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Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is a prison that was constructed in 1829. To quote from their literature, "Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true 'penitentiary,' a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber 'Slick Willie' Sutton and Al Capone." Prisoners lived alone, ate alone, and even exercised alone in individual yards. When an inmate left his cell, a guard covered his head with a hood so that he remained in confinement. Although the solitary system was quickly discarded due to overcrowding, Eastern State is widely believed to have caused mental illness among its prisoners. It operated as a regular prison from 1913 until it closed in 1970. The structure has been saved from the wrecking ball, and today can be toured by visitors to the city. Pay-by-the-hour parking is located conveniently beside the prison, and the typical visit complete with audio tour takes around an hour.

One of the more interesting things about the penitentiary is Al Capone's cell. In May of 1929, Capone was arrested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a concealed weapon charge, and was given a one year sentence at the Eastern State Penitentiary. While every other prisoner's cell in the place was stark and barren, Capone's cell was much different. His cell resembled a plush hotel room with an area rug, a desk, a radio, and all of the amenities of home. Surely some officials had been bribed to allow this kind of opulence in a place where everyone else was sleeping on a cot in a room with bare, concrete walls. There are some that say that Capone orchestrated the stay here to give him protection from some of his rivals during that time, but no one will ever know for sure. The only known fact is that Capone was the best-housed prisoner in the history of the institution.

Today, visitors to the old prison report footsteps in empty corridors, clanging of cell doors that no longer operate, the sound of rustling around in the cells and other strange noises, and voices that drift through the hallways of the institution. Disembodied laughter is heard in Cell Block Number 12, and figures have been seen moving about in the guard towers. Most people encounter uneasy feelings throughout the prison, and specific cold spots that may signal a supernatural presence.

For more information, visit the Eastern State Penitentiary website.


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