The Inspector

By NPI, Inc.



Haunted Places Series: Eastern State Penitentiary

 October 26, 2020 |  Holiday, Just for Fun |  entertaining, fall, Haunted Places Series

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Architectural Style: Gothic
Built: 1829

Located near the bustling center of Philadelphia, Eastern State Penitentiary blends right in alongside the city’s historic architecture. Yet while the outside may seem picturesque, the sprawling compound’s interior is marred by a darker past. Designed to be a place for inmates to redeem themselves from their crimes, Eastern State Penitentiary turned into many a prisoner’s personal nightmare.

Eastern State Paves the Way
Completed in early 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was the first prison of its kind and remained in operation until 1971. After it was constructed, Eastern State was the most elaborate and expensive prison in the world, and it would be a model for more than 300 prisons. Eastern State was designed so that each cell would be more like solitary confinement than a typical holding cell. There were no bars to provide a view to the rest of the building, few windows to the outside and prisoners were even kept apart from each other when out of their cells.

Religion and Reformation
Unlike previous centers simply meant to hold an offender until their release, Eastern State took things one step further by implementing religious themes into the structure of the building and the disciplinary practices it was designed for. Prisoners were each given a Bible, and their solitude was to be used to read it and reflect about their sins. The few skylights in the building were meant to suggest that they were “always being watched.” Some believe that the small entryways around Eastern State were meant to force inmates to bow down to authority. In the hopes of turning these criminals from their wicked ways, Eastern State Penitentiary proved to be a grueling sentence.

Harsh Punishment, Mistreatment and Murder
With its strict rules and iron-fist authority, Eastern State quickly gained a reputation as the toughest prison in America. Guards would torment inmates by dunking them in cold water, strapping them to a chair for days or even starving them. Because inmates were so prone to abuse and neglect, many sadly took their own lives. Others died from disease or old age, but some were the victims of muder by either guards or fellow inmates.

An After-Life Sentence
With the high death rate at the prison, it comes as no surprise that some inmates are still bound to the grounds. Even famed gangster Al Capone said that he was visited by the ghost of a slain rival during his time at Eastern State. Visitors have noted darting shadows on the walls, eerie voices and laughs and apparitions of former prisoners. Believers say the cause of the activity is from the opening of a door to the other side.

A Tool to Educate
Today, the staff at Eastern State Penitentiary give visitors a glimpse of the past through re-telling the stories of the inmates who passed through. They hope that the preservation of Eastern State will help continue the conversation about criminal justice reform. There are a variety of tours offered from standard daytime and nighttime tours, to a Halloween haunted house and school and group virtual visits. Book yours now!

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