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Reflections on Eastern State Penitentiary & Hauntings

From my collection of work & travel journals, 2009:

Eastern State Penitentiary is a scary place. It truly is. Giant, inescapable walls surround the complex, making it feel like some sort of doom is impending. When you’re standing alone in the yard, in the middle of the night, you can’t help but dream up all sorts of emergency scenarios that would require you to be on the other side of those walls for survival. Tending to have a guilty conscience, I guess being a guest in a prison just seems to bring out the worst.

Originally built in 1829, the Eastern State complex is located in Philadelphia, about 1/4 mile from where Rocky Balboa ran up a flight of stairs and triumphantly threw his fists in the air (in the 70s film “Rocky,” of course). Being surrounded by housing and shops, Eastern State is a reminder of a far bygone era in Philadelphia’s history. The stark contrast is huge between the prison’s contemporary, clean, and bright administrative offices and the potentially dangerous, rubble-filled corridors in some parts of the building.

The RV we are working and traveling in barely fits through the front entrance. Unfortunately, someone drove the vehicle too fast through the opening and sheared off part of the roll-out awning. The dangling fabric certainly ain’t pretty, and we’re going to have to do a little brainstorming later to figure out our options.

The highlight of the “pen,” if there really is one, is the cell Al Capone spent eight months in. It’s located in a high-traffic area in the middle of the prison and is complete with real furniture, a painting on the wall, and a decorative plant in one corner. The scene makes me think of Peter Gibbons on Office Space:

“Samir, this is America! Come on, sit down! Come on! This isn’t Riyadh! They’re not gonna saw your hands off, all right? The worse they can do is put you for a couple of months into a while collar, minimum security resort! We should be so lucky! Did you know they have conjugal visits there?”

So maybe it wasn’t quite like that at Eastern State, but I’m sure the other prisoners weren’t able to live as comfortably as the notorious mobster did during his stay.

Al Capone’s former cell (1929-1930)

Today: Eastern State has seemingly been popping up a lot lately on TV. Most recently, TBS has been frequently airing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, so it was really cool to be watching it and instantly recognize the guard/clock tower in the scene with characters Mudflap and Skids.

Eastern State is a really cool place to check out, if you ever have the chance. And I hear they put on one heck of a Halloween haunted house. Speaking of which, some of these places have an ambiance you just can’t get from anywhere else. One location in Kentucky where I did some support work for a ghost hunting show also put on an annual haunted house….this was an old hospital where tens of thousands of people died in the early 1900s. There’s nothing quite like walking alone in a basement in the middle of the night, hearing footsteps behind you, and turning around to find nothing there. Not being a paranormal investigator, I have never gone into a place expecting to have some otherworldy experience. But I can tell you this: at some of the “haunted houses,” you really get what you pay for.

If you enjoyed this ghost hunting-related post, also check out Ghost Hunting in Delaware (Before the Memory Fades) and The Strangest Coincidence of My Life.


Also, feel free to leave a shout-out below!


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