Eastern State Penitentiary - Horror movie scene in real life - Urbansome.com
Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary – Horror movie scene in real life

I can guarantee that certain parts of this article, if not all of it, will send chills down your spine. In fact, some of you are already feeling it right now. That is the power of psychology for you folks! Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA is certainly one of the creepiest and most haunted places in America, so let’s find out what made it into what it is today.

History of ESP

It all started when the officials in the US came to a conclusion that most of the time the normal prison structure in the country does not help people to change their way of living. After serving their sentence inmates just go back to their old ways – crime. It was time for a change in the system. Therefore, in mid 1820s Mr John Haviland was commissioned to design a first penitentiary in the country, which was in fact the first real penitentiary in the world.  After a long time spent on planning and construction works, Eastern State Penitentiary was opened on the 25th of October, 1829.

At that time it changed the meaning of imprisonment. The revolutionary system of ESP encouraged individual confinement as opposed to Auburn system which considered that the best way is to force all the inmates to work together in silence and physically punish those who disobey. In addition to individual imprisonments, wardens at the penitentiary were legally obliged to pay every prisoner a visit multiple times a day, which was seen as a form of rehab.

The “facilities” in cells were quite advanced considering the times. The prisoners were lucky enough to have a tap with running water over a toilet which was remotely flushed by guards twice a week. They also had “central heating” – it was basically hot water pipes along a part of one wall which kept the cell fairly warm during the cold winter months.

Image Credits: See-ming Lee
Image Credits: Donnie Nunley
Image Credits: Susan Sermoneta
Image Credits: Matthew Hester
Eastern State Penitentiary
Image Credits: Numb Photo

The reality

Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan. Prisoners were destined to live in an absolute isolation and the only joy they had was a glimpse of sunlight that came through a crack in a ceiling , which was referred to as “The Eye of God”.  Any form of communication was not allowed. Even when they were taken out of their cell for one hour a day, their heads were covered with black hood to avoid them seeing other prisoners. Inmates in Eastern State Penitentiary were craving for human interaction (apart from the guards) so they were sometimes whispering through vents to each other or tapping on “central heating” pipes with a hope that someone would respond.

The guards did not like that. If they were caught trying to initiate a contact the punishments were sadistic and brutal. In most cases prisoners died before the punishment was over.

  • Black hole: prisoners where pushed into a deep hole with no light and left there for weeks. They only got a slice of bread which they had to compete with rats and cockroaches for.
  • Ice-cold bath: prisoners were left in ice-old water during winter overnight.
  • Mad chair: inmates were securely locked in a chair without an opportunity to make even a sightliest movement and left there for days without food or water.
  • Iron padding: iron ring would be pierced through prisoners tongue and attached to his wrists (behind his back) with metal chains.

ESP was meant to accomodate 250 people, but total number was 1700. It was recognised as a massive failure with unimaginable brutality and closed in 1971.


Since it has been closed paranormal activity has been reported on regular basis. People say that spirits of all the brutally murdered prisoners have taken over. Many paranormal activity investigators chose this penitentiary every year for their ghostly investigations and almost on every occasion something is captured.

(Have a look at our post about a haunted hotel in Ottawa here)

Experience for the adrenalin seekers

If you would like to visit Eastern State Penitentiary and feel the ghostly presence yourself, you can always do that as it is now open to public for events and is recognised as a National Landmark. In order to fully experience everything we would recommend to sign up for “Terror Behind the Walls” tour which is considered to be one of the scariest haunted attractions in the US and will definitely leave you horrified. For more info click here.

Did you know that there is an underground city beneath Seattle? Have a look at our article called: Seattle Underground City – World beneath the streets.

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