For some it might seem strange, but for me visiting a haunted location while traveling is as exciting as it gets. On my recent road trip with my friend, Danielle, we traveled from Baltimore, MD to Philadelphia pretty much only for the purpose of conducting a paranormal investigation at Eastern State Penitentiary.
Eastern State Penitentiary History
I can’t believe that I lived in Philadelphia for a year and never even heard of ESP. Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary became one of the most famous prisons in the entire world. First, a little history on Eastern State Penitentiary from the website:
Eastern’s seven earliest cellblocks may represent the first modern building in the United States. The concept plan, by the British-born architect John Haviland, reveals the purity of the vision. Seven cellblocks radiate from a central surveillance rotunda. Haviland’s ambitious mechanical innovations placed each prisoner had his or her own private cell, centrally heated, with running water, a flush toilet, and a skylight. Adjacent to the cell was a private outdoor exercise yard contained by a ten-foot wall.
While the prisoners had all of the basics, a skylight with light from heaven as well as a Bible, the idea was to give them “honest work” like shoemaking and weaving to lead to penitence and ultimately, reform. That’s why it was called a penitentiary. And all of this was meant to take place in silence.
Charles Dickens and Eastern State Penitentiary
ESP had many visitors that wanted to learn about this different method of imprisonment. This included none other than Charles Dickens in 1842. When he visited he didn’t find it to be what many others of the time did.
In its intention I am well convinced that it is kind, humane, and meant for reformation; but I am persuaded that those who designed this system of Prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentleman who carry it into execution, do not know what it is that they are doing….I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye,… and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment in which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.
Solitary Confinement Eliminated
Over time, Eastern State Penitentiary eventually changed the solitary confinement model in 1913 and more cellblocks were added. Men were sharing cells and new cells were added including those underground for punishment in what was referred to as the “Klondike.” In 1956 a new cellblock was added, which was cellblock 15 or Death Row. No longer was redemption or reform a consideration as these prisoners were here to die.
Al Capone at Eastern State Penitentiary
One of Eastern State Penitentiary‘s most famous inmate was Al Capone. While other inmates were barely getting by, Al Capone enjoyed his time with his own antiques, rugs, and oil paintings. That cell is still kept as it was during his time in 1929.
142 years after it first opened, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania closed down Eastern State Penitentiary in 1971. Although it closed as a prison, it’s still open for those who dare to enter and investigate its secrets.
Planning Our Investigation
During the planning stages of our road trip, Danielle and I knew we wanted to check out Eastern State Penitentiary. Groups of 5-15 individuals paying $100 each can investigate inside Eastern State Penitentiary from 9pm-1am. Danielle and I took to FaceBook and in no time we had a group of 9 women as crazy as we were who wanted to investigate ESP. While I did some research, I avoided watching videos as I didn’t want to influence me or cloud my judgement and experiences there.
Daytime Prison Tour
Included in the paranormal investigation fee is a free daytime prison tour to help you become acquainted with your surroundings. Guests are provided with an mp3 player and headset to tour the prison.
One of the locations I found interesting was the operating room, which was constructed in one of the original seven blocks of the penitentiary’s radial plan. This was an upgrade to how surgery was originally performed in the prison, which was usually conducted inside the patient’s cell.
Although quite sophisticated for its time, it unfortunately fell into disrepair after Eastern State closed and nearly collapsed. With donor contributions, repairs have been made to the aging building and especially to this area.
One of our team members really felt something strong in the operating room, so much so she had to leave the area. See — you don’t always need equipment to feel spirits.
The regular prisoner cells inside Eastern State Penitentiary were sparse compared to Al Capone’s cell.
One of the daring members of our team decided to try out one of the beds. Can’t say that I would, but I’m glad Heidi did.
Dinner Before Our Investigation
After our daytime tour, we decided to grab dinner and prepare ourselves for our nighttime investigation. This bunch of crazy chicks may not have all known each other prior to the investigation, but I can tell you that we are forever bonded by the experience. A little liquid courage, aka a “redheaded slut,” at Frankford Hall and we were ready to become Ghostbusters.
The Paranormal Investigation at Eastern State Penitentiary Begins
During our nighttime investigation we had three employees from Eastern State Penitentiary with us and although they were there, they were not guiding or leading us. They were there to ensure our safety as we were the only ones inside. After dropping off our bags at “base camp,” we were able to venture off and explore on our own. Some areas have automatic light sensors so lights turn on near you to illuminate the way and other areas are absolutely pitch black. Some of these images taken by Danielle were taken with a flash, which is why it looks brighter than it actually was for us.
