Eastern State Penitentiary
Terror Behind the Walls



Eastern State Penitentiary
Terror Behind the Walls

The Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) is a former American prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It is located on 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia and was operational from 1829 until 1971.


The penitentiary refined the revolutionary system of separate incarceration first pioneered at the Walnut Street Jail which emphasized principles of reform rather than punishment.

Notorious criminals such as bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone were held inside its unique wagon wheel design.

When the building was erected it was the largest and most expensive public structure ever constructed, quickly becoming a model for more than 300 prisons worldwide. The prison is currently a U.S. National Historic Landmark, which is open to the public as a museum for tours seven days a week, twelve months a year, from 10 am to 5 pm.


The original design of the building was for seven one-story cell blocks, but by the time cell block three was completed, it was already over capacity. From then on, all the other cell blocks were two floors. Toward the end, cell blocks 14 and 15 were hastily built due to overcrowding.

They were built and designed by prisoners. Cell block 15 was for the worst prisoners, and the guards were gated off.
The system eventually collapsed due to overcrowding problems.

By 1913, Eastern State officially abandoned the solitary system and operated as a congregate prison until it closed in 1970 (Eastern State was briefly used to house city inmates in 1971 after a riot at Holmesburg Prison).

Visitors spoke with prisoners in their cells, proving that inmates were not isolated, though the prisoners themselves were not allowed to have any visits with family or friends during their stay.

The Penitentiary was intended not simply to punish, but to move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change.

Proponents of the system believed strongly that the criminals, exposed, in silence, to thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes, would become genuinely penitent.

In reality, the guards and councilors of the facility designed a variety of physical and psychological torture regimens for various infractions, including dousing prisoners in freezing water outside during winter months, chaining their tongues to their wrists in a fashion such that struggling against the chains could cause the tongue to tear, strapping prisoners into chairs with tight leather restraints for days on end, and putting them into a pit called "The Hole" dug under cellblock 14 where they would have no light, no human contact, and little food for as long as two weeks.

The prison was closed and abandoned in 1971. Many prisoners and guards were transferred to Graterford Prison, about 31 miles (50 km) northwest of Eastern State. The City of Philadelphia purchased the property with the intention of redeveloping it.

The site had several proposals, including a mall, and a luxury apartment complex surrounded by the old prison walls

Eastern State Penitentiary - Ghost Adventures

The Ghost Adventures team goes to Philadelphia to investigate the
abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. Driven insane by solitary confinement, torture and disease, the inmates suffered an ugly and violent existence.

Their angry spirits continue to roam the corridors.

The Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) is a former American prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It is located on 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia and was operational from 1829 until 1971.

Its revolutionary system of incarceration was the first to establish the policy of separate confinement, emphasizing principles of reform rather than punishment.

Notorious criminals such as bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone were held inside its unique wagon wheel design. When the building was erected it was the largest and most expensive public structure ever constructed, quickly becoming a model for more than 300 prisons worldwide.