The grim history of America’s most haunted prison

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetGargoyles sit atop Eastern State Penitentiary’s entrance.

I lay on my bunk. 
The days and nights bleed together. There is only a small circle of light from the ceiling that peers into the cell every now and again. Two doors lead to the outside world. One to the prison. One to my cinder block pen.
I lay. I think. I plan.

Today I took a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. I have never been there and figured it would be a fun experience. This site is thought to be one of the most haunted prisons in the country. I wanted to learn the history behind the prison to get a sense of why it could be haunted, and  it certainly does have a history.

The 1829 establishment

Eastern State is known as a stabilized ruin which means it’s the secure remnant of a decaying prison (the flooring is original, wall paint is cracked and peeling).

This prison is a piece of American history. Tensions grew in local prisons of the 1700’s. Prisoners were stuffed in a big room together. Eastern State Penitentiary was the floor plan that gave prisoners privacy.

The wall surrounding the prison was built first and stands 30 feet tall, an additional ten feet below the ground and eight feet thick. Isn’t it amazing to think that 100 prisoners tried to escape by a makeshift ladder, and one was actually successful?! He was later captured.

There are a total of 15 cellblocks set up in a radial floor plan. Seven cellblocks were original, but as the amount of prisoners increased, cellblocks were added onto tops of previous cellblocks.

Eastern State was abandoned in 1971. It was deserted for 20 years until tours and attractions started in the prison.

The prison’s utmost purpose:

  • Gothic exterior to scare people away
  • church-like interior
  • cellblock ceilings arched like a church
  • one skylight in cell for the “light of heaven” to shine in
  • penitence
  • forced monastery


  • 1,200 died over a 105 year span
  • half died of tuberculosis

Cellblock 14: haunted

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This is the last cellblock you want to step foot, or maybe not! Really an eerie feel to this never ending hall. Unfortunately, the hall was gated off due to the nighttime attraction (Terror Behind the Walls), but there was a portion of the cellblock for us to walk through.

The Hole was similar to a storm cellar and held four cells located underneath this block. It was used for solitary confinement.

Cellblock 15: death row

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The final cellblock added to Eastern State.

Opened in 1959, this building was beyond the ideals of a prisoner transforming into a lawful citizen. More modernized prison that isolated and punished its most violent prisoners. Eastern State never performed executions. The cellblock was simply for holding the prisoners until they were transferred.

Sadly, we were unable to explore that part of the building. It was blocked off and had flooding issues due to the roof.

I definitely recommend going on this daylight tour. There’s a lot of history in the walls and it’s definitely interesting to learn about eerie places!

Exercise yard outside of the prisoner cell. Photo by Curious Expeditions
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Sealed door that used to lead to exercise yard.
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“Light from heaven” only skylight in cells

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Cellblock eight

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Al Capone’s cell

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