Eastern State Penitentiary is regarded as one of the most haunted buildings in the world. During the 1940’s officers and inmates started to report paranormal activity, which has increased significantly since the prison was abandoned in 1971.
Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the most carefully studied paranormal sites in the United States, with dozens of paranormal investigation teams coming to explore the site every year. The ghost sightings and paranormal experiences are so frequent that the former prison has been investigated several times by television shows. "Ghost Hunters" filmed there twice, while "Fear” and "Most Haunted" also investigated.
Eastern State Penitentiary was the most expensive building built in the U.S. at the time of its construction, and became a prototype in design to over 300 prisons in the United States. Construction of Eastern State Penitentiary began in 1822; the architect John Haviland had used the ‘hub and spoke’ design which allowed easy viewing of each cellblock from the centre that had been popular in Europe.
It was designed to use the Quaker’s concept where prisoners would live in small cells with no human contact other than the occasional visit from a guard. Prisoners at Eastern State had a toilet, table, bunk and Bible in their cells, in which they were locked in for 23 hours a day.
When the prisoners did leave their cells, a black hood would be placed over their head so they could not see any other prisoners as they were guided through the halls of the prison. Interaction and any form of communication between inmates were forbidden. The facility was operated by the Pennsylvania System from 1829 to 1913. This system was designed to force the prisoners sent there to look inside themselves and find God. In reality, the system drove many prisoners insane.
Inmates lived a life in mundane solitude and would only get a glimpse of sunlight, known as "The Eye of God" which came through a slit in the prison ceiling. In desperate need of human interaction, prisoners would tap on pipes or whisper through vents to each other. If caught by guards, the penalty was brutal.
Even before Eastern State Penitentiary closed, stories were being told by inmates and guards of supernatural activity. The first tales of ghost sightings and paranormal activity were reported during the 1940s.
Abandoned in 1971, the souls of former residents still linger the halls of Eastern State Penitentiary. Perhaps it’s because they could never find their way out of the prison in life, or maybe they stay behind because of their traumatic departure from life.
After opening the prison to the public, many visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary have also experienced the feeling of someone watching them. When they turn around, no one is there. Others have seen strange shadows move aside quickly, after experiencing that same feeling. Numerous volunteers and visitors alike have had some very frightening experiences in the former prison.
Employees at the prison claimed to see odd things and hear strange voices when working late at night. Whispers, laughter, weeping and the eerie sound of pacing feet were frequently reported within the walls of the prison.
Once the prison officially shut down, the stories of hauntings and ghosts really began to intensify. Those who ventured inside claimed to hear the sounds of people walking through the halls of the cell bloacks, and footsteps inside the closed cells. Others claimed to hear eerie sounds coming from certain cells, as if the former prisoners were still inside crying and sobbing. There are also reports of strange shadows crossing in front of windows.
Cell block 12 is reportedly haunted by a ghost, who is described as being a dark, human-like figure who stands still and quiet until you get too close, then he darts away into the darkness. Every person who has ever encountered the ghost states that he gives off a feeling of anger and malevolence. Some people who have seen him claim that they were left feeling unsettled and sick, as if he himself is causing them to feel his pain. However, the most frequently reported phenomenon in cell block 12 is the sound of someone laughing quietly inside the cell. Other people have claimed to hear whispering in the area.
There are also stories of strange shadows and apparitions seen from the corner of visitors' eyes, which dart across the corridor and vanish into other cells. Volunteers at Eastern State Penitentiary also claim to have seen people walking through the cell block, when no one else is inside the building.
Similar stories have been reported in the Death Row area. Oddly enough, this housed the prisoners who were sentenced to death, but Eastern State Penitentiary did not actually enforce capital punishment. The area was added to the prison in 1959 and housed prisoners until they were transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Rockville. This is where the prisoners were actually executed.
Visitors have also shared the same story of seeing a figure standing in the guard tower of the prison. The man seldom moves or does anything to draw attention to him, but he seems to just be standing there, watching over the prison even in death. It is believed that the spirit belongs to a guard that was murdered by an inmate while on watch.
Then there are the cold spots reported by those working inside the prison, and the strange noises heard coming from inside when the buildings are empty. Others have recorded strange voices and strange EVP's after a night there, as well as returning home with odd shapes and orbs in their photographs.
One terrifying paranormal episode reported occurred to a locksmith doing restoration work in Cell Block 4. According to the story, he was working to remove a 140-year-old lock from the cell door when a massive force overcame him so powerfully he was unable to move. Some believe when he removed the key it opened a gateway to the horrific past and offered the spirits caught behind its bars a pathway out. The man spoke of experiencing an out-of-body state as he was drawn toward the negative energy which burst through the cell.
Anguished faces appeared on the cell wall, hundreds of distorted forms swirled around the cellblock and one dominating form seemed to beckon the locksmith to him. The man's experience was so vivid, years after he would shudder in fear when he talked about it.
Today the penitentiary is opened to the public. In a typical year, maybe two dozen paranormal investigations take place in the cell blocks, and according to Assistant Program Director Brett Bertolino, they almost always find evidence of paranormal activity.