Saturday, May 24, 2008

Eastern State Penitentary

eastern state prison
Eastern State Penitentary

Built in 1829 in a spooky Gothic style with 30' walls, many consider Eastern State in Philly to be the first true penitentiary ever constructed. Oddly, it was built as part of a Quaker inspired penal reformation to help rehab prisoners.

It didn't seem to meet with much success with the 80,000 felons that occupied its' cells at one time or another, including hard core crooks like Slick Willie Sutton, who died there in a tunnel cave-in during an escape try, and Scarface Al Capone.

Prisoners at Eastern State had a toilet, table, bunk and Bible in their cells, in which they were locked all but one hour a day. When the inmates did leave their cells, a black hood would be placed over their head so they couldn't see any other prisoners as they walked through the halls of the prison. Any form of communication between inmates was strictly forbidden, and if violated cost the con some time in the hole on half rations of food and water.

Inmates lived a life of monastic solitude and would only get a glimpse of sunlight, known as "The Eye of God" which came through a tiny slit in the prison ceiling.

After being shut down in 1971, it's now operated as a ghoulish museum of sorts by the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Society as a National Historic Landmark.

The facility has been kept in "preserved ruin," meaning that no significant attempts have been made for renovations or upkeep. Guests are asked to sign a liability waiver and several sections remain closed to the public.

It has a great Halloween tour called Terror Behind the Walls. The prison's a must on the list of every ghost hunting organization in the region and been featured in many books, articles, and on TV. That's because the prison is still run by the inmates.

As early as the 1940's employees and prisoners alike began reporting unusual activity within the prison's walls. Visitors have reported hearing footsteps in the long, dark corridors and wails that come from from empty cells.

One ghosthunter, on the stairs that lead to a catwalk, was shooting some photos when a voice from nowhere said, "You don't have to take a damn picture." Just moments later, the same voice added "I'm lonely..."

Cell Block 6 has reported sightings of shadowy forms gliding against the wall and flitting in and out of cells, and Cell Block 13 also has reports of shadow people. Cell Block 12 features the echoes of voices laughing hysterically. It also holds the spook of the Soap Lady, a female dressed in white that appears in the shower area.

The TAPS team found a shadowy spirit dressed in a dark cloak and light trousers haunting the cellblock, too.

In Cell Block 4, a locksmith was surrounded by floating apparitions and faces crying out to him. In the older cellblocks, a featureless dark figure has been reported many times, standing deathly still and watching the visitors. He disappears if you get too close to him. He's the most widely reported spirit in the building.

A voice has been reported from the prison greenhouse, saying "hello" to visitors. Death Row has also been the scene of eerie encounters with the same shadowy figures commonly seen by others throughout the prison structure.

The spook of a mobster that Al Capone ordered gunned down on St. Valentine's Day, Jimmy Clark (Bugs Moran's brother-in-law), is said to have followed him to Eastern. Capone could be heard screaming in his cell at night for "Jimmy" to leave him alone. Clark's ghost followed him when he was released, too, and Capone's bodyguards at his HQ, Chicago's Lexington Hotel, would often hear the same cry for "Jimmy" to go away.

He went so far as to call a psychic, Alice Britt, to get rid of Clark’s vengeful spirit. The ensuing seance didn't work. Hymie Cornish, Capone’s aide, also saw the ghost. He entered Capone’s apartment once and spotted a tall man standing near the window. He demanded to know the man’s name but the shadowy figure stepped behind a curtain. Cornish called two bodyguards in, but a search of the room found no one there but Capone, who insisted the vision had been Clark.

Years later, a dying Capone would say that Jimmy Clark was following him to the grave.

The image of a former turnkey who had his throat slashed by an inmate has been seen, as have maids in white dresses (We're not sure how they got there. We didn't think the prisoners had room service.) The wraith of a guard in the watch tower has been spotted often, and the sounds of a barking dog have been heard from the same area.

Most of this paranormal activity started after the deserted prison became a public attraction. ESPHS manager Devon Gillian believes it's because all the visitors have disturbed the prison's many spirits, who are upset over the change in jailhouse routine.

One thing's for sure. When you did your stretch at Eastern, you weren't doing easy time. And forget about parole, even in the afterlife. Once they slammed the iron doors behind you, you weren't going anywhere - ever.

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