If you follow the ghost programs on TV, you have most likely heard of the Eastern State Penitentiary Ghosts. Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was the first proper holding facility for criminals.
It was built to serve as a guide to over 300 future prisons, and is considered a revolutionary development at that time.
Before, criminals were held in makeshift pens where there were no proper cells and mistreatment is rife.
The penitentiary took a sharp departure from corporal punishment, giving inmates instead the light from heaven, honest work, and the word of God, to guide them towards penitence, or remorse.
Hence, the idea behind its conception was to serve as a place where criminals can seek god for themselves and hence undergo self-reform.
Each cell was designed to have its own exercise station and food door to cut off any source of social interaction, and prisoners are expected to wear a hood when moving around the facility.
However, the years of complete isolation, initially believed to elicit feelings of regret, instead led prisoners spiraling down towards insanity.
Soon after its closure, the penitentiary would go on to become known as one of the most haunted buildings in America.
The stone-walled structure’s cold, utilitarian exterior belies a darker truth. Within its chambers, many a prisoner has been subjected to tormentation harsh enough to drive any reasonable man insane.
On a famous punishment device known as “the mad chair”, prisoners who went insane (which is not uncommon) were strapped with excruciating tightness and forced to sit for days. Circulation to their limbs were severely impeded to the point of needing amputations.
In another punishment coined the “Iron Gag”, prisoners’ hands were tied behind their backs in an unnatural position, with a lead from their hands to a clamp on their tongues.
As you might have imagined, the slightest movement will cause the tongue to tear and bleed.
Later, to cope with misbehaving prisoners, “The Hole” was introduced. It refers to a hole dug in the ground, where prisoners are left with little air and near zero light.
The origins of these punishments are unconfirmed, but it is often said that the staff were the inventors of the torture techniques.
Due to misbehaving inmates, they resorted to using brute force to demand compliance and enforce discipline.
This led to the ethically questionable practiced which has been described as similar to “burying the inmates alive” by Charles Dickens, when he visited the compound.
With punishments akin to burying the inmates alive, it is no wonder that the site soon became a place famous for its ghosts.
Many tourists and tour guides have reported sounds of weeping and whispering. More specifically, Cellblock 12 has laughter and voices Cellblock 6 has seen unidentified shadows and Cellblock 4 is said to produce ghost-like faces.
One particularly well known incident was that of Gary Johnson’s recount. As a locksmith, he would show up whenever a lock needs servicing, even without prior contact.
Once, while he was working on a lock of the extreme right cell in Cellblock 4, he was overcome strongly by an unknown force, and saw faces and shadows darting about. The cell is also the place where a guard was murdered.
In another incident, a shadow figure was caught on tape during the filming of Ghost Hunters. Where it was filmed at the “catwalk area”, many have reportedly captured strong EVPs, or electronic voice phenomenon, and felt quick temperature changes.
This has now become a popular spot for ghost hunters and paranormal investigators due to the likeliness of registering EVPs at the area. Cellblock 12, a restricted area, is constantly brought up as an area where true haunting events are common.
Among the seventy-thousand or so who were imprisoned there, a few notable prisoners stand out. Leo Callahan was the only prisoner ever to escape its stone-walled confines, using a makeshift ladder. After vaulting over the East wall, he went missing and has not been recaptured since.
Another inmate, Joe Buzzard, made himself known as the youngest among all five brothers who have served at the prison. He was convicted for horse theft.
Alphonse Capone, a well-heeled inmate who lived in the Penitentiary for 8 months, claims that he is constantly tortured by James Clark.
Al Capone was convicted for concealing a lethal weapon, and was given a luxury cell for his social status. The cell is well furnished and decorated.
Al Capone would scream every night at James, who was killed during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The tormentation is believed to arise from the rivalry between Capone and James’ brother-in-law.
Whether the Eastern State Penitentiary ghosts exist is ambiguous. Many visitors who have passed by its ground reported sensations of being watched and various ghostly noises.
Several staff members at the Penitentiary, which is now a museum, have also admitted to experiencing paranormal behaviour.
But at the same time, many visitors have claimed otherwise, and even the non-profit organisation backing it sees it as a haunted “attraction”.
Today, haunted house events have been held there, and several cells have been made into a museum. Ghost tours by experienced guided are available as well.
For historians and researchers, this is one of the most architecturally and historical significant locations and is well worth a look.