I was fully prepared to investigate Eastern State Penitentiary with my equipment: a full spectrum video camera with an LED infrared light; a small video camera with a Gorillapod mount; dowsing rods; two digital voice recorders; a mel meter; SB-7 spirit box; a St. Benedict’s medal, and iPhone 6Plus. While everyone dispersed to begin investigating, almost immediately every battery operated item I had died. I had to go back to base camp, accompanied by one of the employees, to get new batteries. Throughout the night the mel meter, which always works without issue, suddenly had readings of over 300,000 degrees and other odd and unlikely numbers. Seems like the spirits were really sucking the energy out of all of the equipment.
My First Experience At ESP
Janet, Danielle, and I decided to head down one of the cellblocks and almost immediately — I felt something. I started looking around in the little bit of light we had and asked if anyone else felt a breeze like I did. Strangely enough, no one else did. What I thought felt like a breeze felt like it was lightly touching my hair. Not my head, but just my hair. Then all of a sudden, I became massively dizzy. I remember touching my hand to my eyes and forehead and closing my eyes for a second, Janet asking me if I was ok, and then responding a second later to her that I was.What exactly happened to me at Eastern State Penitentiary that I couldn't remember? Click To Tweet
A little while later we were in another one of the cellblocks, Danielle and Janet mentioned how weird all of that was that just happened. Then they asked me if I remembered, I said “yes,” and recounted what I said above. They were kind of surprised and said it didn’t happen like that. In fact, Janet asked me three times if I was ok and the whole incident was about 20 seconds in length. Where did that time go for me? What exactly happened to me at Eastern State Penitentiary that I couldn’t remember? A short time later I felt like everything was swaying, like I was on a ship. Were the spirits of prisoners trying to affect me?
Who Touched My Video Camera?
During the night I attached my small video camera on the Gorillapod mount to a cell door. I turned it on and let it run just like I have many other times like time-lapse sailaways out of port. Later I watched it and it seems to have turned off at around 29 1/2 minutes. For the record, this camera will stay on for however long I leave it. When I walked up to the camera and saw that it was off, I assumed it died. However, when I hit the power button, it turned right back on. Did someone turn this off? No one in my group or any of the employees did.
I’m still working on the video, but I can tell you that so far you can hear music at the beginning when there was no music playing. There’s also a few times where the camera moves and no one is near it. Were the spirits playing with the camera?
This image is looking down on this area during the day, the Surveillance Hub or “Center” of ESP.
We didn’t do any live EVP playback sessions although everyone took turns with the dowsing rods. While they may be the lowest tech piece of equipment that was used, we received consistent responses using it. We were able to ask yes or no questions, we could ask for the rods to point to an individual, and so much more. I only wish we had videotaped each of the dowsing rod sessions.
EVPs at Eastern State Penitentiary
One of our team members, Lori, used one of the digital voice recorders, which is an older model that doesn’t connect to my computer. So I had to play the recording, video tape it, and then listen to it that way, which is why you hear my voice at the beginning of this 34 second clip in the video above.
I was able to reduce the noise and enhance it although not alter the original recording. She was alone and had done several quick EVP burst sessions and would say, “Is anybody there?” This time near the end you can hear what originally sounds like a whisper enhanced for playback and it clearly says, “Anybody” in a soft female voice. Do you hear it? Let me know what you think you hear in the comments below.
My Name Is…
This is 3:09 audio clip from a spirit box session that Janet and I did in Cellblock 9 at Eastern State Penitentiary. Do you hear what we hear? We hear “Joe” when we ask what is your name although on playback it sounds like Joe is said a few times. Full disclosure: Since I have a hearing loss, it is difficult for me to hear certain sounds, pitches, etc. I thought I heard the spirit box at about 1:35 say, “My name is… my name is” at which point I took off running, which you can clearly hear in the recording. After getting this home and playing it for others, some think that it says, “My name… Marian… I’m good” or something to that effect. What do you think it says? I’m having some issues loading audio into WordPress so let me know if it works or if you hear something in the comments below.
Hi Amber And Others
We conducted another spirit box session in the same spot as we did above. You can hear the mel meter malfunctioning at the beginning as we try to contact the spirits in this cellblock. See if you can hear anything at these points in the audio clip:
- At 53 seconds when asked, “Can you tell us your name?” you can clearly hear a female voice say, “Hi Amber.” We didn’t hear this while we were there, but listening to the audio afterwards we heard it. While this may not seem strange, most people don’t know that I often use another name, Amber, when I don’t feel like giving my real name.
- Our entire group was together but for Heidi who had made her way across the street for a drink. I asked, “Can you tell us the name of one of the people standing in this group?” I’m not sure what we expected to hear, but we did hear a soft, whispery female voice say, “Heidi” over the spirit box at about 1:08 on the recording. Do you hear that? Only Danielle and I could hear it while we were there, which is why I kind of lose it when I hear it.
- When I explain that “the spirit box can’t say two things twice, that’s impossible,” at 2:20 you can hear a male voice say “Not the first time.” Keeping in mind that the spirit box is changing stations every second, to get an entire phrase is mind blowing.
- When asked “What’s the name of the woman holding the rods now?” you can hear a voice at 4:24 say something that’s hard to decipher like “For September.” Is this an answer to an earlier question? While it doesn’t make sense now, I’m hoping one of the team members might be able to recall asking something that can make this make sense or maybe someone reading this can understand what was said.
Did you hear anything in the audio recordings that we might have missed?
Our EvidenceDuring the night we experienced physical effects, heard audible voices/sounds with and without our equipment, and had intelligent interaction with spirits while at Eastern State Penitentiary.Click To Tweet
During the night we experienced physical effects, heard audible voices/sounds with and without our equipment, and had intelligent interaction with spirits. When outside in the yard, we were directed to the morgue for some odd reason by a spirit while using the dowsing rods. We received lots of answers to questions including that whomever it was that was talking to us had died there and had gone through the morgue at Eastern State Penitentiary.The strangest part of the night was when Lisa and Danielle both heard an audible male voice make a sound in between the two of them at base camp while we were all preparing to leave.Click To Tweet
One of the strangest parts of the night was when Lisa and Danielle both heard an audible male voice make a sound like, “hmmmmmhh” in between the two of them at base camp while we were all preparing to leave. I remember looking over at the two of them as they looked completely in shock. There wasn’t any equipment in use and the male employee, AJ, that was there had already left. You can read more about Danielle’s experience at Eastern State Penitentiary here.
Lisa Was “Poked”
Another time Lisa was “poked” when no one was standing near her. Danielle also felt something touch her backside. Were the spirits happy that women were there? There was no way to explain any of these occurrences and as such, couldn’t debunk them.
Danielle also experienced excruciating back pain all evening, which is something she doesn’t have normally. When we walked outside it was still bothering her, but the farther away we got from Eastern State, the less it bothered her. Then like that, it was completely gone. Like it was never hers to begin with, as if a spirit was making her feel their pain.
Only toward the end of our time at Eastern State Penitentiary did we learn that we were the first ever all female group to conduct a paranormal investigation. Although it wasn’t intentional, I was so excited to be a part of something historical. Although I have to admit that it’s strange women haven’t tried it earlier. After our eventful evening at Eastern State Penitentiary, we climbed into our Lyft ride and headed back to our Airbnb for our last few hours in Philadelphia. Our night at Eastern State Penitentiary was one that we won’t soon forget.Only toward the end of our time at Eastern State Penitentiary did we learn that we were the first ever all female group to conduct a paranormal investigation. Click To Tweet
The following day as I was going through a few of the pics that I took, I zoomed in on the one image on the left here and couldn’t believe my eyes. Do you see the face? Is that a prisoner or guard in the photo? I highlighted it inside the red box above in the second image. Like the other pictures here, neither picture has been retouched, altered, or enhanced in any way whatsoever.As someone who isn't fond of the dark, basements, or scary movies, I wasn't so scared that I couldn't function and it actually made me feel like if I could survive Eastern State Penitentiary, then I can do anything.Click To Tweet
Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, all I can say is that what we experienced was real. We had real interactions and gathered real paranormal evidence. As someone who isn’t fond of the dark, basements, or scary movies, I wasn’t so scared that I couldn’t function. This actually made me feel like if I could survive Eastern State Penitentiary, then I can do anything.
Eastern State Penitentiary
2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Have you ever visited Eastern State Penitentiary? Would you visit?
On day six we are driving onward to explore Lancaster, PA and Amish country. Check out the many pics of our trip by reading all of the road trip posts and also searching the hashtag, #TwoChicksAndARoadTrip on Twitter, Instagram, and FaceBook.