Super Haunted Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

Located in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia sits what used to be the largest prison in the United States. The Eastern State Penitentiary, and has been known by other names throughout the years. It was built in 1829 and at the time, was the most significant public project in the country. 

The overall design instantly became the gold standard for prisons. And it was copied hundreds of times for prisons built all over the world. Today the Eastern State Penitentiary stands as a relic of the past. Starkly out of place with its castle-like walls in the middle of modern-day Philadelphia. With a dark history of torture and psychological breakdown, the Eastern State Penitentiary is considered by many to be one of the most haunted prisons in the world.

The Eastern State Penitentiary was the First of Its Kind

It’s no surprise to find that this prison, in particular, would be haunted. You see, Eastern State Penitentiary was the first of its kind. While inmates of the past would be kept in groups and forced to be silent, the prisoners at Eastern State Penitentiary would be forced into solitude and separated from the other inmates.  

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
Historic Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

With its stone walls and high ceilings, the prison was designed to feel like a church on the inside. The only source of light in a prisoner’s cell would be a single skylight. It was meant to signify the eye of God. There was an emphasis on appealing to the religious nature of prisoners. The theory was that isolation would force them to consider their fate in the afterlife, and so would result in their repent.  

Even Charles Dickens Thought It Was Scary

Author Charles Dickens visited the prison in 1842 and wrote of the practice of placing hoods on prisoners to keep them isolated: 

“Over the head and face of every prisoner who comes into this melancholy house, a black hood is drawn, and in this dark shroud…he is led to the cell from which he never again comes forth until his whole term of imprisonment has expired…He is a man buried alive; to be dug out in the slow round of years….” 

Of course, as Dickens alludes to, weeks of isolation from other human beings did not lead prisoners to repent or rehabilitate. Instead, many prisoners would start to go insane.  

Eastern State Penitentiary Has Had Many Ghost Sightings

The prison closed in 1971. After 142 years of operation, it has since opened as a tourist attraction and a place for paranormal investigators to monitor activity. Many ghost sightings have taken place over the years — one of the most famous cases witnessed by locksmith Gary Johnson. 

Corridor in an abandoned penitentiary in severe disrepair

In the 1990s, the prison was being renovated to accommodate its new use as a tourist attraction. Gary was going around, unlocking many cells and doors throughout that prison sealed since the prison closed. In cell block 4, Gary was working on a lock that was purportedly 140 years old and had a reputation of stubbornness for some people. However, not like for others, Gary unlocked easily. After Gary opened the lock, he was overcome with inexplicable energy, one that forced him into an out-of-body experience. He claimed to see the faces of hundreds of tormented souls on the walls of the cell he had opened, and an engaging negative energy wanted him to stay. 

Freezing Water

Tormented they were, during its early years, grisly torture by the guards was not uncommon. Getting doused with freezing water during the cold winter months and then hung from a wall was a popular punishment at the Eastern State Penitentiary. 

Iron Gag

Another dubbed the “Iron Gag” was a medieval-style torture device that involved a metal clamp on the prisoner’s tongue, which then tied to their hands. In turn, they were tied far behind their heads. It was fashioned in a way that even the most minute movements (like attempting to relax) would begin tearing the inmate’s tongue. Some died from the anguish.  

One of the oldest prisons in the world – Eastern State in Philadlephia, PA

Mad Chair

And then there’s what’s called the Mad Chair. It involved strapping prisoners to a chair with leather restraints—so tight that they cannot move at all—and then leaving them in solitary confinement for days. The inability to move, combined with darkness and no human contact, forced many to go insane, hence the name.  


It’s extremely common for visitors to the Eastern State Penitentiary to hear unexplained giggling, screaming, and talking throughout the complex. However, Paranormal investigation teams are consistently satisfied with their ghostly and extremely haunted contacts at Eastern State Penitentiary. Brett Bertolino, the Assistant Program Director, has said that investigative teams consistently find evidence of spiritual activity. If you’re ever in the area, you should give the Eastern State Penitentiary a look, and a listen. See if you can actually feel it as others have. You may be surprised because the Eastern State Penitentiary does seem to be super haunted.

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