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.
My 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.