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Dark Destinations > Locations - E > Eastern State Penitentiary

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Filed Under: Infamous Crimes > Organized Crime
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Added By: TheCabinet
Added On: October 12, 2007 - 11:10 PM UTC
Last Modified: February 09, 2009 - 03:38 AM UTC
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2124 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
History of Eastern State Penitentiary
Although this penitentiary no longer houses inmates, it is still extremely popular for its haunted reputation, as well as its transformation into the Terror Behind the Walls haunted attraction around Halloween each year. The prison itself was opened in 1829 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and represented a new approach to the rehabilitation of the criminals that found themselves behind its walls. This approach was to abandon corporal punishment and instead place the inmates into constant solitary confinement and labor. As such, hoods were placed over their heads when they left their cells to prevent interaction amongst themselves or even the guards, as well as to stop them from learning the layout of the building. The idea came from Quaker methodology that such isolation would force the inmates to privately face their crimes and become "penitent" for their actions. This principle became known as the "Pennsylvania System," which served as the inspiration for than more than 300 other prisons around the world and even spawned a new word - penitentiary.

The Design
British architect John Haviland designed the building with seven different cellblocks that interconnected in the middle of the prison at a surveillance rotunda, where the guards could keep their eyes on the prisoners from one central location. In order to isolate each prisoner, they were all given a private cell that were centrally heated and contained a toilet, sink, and even an outdoor exercise yard that was contained with a ten-foot wall. The cells also contained a skylight that was dubbed the "Eye of God" to provide light to the inmates. During their confinement, the prisoners had no contact with family or friends and were even denied access to the news that was taking place in the world outside.

Controversy and Abandonment of System
The Pennsylvania System was not without its critics. Some claimed that isolating the prisoners from all social contact was cruel and inhumane. It is now believed that instead of reforming the inmates, the system actually caused significant mental illness in some of the prisoners. However, a far bigger issue would ultimately cause the system to collapse - overcrowding. When the officials at Eastern State found themselves with more inmates than the facility was designed to handle, they were forced to build more cellblocks and began to relax the rules. By 1913, the Pennsylvania System was officially abandoned and Eastern State Penitentiary adopted the "Congregate System," where inmates ate and worked together, but under the strict code of silence.

The Closing of Eastern State
The prison continued to operate well into the 1900s. Continued overcrowding forced the prison into housing two or three inmates per cell and to continue adding new cellblocks. When Cellblock 15 (or Death Row) was added in 1956, the prison had completely abandoned its original conceptual model of enlightenment. Ironically enough, Cellblock 15 would be the last cellblock added to the building, as the years took its toll on the structure and faced with costly repairs, it was officially closed down in 1971.

The Ghosts of Eastern State
Reports of paranormal experiences began to trickle out from the inmates and guards in the 1940s. One of the more interesting ghostly stories of Eastern State happened to perhaps its most famous inmate - Al Capone. Other prisoners were said to hear Capone constantly screaming and begging with an unseen entity to be left alone. Capone himself reportedly said that the spirit "Jimmy" was none other than James Clark - one of the men murdered in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre that Capone was believed to be behind. It is even said that the spirit of "Jimmy" continued to haunt Capone well after his time in Eastern State Penitentiary, up until his death in 1947.

The spirit that tormented Capone was hardly the only the ghost believed to haunt the walls of the prison. The sounds of disembodied screams, footsteps, talking, whispers, laughter and even crying are still commonly reported to this day. As is the case with black shadowy figures that are seen running down the hall or even darting from cell to cell. The most active area of the prison is reportedly Cellblock 12, but people have reported other strange encounters in Cellblock Six and 15 (Death Row), as well as the Infirmary. There have even been sightings of a ghost, believed to be a guard, who haunts the Central Guard Tower and continues to keep an eye on the cellblocks.

Given its haunted reputation, it should be no surprise that it has gotten the attention of various television programs over the years as well. Among the shows to investigate or document the ghosts of Eastern State Penitentiary are MTV's Fear, Haunted History, America's Scariest Halloween Attractions, America's Ghost Hunters, Night Visitors, Most Haunted (for a seven-hour live broadcast) and Ghost Hunters. It was also used as the setting of a mental hospital in the Terry Gilliam film, Twelve Monkeys.

Terror Behind the Walls
As an abandoned penitentiary that is reportedly haunted, it seems the perfect fit for Eastern State Penitentiary to transform itself every year into a haunted Halloween attraction. Terror Behind the Walls plays off the building's prison past and haunted reputation and throws in top-notch special effects and ghastly creatures to become a truly terrifying experience. The event was started in 1990 and over the years, Terror Behind the Walls has grown to become one of the most popular haunted attractions in the United States.

Eastern State Penitentiary Today
Outside of its Halloween attraction, the facility also offers a variety of different events throughout the year. Additionally, it offers daytime historic tours daily and Summer Twilight Tours throughout the months of June, July and August. For more information about these and other events, please visit their site below.
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O.T.I.S.(Odd Things i've Seen): Eastern State Pen - From: O.T.I.S. (03/15/09, 05:39 PM UTC)
Article excerpt from O.T.I.S. (Odd Things I've Seen): "ESP kind of ters over you as you stand there on the street. But it looks pleasingly medieva...More
Rating: 5/1 (0 Comments)
Related Sites
Eastern State Penitentiary
The official Web site of the notoriously haunted Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Terror Behind the Walls
The official Web site for this annual Halloween haunted attraction at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Prairie Ghosts: Eastern State Penitentiary
Prairie Ghosts's page on the reputably haunted Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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Blog: Dark Destination's Birthday: Top 25 Destinations (08/05/08)
Blog: Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State (10/26/08)
Blog: The Top 25 for the Month of October 2008 (11/04/08)
Blog: New Feature Added to Dark Destinations! (02/09/09)
Blog: The Dark Destinations Top 50 for Spring 2009 (05/24/09)
Available from
Eastern State Penitentiary (PA) (Images of America)
Ghost Stories of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Ghost Stories
Ghostly Tales from America's Jails
Haunted Pennsylvania: Ghosts And Strange Phenomena of the Keystone State (Haunted)
Weird Pennsylvania (Weird)
Ghost Hunters - The Complete First Season
Ghost Hunting: True Stories of Unexplained Phenomena from The Atlantic Paranormal Society
Encyclopedia Of Haunted Places: Ghostly Locales From Around The World
City Ghosts: True Tales of Hauntings in America's Cities
Discovery Travel Adventure Haunted Holidays (Discovery Travel Adventures)
Pennsylvania Ghost Towns: Uncovering the Hidden Past
Hope Abandoned: Eastern State Penitentiary
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Eastern State Penitentiary
Front of the Eastern State Penitentiary.
From: Tom G
Inside Eastern State Penitantiary Gate
Looking through the entrance of Eastern State Penitentiary from inside the yard.
From: Tom G
Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Block Entrance
Outside entryway to a cell block at Eastern State Penitentiary.
From: Tom G
Eastern State Penitentiary Cell 1
One of the cell rooms at Eastern State Penitentiary.
From: Tom G
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The above content is for informational purposes only. Before making any travel arrangements, it is highly recommended that you contact those in charge of the property to check for updated availability and hours of operation. While we do our best to keep this information updated, we cannot guarantee that it is completely valid and up to date. Any destination marked "Closed to the Public" is marked that for a reason and we discourage any visits or attempts to gain access to that facility. Similarly, take note of any "Travel Advisory" that may be associated with a destination. Finally, treat any location and its local residents with respect. Any vandalism and/or unruly behavior is completely despicable and only ruins the experience for future visitors.

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