishments’ if they were caught communicating with other inmates. While these were prisoners, this was still horrible and inhumane torture that they had inflicted upon them.

When people die in unfavorable ways it can lead to their souls staying behind for revenge or because they might not know they are dead yet. When the person who dies was already nasty in life then their soul could become aggressive and stay behind.

Paranormal Experiences and Evidence

As far back as the 1940’s guards, prisoners and visitors have claimed to have paranormal stories and had heard eerie sounds. Popular tv shows about the paranormal have gone to this place to investigate and have captured many incidences. The sound of cell doors slamming shut, shadow people, ententes with bags over their heads wondering aimlessly in the hallways, and people have even reported being touched by unseen forces.
Cellblock 4 seems to have a very terrifying cell that almost caused one man to go insane. Gary is a locksmith and when he was doing a restoration job on the prison he had to remove a 140-year-old lock on one of the cell doors. He claimed to have felt a burst of negative energy when trying to open the door. He says his body was paralyzed and he had an out of body moment. He was drawn into the cell and saw hellish images of distorted forms and anguished faces, possibly of the hundreds of prisoners who died on the property. Some people who have heard his story think he may have opened a portal for the spirits that had been trapped in that cell. When questioned about it years later Gary still gets uncomfortable thinking about it.

EVP's in Al Capone's cell

How To Visit

Eastern State Penitentiary is open every day year round from 10 AM to 5 PM. It does cost $14 for an adult general mission tickets but they have discounts online and for groups. The prices are a few dollars more if you buy tickets at the door. You can plan your visit here.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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