haunted Eastern State Penitentiary

In this, the second episode of The Lady Dicks Podcast, certified dicks Nikki and Tae are joined by new dic-dition Andrea to talk about haunted Eastern State Penitentiary.

With over 140 years of operation, Eastern State was the “inspiration” for over 300 prisons worldwide, and inspiration it was! During its lifetime, Eastern State was home to over 80,000 prisoners… who weren’t exactly treated as guests and have decided to stick around and haunt visitors. Making their first unwelcome appearance in the podcast, “orbs” … whatever those are.

So pack your bags and get prepared to stay a while, because we’re headed to Philadelphia, PA. Listen in now ?

Note: This podcast was recorded under the name “The Haunted True Crime Podcast” which later became The Lady Dicks Podcast. So pardon the name change. We assure you that the real Lady Dicks are standing up!

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Eastern State Penitentiary

Originally built in 1829, the Eastern State Penitentiary was the United States’ first penitentiary, and one of the most famous and expensive in the world.

Prior to its erection, “jails” were no more than holding cells or pens for the “unwanted and corrupt” where men, women and children were housed alongside violent criminals.

Designed by English-born John Haviland, this building stood to revolutionize the penal system. It contained wings of individual holding cells controlled by one central room. With room for 253 prisoners to be housed each in their own cells; after its birth, it became the model for over 300 worldwide prisons.

The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons founded in 1787 by Benjamin Franklin and Dr Benjamin Rush, was aimed at getting rid of abuses in prisons.

The Society, from what we can find are a group of Quakers [these are a group with Christian roots that began in England in the 1650s, and were known for “their use of thee as an ordinary pronoun, refusal to participate in war, plain dress, refusal to swear oaths, opposition to slavery, and teetotalism.”

Some things Quaker members are known for are the founding of banks and financial institutions, including Barclays, Lloyds, and Friends Provident; manufacturing companies, including shoe retailer C. & J. Clark and the big three British confectionery makers Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry.

They are also known for their philanthropic efforts, including the abolition of slavery, prison reform, and social justice projects] and they designed Eastern State Penitentiary because they believe in the idea of penance, and they believed people such as petty criminals did bad things because they had a moral defect which could be corrected through penance—which included solitary confinement. Its purpose was to transform the prisoners spiritually.

The prison was big on solitary confinement, in fact, I think I read that this was the first real introduction of it in the U.S. The isolation was so terrible that the prison cells had two doors—one that’s sole purpose was to close out the communication.

The prison had outside cells so prisoners could exercise on their own and when they left their cells they wore masks over their face to ensure that they had no communication with others. The isolation caused many prisoners to take their own lives.

Eastern State Penitentiary Timeline

  • The prison received its first prisoner on October 25, 1829, a one Charles William, he was African-American, 5 ft 7 inches, had a scar on his nose and one on his thighs, “black” eyes and was a farmer by trade. He was sentenced to 2 years of confinement with labour for theft including a $20 watch, $3 goal seal and a gold key. He was “received” by Samuel R. Wood, the prison’s first warden.
  • The prison received its first female inmate in 1831 — unfortunately there is no information about her or why she was in prison.
  • The first escape took place in 1832, a prisoner that was the warden’s waiter lowered himself from the roof of the front building – I assume to outside of the prison – he was later captured and escaped in the same manner in 1837.
  • In 1834, investigations into the prison’s finances, punishment practices and deviations from its original mandate were started, there would be several of these over its lifetime.
  • The prison was finally finished in 1836, it covered 11 acres and had state-of-the-art plumbing, sewage systems, and 450 centrally-heated cells. It was an “architectural marvel” and had cost nearly $780,000 (about $19-million today), it was one of the most expensive buildings in the country in its day.
  • In 1858, the prison received 10,000 visitors in a year – the most it received until 1994 when it began hosting historic tours. 
  • In 1913 they officially abandoned the use of solitary confinement.
  • In 1923, female prisoners were moved to new prison at Muncy. Freda Frost was the last female inmate, and she was transferred – much like the rest of them – to Muncy Industrial Home for Women. Frost was serving a 20 year sentence for murder; she had poisoned her husband.
  • In a 1933 riot, inmates set fires in their cells and destroy workshops over insufficient recreational facilities, overcrowding, and idleness.
  • In 1945, 12 men escape through a tunnel, prison plaster worker Clarence Klinedinst designed and built most of the tunnel. At the time of the escape he only had 2 years left to serve. Klinedinst was re-arrest about two hours later, and had ten years added to his sentence. Bank robber Willie Sutton took credit for planning the tunnel.
  • The largest riot in the prison’s history takes place in 1961 when John Klausenberg tricks a guard into opening the cell of another inmate. With the cells open, the inmates overpower the guard. Several hours later, a large force of police, guards, and state troopers reclaim the prison. The riot fuels discussions to close the prison.
  • In 1965 it is named a historical landmark.
  • In 1970, the prison is officially closed, most inmates are sent to the State Correctional Institution at Graterford. However, between 1970-71, the City of Philadelphia uses Eastern State to house prisoners from the county prison at Holmesburg, following a riot there. After which the prison is abandoned until 1994, when it is reopened for historic tours and sees more than 10,000 visitors in its first year. 

