Looming over Philadelphia like some sort of gothic castle are the brick walls of Eastern State Penitentiary. Situated just five blocks from the legendary Art Museum, Eastern State evokes attention and fear from passersby.The penitentiary was the country?s first maximum-security prison, when it was believed that isolation was the cure for deviant and murderous behavior.
Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 and was the picture of structure and intimidation.
From the air, the prison has a distinct wagon wheel floor plan. The center is called the rotunda and seven hallways lead away from it. Eastern State has hosted an array of well-known inmates, the most famous being gangster Al Capone, who spent a year in the prison in 1930.
In 1929 the prison released a film to celebrate its centennial, which showcased the facility?s newest improvements. The last major addition to Eastern State was completed in 1956. The prison was closed in 1971 due to age and costly repairs, and in 1994 the prison was opened for historical tours.
Despite Eastern State?s glorified past, it does have a few ghosts in its closet, literally. Several visitors have reported hearing an evil, cackling woman in Cellblock 12. Volunteers have seen shadowy forms gliding along the walls in Cellblock 6. The most infamous ghost experience is from a locksmith who came to the prison to remove a 140-year-old lock from the door of an abandoned cell.
The man said he encountered an energy so powerful that he was able to see into Eastern State?s tortured past.
The combination of real ghosts with a haunted house makes Eastern State?s Terror Behind the Walls a real treat. Terror Behind the Walls is ranked ninth in the country?s list of best haunted attractions.
This year they have all new scares within the 13 rooms.
Visitors must venture through the kitchen, passing dead animals and moldy food. Then there is the infirmary where insane doctors do inhumane experiments on the inmates. The tour also has a 3D section where glasses are handed out so the patrons can experience this terrifying section. After exiting the prison there are a gift shop and a museum that have information about Eastern State and artwork done by the inmates.
Eastern State has seen much publicity in the past few years. It appeared on the MTV show “FEAR” and was also featured on ABC Family?s “Real Scary Stories.” Just this past summer the prison was host to the CBS crime drama “Cold Case.”
Terror Behind the Walls runs until Oct. 31 and is open on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. and every other night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ticket prices range from $15 to $25 but differ depending on the night.
The prison offers historical tours from April through November, Wednesdays to Sundays. The prison also hosts an annual alumni reunion dinner, where former inmates and correctional officers return for a question-and-answer session with the public.
Whether it is scaring visitors at Halloween or informing the public of its checkered past, Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the most interesting and terrifying attractions in the country.