Halloween Horror in Philly

Photo by Kayleigh Barber

If you’re looking for a good scare this Halloween weekend, look no further than the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.  If you want an eerie, heart-racing experience this Halloween, Eastern State puts on a haunted house called “Terror Behind the Walls” during the months of September, October and November. This is not for the faint of heart.

The haunted house takes place in the prison and you have to navigate your way through hidden passages and narrow, dark halls while being followed by creepy characters. Everything is life-like with special effects makeup, movie grade sets, props, lighting and costumes.

You can order your tickets here just in time for the scariest holiday of the year.

Now, time for a little history lesson — we promise it’ll be interesting! The prisons in the eighteenth century were not structured whatsoever. The inmates weren’t separated by gender, crime or age. Corruption, disease and violence were rampant. Harsh physical punishment was a common practice that was going on behind the closed doors of the prisons. This system of punishment was not successful (for obvious reasons) in bettering the prisoners.

To bring reform to the prisons, members of The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons proposed a prison that would use religion as a way for prisoners to feel genuine regret for their crimes. So, in 1829 the Eastern State Penitentiary was established. Every prisoner had their own cell and kept in complete isolation every day, except when they were working. If the prisoner was not in his/her cell, they had to wear a black sack over their heads with no holes for their eyes or mouths in order to protect their identity from guards. Although the prison was definitely more organized, corruption still occurred behind the high, castle-like walls of Eastern State.

A few of the notable torture tactics were the water bath, mad chair, iron gag and “The Hole.” A water bath is when a prisoner would be submerged in water and then bound to a wall outside. This would take happen during the winter months and ice would form on the inmates’ bodies. The mad chair punishment consisted of an inmate’s limbs being bound tightly to the point where their circulation was cut off and many times they would have to have their limbs amputated. The iron gag meant a prisoner’s hands were tied behind their backs. There was a strap that connected their hands to a collar in their mouths. So, any sort of movement would make their tongues rip and bleed (why was this OK?). “The Hole” was a place with absolutely no light and hardly any air.

The prison eventually closed in 1971 because the costs needed to upkeep the facility were just too expensive. Now the prison is a historical landmark, offering guided tours everyday explaining the rich history of the structure. The hundreds of deaths—natural or other—caused much speculation about whether or not Eastern State is haunted. There have been accounts of people heard laughing in cell 12, shadows in cell 6, and ghostly faces seen in cell 4.

Is Eastern State Penitentiary really haunted? That’s something you’ll need to investigate yourself to find out!

Eastern State Penitentiary. Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.easternstate.org/learn/research-library/history