Sunday, October 27, 2019


Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania LCCN2011632222.tif

The exterior of Eastern State Penitentiary

Hello, friends!  You might be wondering why I am telling you about Eastern State Penitentiary today.  But this is Halloween week and this place is a big part of Halloween in Philadelphia.  Let me tell you a little bit about the history of ESP.

The Penitentiary opened on October 25, 1829 and is thought to be the world's first true penitentiary.  It had a revolutionary system of incarceration called the "Pennsylvania System."  It encouraged solitary confinement as a means of rehabilitation. Notorious criminals such as Al Capone were housed here. The warden was legally required to visit every prisoner at least once a day and the overseers had to legally see them at least three times a day.

The doors were metal and covered with a wooden door to filter out sound.  The hallways were built to look like a church.  Some people believe that the doors were small to make it harder for the prisoner to get out and attack the guards.  Others think the doors were small to force the prisoners to bow when entering or leaving.  At any rate, the design was linked to penance and was tied to the religious inspiration of the prison.  The cells were made of concrete with a single glass skylight known as the "Eye of God" suggesting to the prisoners that God was always watching them.

The original design of the building was for seven one story cell blocks but by the time three were completed they were already overcrowded.  So the remaining four were two story cell blocks as seen above.  Cell blocks 14 and 15 were quickly built by prisoners because of the severe overcrowding.  Cell block 15 was for the worst behaved prisoners.

A typical cell

On April 3, 1945 there was a major escape by 12 inmates who over the course of a year had managed to dig an undiscovered 97 foot tunnel under the prison wall.  During a renovation in the 1930s another 30 incomplete tunnels were discovered.

It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

The prison closed in 1971.  The city purchased the property with the intention of redeveloping it.  There were several ideas of what to do with the property including a mall and a luxury apartment building.  While the debate was going on the abandoned property became a "forest" with lots of trees growing in it and a lot of abandoned cats made their home there.

In 1988 the Eastern State Penitentiary Task Force was able to petition the mayor to allow them to halt the redevelopment plans and in 1994 the site was opened to the public for tours.

Why am I telling you about this place?  Because every October Eastern State Penitentiary opens to the public for their famous "Terror Behind the Walls."  This is an annual Haunted House Halloween event.  The first one took place in 1991 and included short theatrical performances and true stories of prison murder and violence.  In 1995 the title "Terror Behind the Walls" was given to it and became a startling and low gore walk through event.

In 2001 it was broken up into three smaller events including the first 3-D Haunted House in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  In 2014 six new exhibits were opened and in 2017 the Haunted Blood Yard was added.

Lots of good stuff in Philly.  Thought you would like hearing about this one.

Hope you have a good night.  No nightmares now.



  1. That architecture is astonishing...1829!

    1. Three days ago it turned 190 years old. The architecture reflects the time and to me is so gorgeous.

  2. Russ & I took the tour several years ago. We were given hard hats as there was construction going on.For me,it was scary even then. For fans of haunted places,a must see. Me? No way! Thanks for the history,Kathy!

    1. You are braver than I. I know about it but haven't gone there.

  3. Interesting; bet it is scary any time of the year.

    1. I believe it is. I haven't gone. I don't like being scared.

  4. There are lots of hidden gems in Philadelphia. My sister gave me the idea of showing some of them and I think I will. I found the fireplace picture on google. It's just right isn't it.

  5. Wow, what an interesting place. But, no thanks, to the scary...that is not for me!

  6. I enjoy History and you made my day!


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