(State Correctional Institute, Philadelphia)

2027 Fairmont Avenue, Philadelphia, PA

(215) 236-3300

Status: Famous Historical Prison



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All Photos Courtesy of StrangerMindz





Here is another location I have had the privilege to visit that needs no introduction due to its crazy, violent, extraordinary and not to mention very haunted history. 

Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) was considered to be the world's first true penitentiary, and it was once the largest and most expensive public structure in the country.

Today, it operates as a museum where you can enjoy tours and learn its history from within. The tour includes an audio guide that contains a playlist called "The Voices of Eastern State". An mp3 player with headphones is given to you upon admission,  that will guide you through the penitentiary while explaining it.

ESP operated as a prison from 1829 until 1971 and it housed nearly 85,000 inmates over its history. ESP even housed very notable criminal fuigures like Al Capone AKA "Scarface" and Willie Sutton AKA "Slick".

ESP was one of the first structures in the United States to have central heating and running water within its buildings. An amazing concept at the time primarily due to that not even the White House had either of them.

The massive outside walls of ESP resemble a barricaded castle almost like a defense for anyone who tries to invade. The walls are 30 feet high and 10 feet thick and spreads across exactly half a mile with towers at every corner. The concept of this structure designed by John Haviland, who was an English-born American architect was inspired by prisons and asylums built in his homeland, England and Ireland. The design was primarily used to put fear into those who thought about committing any future crime with it's neo-Gothic monstrous look.

ESP was originally named Cherry Hill State Prison due to its location which was ten acres of farmland known as Cherry Hill near Philadelphia.

Throughout my research on ESP, I have come across so much information that I decided to construct a somewhat of a timeline to help put in as much information as possible. We are talking about squeezing in 142 years of history. With that said, let's take a journey into Eastern State Penitentiary.

In 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush created the first prison reform group to which is still around today called Pennsylvania Prison Society. It was to promote reform and social justice.

Benjamin Franklin was part of this group as well.

1821, The Pennsylvania Legislature approves funding to build Eastern State Penitentiary. The idea for this penitentiary was to redefine how prisoners were kept and treated. The revolutionary system for this prison was to have separate incarceration cells for its inmates, which first put into place in the Walnut Street Jail to try and reform their inmates rather than to punish them.

Four architects submitted their designs for this revolutionary prison but only one came out winning with his design. John Haviland won the commision with his Goth like nature design. Haviland was a major figure in the American Neo-Classical architecture. He was one of the most notable architects working from Philadelphia during the 19th century.

At first, it was meant to hold 250 people, but later on we see that ESP continued expansions due to high demand incarcerating inmates which included building up to 15 cell blocks, about 1,000 cells and housing more than 1,800 inmates by 1930.

In 1829, the legislation to seperate and utilize solitary confinement for inmates was passed. Leaders who was part of passing the legislation believed that crime is the result of how people acted in society within their environment and that solitude will make the person regretful and penitent, which was how the word penitentiary came to life.

To make matters worse for these convicted criminals, they had to wear masks once they entered the prison to keep them from communicating with others. Cells were made with feeding doors and yard time was for single inmate use to prevent any contact between other prisoners, and even guards. In this same year, their first inmate was admitted.

On October 25th, 1829 - Charles Williams, entered the prison as prisoner #1. He was convicted of burglary and he was a light black skin man, 5'7" tall. They even measured his feet which was 11 inches. Scar on nose, scar on thigh, broad mouth, black eyes. They even detailed his living, farmer by trade and noted that he can read. Theft included, one twenty-dollar watch, one three-dollar gold seal and a gold key. His sentenced was two years in confinement with labor. He was received by Samuel R. Wood, the first Warden of Eastern State Penitentiary.

1831, Cell block 3 was the last of its single story original structure. Cell block 4,5,6 and 7 was two story cell blocks due to the increasing amount of people being incarcerated. It is also the year that the first female prisoner entered.

1832, ESP encountered its first escape attempt by William Hamilton (inmate #94), he served as the warden's waiter. He saw an opportunity from the roof of the front building to which he was able to lower himself from. Once he was apprehended shortly after, he tried his luck a second time in 1837 using the same method.

Let's fast forward to 1924 because there is so much detailed information but I have to mention what happened that year due to the craziness of ESP history.

On 1924 August 12 - Was the day that Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot "sentenced" Pep "The Cat-Murdering Dog" to life at Eastern State. Pep allegedly murdered the governor’s wife’s cat. Records show that Pep was assigned a prisoner number, C-2559, which is also seen in his mug shot.

1929, Al Capone was incarcerated and spent 8 months in ESP. But the controversy surrounding his prison cell had many people wondering if the system was corrupted. An article was even written by the Philadelphia Public Ledger on August 20, 1929, and described the lavishness of his cell. "The whole room was suffused in the glow of a desk lamp which stood on a polished desk.... On the once-grim walls of the penal chamber hung tasteful paintings, and the strains of a waltz were being emitted by a powerful cabinet radio receiver of handsome design and fine finish..."

The information goes on and on.