Famous prisoners and staff at Eastern State Penitentiary

The prison’s most famous employee was probably Warden Herbert “Hardboiled” Smith who was said to have “ruled with an iron fist” during the 1920s and 30s.

This was after the drive for solitary confinement was over, there were now too many people in the prison with up to three people in each cell, cells which were actually designed to hold one individual. During his time, Smith was known for the introduction of two particularly gruesome methods of torture:

  1. The “water bath” which saw inmates dunked in a bath of ice cold water then hung from from the wall afterwards for the night. This was particularly popular in the winter when a thin layer of ice would form on the skin. 
  2. The “mad chair” where an inmate was bound to a chair so tightly circulation to various limbs was cut off. In some cases this resulted in the need for an amputation later. 

He also allowed, or encouraged we’re not sure, periods of induced starvation. These methods of torture were used as “punishment.” 

The prison was also known for some other really God-awful punishments namely, the “iron gag” where an inmates hands were tied behind their back and strapped to an iron collar in their mouth, this insured that any movement caused the tongue to tear and bleed, and “the hole” a dank underground cell where prisoners had no light, human contact, exercise, toilet and little food and air.

Famous prisoners

Alphonse “Scarface” Capone

Imprisoned from 1929 to 1930. In May 1929, Capone was arrested outside a movie theatre in Philadelphia for carrying a concealed, unlicensed .38 calibre revolver.

He was given the maximum sentence of one year by the courts. He served eight months of his sentence in the cell you can peak at today, and the prison guards were more than hospitable to him, allowing him fine furniture, oriental rugs, oil paintings and a fancy radio. 

Victor “Babe” Andreoli

Convicted of killing a Pennsylvania State Trooper in 1937, he was arrested, convicted and incarcerated that year. Andreoli plead guilty and was sentenced on October 7 and arrived on October 11 to serve a life sentence for 1st degree murder.

In October 1943, he escaped by stowing away in a truck that was leaving the prison. Several weeks later the police caught up to Andreoli in a Chester, PA diner where he was shot 3 times and died.

There are some very cool, but very gruesome photos and documentation on Andreoli in the book Eastern State Penitentiary by Francis X. Dolen, including a photo that looks to be taken right prior to his autopsy and fairly close to when he was actually shot.

Morris “The Rabbi” Bolber

Morris “The Rabbi” Bolber entered Eastern State in 1942. He was serving a life sentence as one of the leaders of an arsenic murder ring located in Philadelphia.

Called “a veteran witch doctor and compounder of charms,” Bolber’s group appealed to women who were willing to murder husbands in order to collect on their husbands’ insurance policies.

Between 1932 and 1937, the group was responsible for the deaths of at least 30 people, and arsenic was not the only method they used. Sixteen men and women were convicted for participating in the ring, including Bolber and Horace Perlman, who also served time at Eastern State for the murders. Bolber joined the Jewish congregation in the new Eastern State Penitentiary synagogue.

William Francis Sutton, Jr., or Slick Willie (The Actor) Sutton

Slick Willie was one of the most famous bank robbers in history beginning his “career” in 1919 at the age of 18 when he and two accomplices (his friends) robbed the office of a friend’s father—we don’t know if the friend was one that served as an accomplice, but there were no charges pressed.

