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Mysterious America

Isolation and Agony at Eastern State Penitentiary

Walk the same halls as notorious criminals in America’s first true penitentiary. Do the ghosts of long-suffering inmates remain?

  • Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia was built in 1829.
  • The penitentiary emphasized solitary confinement, isolation, reflection, and quiet labor.
  • Eastern State Penitentiary closed in 1971 and stood abandoned for the next 23 years.
  • Today, the prison hosts daily tours and special events, including an annual haunted house called “Terror Behind the Walls.”

Some might consider it ironic that the world’s first true penitentiary was built not only in the Land of the Free, but in the City of Brotherly Love. The Gothic Revival exterior of Eastern State Penitentiary, a prison designed to reform criminals, inspired fear for over a century. Situated in the heart of modern Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it stood as a reminder of what fate awaited those who ran afoul of the law. It is no surprise that more than a few ghosts are believed to lurk behind its thick stone walls.

Eastern State Penitentiary is located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue, between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street, in the Fairmount neighborhood. Fairmount used to be a farming community outside the City of Philadelphia, but was incorporated into the city in the 19th Century. Eastern State Penitentiary was designed by Architect John Haviland and built in 1829. A man named Charles Williams was its first prisoner. The prison became so famous that it was one of two places Charles Dickens wanted to see when he visited Philadelphia in 1842.

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