As the years gone by, there were many attempts of escape especially during the time when the Pennsylvania System of confinement with solitude was officially abandoned in 1913. They started giving their inmates more humane prison time. But this led to more than one hundred people escaping during its 142 years of operation. Most notably, in 1923, there was an inmate by the name of Leo Callahan, who actually escaped and still to this day remains at large. Obviously he has passed, but that was quite an achievement.

But what I am about to share with all my readers through all the research I have done is probably why so many inmates attempted fate and tried to escape. Convicted inmates spent 23 hours a day in their cells and only had two, half-hour exercise breaks. Every two weeks they were bathed but were forced to wear masks during that transportation.

Any inmates that were caught speaking to one another were punished. The punishment consisted of being left in their cells for an unknown amount of time, left in a dark cell and fed only bread and water. Some were confined to a straitjacket and gagged.

From 1933 and on, the inmates started riots by various means, lighting fires and short circuiting electrical boxes. All due to low wages, overcrowding and mistreatment.

In 1945, 12 men escaped through a tunnel they dug for some time. "Slick" Willie Suttun a famous bank robber was one of them and took credit for planning the whole thing.

But due to all the riots, overcrowding, the prison was slowly deteriorating over time due to how massive it was, maintenance was difficult to uphold and even bad press, especially when Charles Dickens visited ESP and wrote "The System is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement, and I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong....". Led to the Pennsylvania Legislature recommending to abandon Eastern State Penitentiary, which had since been renamed the State Correctional Institution at Philadelphia.

Abandoning ESP wasn't so easy and it didn't officially happen due to how are were they going to let all this hard work, money, and the idea of why ESP was built in the first place just die?

That is why ESP remained open up until 1971. Eastern State Penitentiary finally closed its doors and left abandoned. For 20 years, that location became highly vandalized and even nature took over.

Walking through this monstrous prison, anyone who toured within the walls can easily see and feel why this place is deemed haunted. Reports of suspicious paranormal activity dates back to 1940's, long before ESP was abandoned. Both prisoners and guards began to have several unusual experiences and unexplained paranormal occurrences.

Many of these incidents have been reported and it states that there are witnesses to shadow figures and unnatural noises. But even before that, there were incidents that were reported involving Al Capone when he was imprisoned for 8 months in 1929.

Guards and other inmates reported hearing Al Capone, who was dubbed Scarface, a famed Chicago gangster, screaming in his cell. They heard him screaming at "Jimmy" to go away and to leave him alone. Now here is the back story to that, but we are going to take a detour out of ESP and into what is known as the St. Valentines Day Massacre.

Long story short, the massacre happened in 1929 where several rivals of Al Capone were murdered in Chicago on Feburary 14th. One of the victims was named Albert Kachellek aka James Clark also knows as Jimmy. The massacre was an attempt to eliminate Bugs Moran, head of the North Side Gang.

Al Capone, was widely assumed to have been responsible for ordering the massacre but never charged. Al Capone was actually convicted and then transferred to ESP for a much pettier crime, he got caught carrying a concealed weapon on May 16, 1929, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His luck had to run out sooner or later.

Now back to the paranormal activity in ESP.

After hearing about the guards and inmate reports, the story with Al Capone, all the deaths that have occurred throughout the years in ESP that including two guards and several inmates being murdered, reports of suicides and hundreds of others dying from disease and old age. Not to mention, the ones that aren't documented due to suspicious circumstances. How can it not be haunted?

Due to the dark history of ESP and paranormal activity, many paranormal investigators have investigated this location and it has even been featured on television. Everyone who has stepped into this prison, including staff, visitors and investigators have reported many paranormal activities including sightings of ghostly entities.

Cell block 12 being an area which is highly active where you can hear voices, laughs and apparitions of inmates. Cell block 6, it is known to have shadow figures, screaming and laughter. Cell block 4, reports of ghostly faces and hearing loud whispers. There are even reports on the watch towers, apparently a silhouette of a guard can be seen doing his rounds.

Visitors have heard doors slamming, keys jingling, footsteps. It's no wonder this is the paranormal investigators Disney Land.

Unfortunately, today, ESP doesn't let anybody investigate anymore. You cannot even have a device to conduct any investigations. If you are a psychic, medium or empath, keep it to yourself because you will be asked to leave.

The bright side is, you can visit ESP any day between 10am -5pm and they also do amazing Halloween festivals that start from September through November.

Hope you guys enjoyed reading this article and if you are interested in knowing more about Eastern State Penitentiary, go to their website and explore all the information they have to offer.

Also, fun fact, in google maps, you can tour inside this structure.

Researched Paranormal Activity

Cellblock 4

Numerous reports of ghostly faces appearing out of nowhere. At least one report of one of these faces beckoning the witness toward it. A report of being held so tightly that movement was impossible. The same report includes a feeling of a terrible dark force rushing by them.

Cellblock 6

Shadow figures have been reported – some of them are said to slide along the walls.

Cellblock 12

Echoing disembodied voices and phantom laughter.

The Towers

Apparitions of former guards have been seen in the old guard towers still watching over their prisoners.

Site Wide

Apparitions of former inmates and staff, unexplained mists, disembodied voices, feelings of dark energy, phantom sobs, cries and screaming, light anomalies, electrical disturbances, empathic sensations of negative emotions including anger, madness and fear, feelings of being watched, feelings of not being wanted, feelings of not being alone.