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HAUNTED HISTORY – Eastern State Penitentiary

by Angela Ancarana
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Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is considered one of the most haunted prisons in the world. The prison first opened in 1829 and operated until 1971. It was designed to hold 253 inmates in solitary confinement for the entirety of their sentence.

Once the prisoner entered, a hood was placed over their head as a guard led them to their cell. They were locked inside for the entire day, fed through a slot in the door, permitted only a half hour of exercise and only allowed out of their cell once every two weeks to bathe at which time they were again hooded so they could not catch a glimpse of another inmate. Each cell was built with vaulted cleanings and skylights that allowed “God’s light” into the cell along with a toilet, running water, heat, and a Bible.

The two most well-known inmates were bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.

Eastern State Penitentiary aka Hell on Earth

The prison practiced the “sound of silence,” meaning that the inmates were not allowed to speak, sing, or hum. Prisoners who did not follow the silence rule might find themselves gagged with a metal tongue clamp which included chaining their tongues to their wrists. If they struggled against the chains, this would cause the tongue to tear. This rule caused many prisoners to go insane.

Along with silence came cruel punishments. These included:

  • The water bath – where inmates were dunked in a bath of ice-cold water and hung from a wall for the night.
  • There was also the mad chair that was inside a pit called “The hole,” an underground cellblock beneath cellblock 14 where there was no light and inmates were strapped tightly to a chair, restricting any movement for days with periods of starvation. Some prisoners, once removed from the restraints, were permanently crippled. This was for the worst behaved prisoners, these sometimes-lasted weeks.

Women were also inside the prison; they were in cellblock two for 100 years until 1923 when the last female prisoner was brought inside.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Al Capone was an inmate here from 1929 to 1930, serving 8 months for carrying a concealed weapon. He was housed in Cellblock 8 before being transferred to Alcatraz. He had the nicest cell of the whole prison. Capone was allowed to have furnishings which included lamps, paintings, and a cabinet radio.

He often complained that he was haunted by the ghost of James Clark, one of the victims from the St. Valentine’s day Massacre in Chicago. Capone did not fire the shot that killed Clark, but did order the shooting.

Executions were not done at this prison, but multiple murders took place including Two guards who were murdered along with many inmates over the years. Hundreds of inmates died of old age or disease.

On April 3, 1945, a major escape took place carried out by twelve inmates. Over the course of a year, they managed to dig a tunnel – undiscovered – that extended 97 feet under the prison wall. Renovations that had taken place during the 1930s led to the discovery of another 30 incomplete tunnels.

Many ghost stories have been heard from this prison as far back as the 1940s.

Visitors have reported seeing the ghost of Joseph Taylor who murdered an inmate named Michael Duran to death in 1884. After he carried out this murder, it is reported he quietly entered his cell and went to sleep. His ghost is reported to wander the halls to this day.

Another ghostly encounter was witnessed by a Locksmith. He was doing restoration work in Cellblock 4, trying to remove a 140-year-old lock from a cell door when a massive force overcame him and he was unable to move. It is believed once this lock was removed, a gateway opened that allowed spirits caught behind the door to escape. The locksmith states that faces appeared on the cell wall and swirled towards him.

Charles Dickens visited Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1840s, he said he found the living conditions of the inmates appalling. He described them as being “buried alive” and wrote about the phycological torture the inmates suffered.

The solitary confinement system eventually collapsed due to overcrowding in 1913. Afterwards it was operated as a congregate prison until it closed in 1970. It then housed inmates after a riot in another prison in Pennsylvania, officially closing in 1971. This prison was made a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and opened its doors for public tours in 1994. This location is now open as a museum and for tours

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