Eastern State Penitentiary

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Click on any of the titles in the option box below to view the photo:

Eastern State Penitentiary is located at 2124 Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Eastern State Penitentiary was designed by John Haviland, and was constructed between 1822-1836 on farmland outside the city of Philadelphia. The prison was opened in 1829. It became one of the most famous prisons in the world, and approximately 300 other prisons all around the world were constructed based on its design.

Eastern State was different than other prisons in its day. Instead of horrible living conditions and corporal punishment, the founders of this prison used solitary confinement in an attempt to reform the criminals into leading a better life. Solitary confinement encouraged the prisoners to reflect on their life. They were totally isolated from other prisoners - they even had to wear hoods outside their cells in order to avoid interaction with the guards.

receival form

Receival form from 1930

The cells in the prison were very nice. They had running water, a skylight, a cast iron flushing toilet, and they were centrally heated. They also had a private outside exercise yard (contained by ten-foot tall walls). Most houses weren't this nice at the time! However, the exterior of the prison didn't look so nice. The exterior was designed to look like a castle. At the time the prison was built, the castle-like appearance brought to mind images of dungeons and torture.

Over the years, many people started to question the effectiveness of solitary confinement to reform criminals. They believed this treatment was torture that would eventually cause the prisoners to go insane. In 1913 the solitary reform system was abandoned, except for punishment.

Eastern State Penitentiary housed some famous criminals over the years. The most famous criminal was Al Capone. In 1929 Capone received his first prison sentence, for the possession of a concealed weapon. He served eight months of a one year sentence. His stay at Eastern State was quite comfortable though - he was allowed to furnish his cell with paintings, antiques, and rugs.

sentence form

Sentence form from 1919

By the 1960's, Eastern State Penitentiary was in bad condition. The cost to repair the prison was very high, and as a result it was closed in 1971. In 1980 the prison was purchased by the City of Philadelphia, but it stood abandoned. In 1994 the Pennsylvania Prison Society reopened the pen for tours, and in 1997 they signed a twenty-year contract to operate the site as a museum. The agreement was taken over by the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc. in 2001.

For more historical information about the prison, please click here to visit the official site.

Like most old prisons, there are many ghost stories about Eastern State Penitentiary. Many people have claimed to see ghostly figures roaming the halls. The most commonly seen ghost is that of a inmate who killed twenty-seven men during an attempted prison break. In addition to seeing the ghostly figures, many people also hear strange sounds.

In October 2008, I received the following e-mail from Randi Crawford with an observation regarding one of my photos:

The reason I'm contacting you today is to ask if you, or anyone else, has noticed what looks like a face in one of the Eastern State Penitentiary photos. The photo is the 25th down in the list, and is titled "Closed Cellblock," below "Looking Out Window" and above "Another Closed Cellblock." I noticed what looked like an eye on the 2nd crosswalk above, the one past the hanging light fixture. Then when I kept looking, I saw the other eye on the stairs almost to the top. Then I think I can see the outline of his right cheek and ear (our right looking at the screen.) Also there are white, whispy tendrils showing up against the first crosswalk that look like hair. Am I hallucinating, or can anyone else see the transparent face? I'm always the skeptic about so-called ghost photos, most of which look so fake or of dust orbs. Anyway, just a fun thing.

In August 2009, I received the following e-mail from Orianna S. with an observation regarding one of my photos:

I've never been to Eastern State Penitentiary, but when I came across the story from Randi Crawford, and looked at the closed cellblock photo you have...now, it might just be a trick of the light, or maybe there was just a lot of dust around your camera at the time, but when you look at the stairs to the right leading up, I could have sworn that I saw the faint outline of a body moving up the stairs. It looked like it was wearing a hood, so I couldn't see its face. It had its back turned away from the camera also, its right foot just lifting from the third step, and its left foot on the fourth step. Or maybe its heading downward. I see a tie or something. Also in the photo, to the left, a little bit above the brown, wooden door, I see a faint skull, with a hood up, but I could see the eye sockets. Also another face, sort of in the middle, I can't see all of it because the brightness of the sun in the middle, but when the stairs stop on the second floor, a little to the left I can see two white eyes and that's about it. I can also see a few other faces, but I'm just too lazy to point them out =P

In December 2009, I received the following e-mail from an anonymous website visitor about her experience at Eastern State Penitentiary:

This October I visited Eastern State for Terror Behind the Walls, and I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of being agitated. I also felt angry and wrong. Have you ever had that nagging feeling that just won't go away and you don't know what it is but its there? I felt like that. And once I got out of there, all the feelings vanished. I believe that the spirits there are angry because they are re-enacting and putting mockery to the things that they (meaning the inmates) went through in the past. Maybe its all in my head, maybe it was. I'll never truly know. If you could, could you send me any anonymous experiences that match to mines in the penitentiary? I'd just like to know that I'm not alone.

Have you experienced anything strange at Eastern State Pen? If so, please send me an e-mail and I will post your story on the site.

Where do you want to go? Select your destination: