Behind the Walls

By: Hannah Katshir


Growing up I was never really one to believe in ghosts. My parents continually drilled the whole “it’s just a movie” mantra into my head that I ceased to believe that anything remotely paranormal could happen in real life. It was all just smoke and mirrors and people dressed up in scary masks – the Scooby Doo effect if you will. Because of this my threshold for horror has always been extraordinarily high. Going to haunted houses was always a fun Friday night with my friends, but I always ended up being the one sitting in the back of the hayride laughing instead of being properly terrified.

hanna1My junior year of high school, all of my past ideas about what can and cannot happen in regards to real life horror were thrown into flux. As a class, the AP Psychology students at my high school annually take a field trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary. I am originally from south central Pennsylvania, and Eastern State is in Philadelphia, so it was only an hour and a half away. A little background on Eastern State: it was created as a new kind of penitentiary – the goal was to inspire change and remorse in the inmates, and it abandoned all ill treatment and corporal punishment which was prevalent in other jails of the same time. However, the system was still very, very strict; the inmates were kept in solitary, as well as kept silent. They were not allowed any connections with each other, were forced to wear hoods any time they exited their cells, and also permitted no connections with the outside world. This system was criticized by many and eventually discarded. Many infamous criminals were held here through the years, including Al Capone and Willie Sutton. The prison was closed in 1971, but there have been eerie stories about the happenings there since the early 1940’s. Eastern State is continually ranked as one of the most haunted places in the world, and there is a lot of clout to back up this accusation.

My personal experience at Eastern State was on one of these guided tours. It was also in the middle of the day on a school field trip, so I wasn’t expecting much real horror out of it. There are specific places inside which are said to be related to specific paranormal activities, so I remember being very nosy around all of those places, just trying to find something out of the ordinary, but not actually believing that anything could or would happen.

There’s no denying that there was a creepy feeling throughout the tour, partly because of the gothic architecture and decrepitness of the building, but also because of the stories we were being told about what had happened right where we were standing. Other than that, we escaped relatively scot-free as a group. Nothing dramatic had happened, and we had all had a fun day off of school in Philadelphia. However, when we got back to the bus and everyone was looking through their pictures from the trip, one girl a couple of seats in front of me – one of my classmates since middle school – started freaking out over something in the background of one of the pictures she had taken. We started passing her camera around and looking at what had startled her so much. In the back of her photo was what looked kind of just like a smudge, but, when looked at closer, could definitely be described as a human-like figure. There were distinguishable extremities off of the blur, and it looked too real to not question. (I wish I could find any of the pictures from this trip, but after trying for a very long time, I couldn’t find anything).

Opinions surround the haunted nature of Eastern State (and hauntings in general) are varied, but it all comes down to what you want to believe, and from that day on, I have been much more willing to believe in things that may not seem so viable at first glance.

For more information on hauntings at Eastern State, click here.


5 thoughts on “Behind the Walls

  1. This past summer I read a book written by a medium. She explains that ghosts are actually spirits that are unhappy, and have chosen to not easily pass over to the other realm of life after death. I think it is safe to conclude that many of the people who died at Eastern State were unhappy with the way they ended their lives, feeling unfilled in regards to their destiny on Earth. As a result, I’m sure plenty of ghosts exist in the shut down Eastern State. It doesn’t surprise me at all that your friend happened to capture a picture of a spirit. I have heard of many other stories from people I know in which spirits have been captured as blobs of light like you described in the picture you saw. Still, this is a very creepy thing to reflect on considering this means you were in the same room as a ghost! Clearly I myself am a believer in their existence.

  2. I came from a different perspective, thinking that ghosts are out there but I had never had experience with one. Basically, I thought they were real but was still unsure if that was true. The first ghost I ever saw was when I was driving by a very old cemetery in my hometown. She was standing on the porch of the keeper’s house wearing a long, old-fashioned white dress, and she had long dark hair. There was nothing special about the experience since she didn’t do anything, but it still startled me. The second one I saw was in my friend’s basement. He always talked about a ghost living there, how he would hear creaking steps, and his cat would never go into one room in the basement. One day he was messing around and took pictures on his phone in the dark and caught a white blob. He showed us all at school one day, and we all went to check it out. We went down one at a time in the dark to that one room, and only I and a few others were able to see this shimmery movement in the dark. I now believe that they do exist and that they choose who to appear to for various unknown reasons.

  3. This post is a very good example of normal people’s encounters with what they perceive as the supernatural. It is interesting that many people who would not previously have been skeptical about the existence of ghosts, or describe themselves as easily scared, can change their minds after certain shaking experiences. I’ve listened to the stories of many friends that are similar to the one described here. I haven’t yet had a similar experience of my own in order to challenge my beliefs. I hope I have one one day too.

  4. I never knew about this kind of penitentiary. I’ve found older methods of psychotherapy fascinating, so that’s a very cool field trip that you got to take. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to have been in there. I do believe that it is very possible that a spirit would be unable to move on from that. This was worse than in “Orange is the New Black” (Yes, I’m going there) when they sent Piper down to solitary confinement. She was talking to the inmate in the next cell over through the air vent. However she realizes, that she may have been talking to herself. I can only imagine the horror the inmates here experienced.

  5. I’ve never taken a firm stance on the existence or non-existence of ghosts and the supernatural, myself, though I have a tendency to err on the side of caution–why mess with Ouija boards for a small amount of fun when you could end up with a malevolent spirit in your house, y’know? But still, it actually surprised me quite a bit that it was a picture that changed your mind and left you more open to believing. Usually, when I hear about people’s opinions being changed, it’s something that actually physically happens to them, whereas things like pictures are often unreliable, and will still invite skepticism. I wish you did have the pictures still because I’d really like to see them now to know exactly what convinced you about it!

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