He was known for his disguises, often impersonated postal telegraph messengers, police officers or maintenance men. Sutton was arrested on February 5, 1934, and to serve 25 to 50 years in Eastern State for the machine gun robbery of the Corn Exchange Bank.

In 1945, he allegedly masterminded the escape of himself and 11 other prisoners by way of a tunnel they dug that went almost 100 feet underground. He was recaptured minutes later. We say allegedly because though the escape did happen there is no actual evidence that Sutton was the mastermind.

Later in life, Willie was released from prison. He officially became a free man in 1969 due to good behaviour and failing health. He died on November 2, 1980, at the age of 79. Over his approximate 40-year “career” he is credited with over 50 robberies, 3 successful prison escapes (all of which he was recaptured for) and served over 30 years behind bars.

Leo Callahan

There were about 100 inmates who escaped from Eastern State, but only one got away. That man was Leo Callahan. In 1923, Callahan and 5 other prisoners built a makeshift ladder out of wood that they used to scale the East wall of the penitentiary.

They got out and all were recaptured except Callahan, one even made it to Honolulu, Hawaii. Callahan was originally sent to the prison for assault and battery with intent to kill, and still considered to be “at large” but would be over 110 years old today.

Deaths in Eastern State Penitentiary

While no executions of a government-mandated nature took place at Eastern State, there were murders.

Two prison guards we know of were murdered—though we couldn’t find any information on how, others were murdered during riots or in inmate confrontations.

Many others died while incarcerated at the prison for things like illness, disease and old age. As well, inmates died of suicide. 

Haunted Eastern State Penitentiary

It’s no wonder the prison is said to be haunted with over 142 years of torture, imprisonment, and well, death. Since the 1940s there have been reports of paranormal activity by visitors, staff, guards and inmates, some of the known hauntings include:

  • Cellblock 12, known for echoing voices and cackling
  • Cellblock 6, known for shadowy figures darting along the walls
  • Cellblock 4, known for visions of ghostly faces. As stated by CreepyGhostStories.com, “people who visit here say that they get an overwhelming sensation of being watched,”and the “feeling of dread.” 

Visitors report footsteps in the yard, the sound of someone pacing in the halls, eerie noises, lonely wails that drift through the corridors and one guard tower appears on some nights to be occupied by a shadowy figure keeping watch on the empty prison. Guards who worked at the prison reported seeing spooky shadows and hearing unexplained noises.

Even Mr. Capone, one of our notable prisoners was said to have complained of a haunting from the ghost of James Clark, one of the victims of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, which Capone organized.

Perhaps the most famous report of ghost activity comes from a locksmith who was doing restoration in Cell Block 4. He was removing the cell locks from the door, when he claims that “something or someone evil took over him.” The entity he said was so powerful that he was unable to move or speak. He described seeing “faces of men sliding over disembodied orbs floating around him.”

For being such a haunted place we found almost no first-person stories. I did come across a video that said it showed a ghost in the prison. The video posted by xxx yyy showed what was basically a black figure running across the screen.

While I suppose it could have been a ghost, a YouTube-er named Matt Nino who commented underneath took the words right out of my mouth with “literally someone with a blanket on.” 

An image of haunted Eastern State Penitentiary

Haunted Eastern State Penitentiary Tours

The prison is now a museum and sees more than 60 teams of paranormal investigators a year. For $14 you can take an audio tour called “The Voices of Eastern State,” or reserve a spot on the guided tour and discussion.

It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. However, before you get in your car, plane or jetpack to get there, we have a few reviews for you. 

Overall the attraction has a 4.5/5 rating and it was a struggle to find 1/5 ratings for it. With only a handful we have gathered that it’s well worth the visit, but it sounds like it is not climate-controlled so either don’t visit in the winter or bundle up.

Find a great Philadelphia hotel deal:

Did you love this episode? Check these other haunted places you can visit:

  • The Sloss Furnace: You can visit this historical haunted place in Birmingham, Alabama, for free. We recommend listening to this first!
  • Ghosts of Rolling Hills Asylum: This former poor house is still home to many of its past residents. You can take a post-COVID tour here.
  • Ghosts at the Park: The happiest place on Earth is home to a few ghosts who refuse to leave.
  • Riverdale Road: This is the most haunted road in Colorado, join the #DickSquad to find out what hauntings there are.

The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with this information themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:

The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. This episode was produced, researched, written and edited by Tae Haahr.

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