Ghost Stories!!


 I’m pretty much a skeptic across the board—I don’t really believe in the supernatural in any capacity. This might seem incongruous with my love of Horror fiction and movies… or maybe not. I’m guessing there are few people who think that vampires, werewolves, zombies, and masked, near-immortal killers, etc., actually exist. Reading or viewing frightening, yet unreal, subject matter is a nice escape, and a fun (for some), safe, way to scare yourself in an entertaining way.
However, despite my strong doubts, I still do like scary—"allegedly"—true stories, especially about ghosts. I used to be very frightened by any ghost characters, almost including the Boo-Berry cereal ghost, and as an adult, I still get a thrill from them. Telling stories around a campfire, or, even once, in the attic of an abandoned, dilapidated house, is still my idea of a good time. Though now it’s more like an appreciation of the tales as folklore.
So, with this disclaimer out of the way, I’d like to relay my one and only personal spooky story, followed by a few from friends.
Over a decade ago, a friend and coworker of mine, who I’ll call Greg (because that’s his name), was employed at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA, as a tour guide. Eastern State ceased functioning as an active prison in 1970, but it’s been declared a National Landmark, and is open for tours. Greg took us on the usual tour one Saturday afternoon, which was great.
I highly recommend Eastern State as a tourist destination. It was the first real penitentiary in the U.S., and was initially designed upon the Quaker idea of forcing prisoners to take stock of their lives, repent, and become law-abiding citizens. This meant every single prisoner was given his own solitary confinement cell, and, aside from a Bible and a brief daily trip outside his cell to a walled-in yard attached to the cell, had no diversions. No visitors, no mail, no conversation, for however many years the sentence was.
The guards even wore socks over their shoes to muffle their footsteps as they walked down the corridors outside. Obviously, solitary confinement is now reserved for an extreme punishment, but the designers thought they were being kind. Who knows how many relatively minor thieves, etc., were driven mad by this?
Architecturally, it’s pretty cool, too. One of the cell blocks is laid out like a giant wheel, with the central hub being where the guards stayed, and each prison wing as a spoke, so guards could spin around and see every section fairly quickly. After overcrowding became an issue, and perhaps, people realized how terrible solitary confinement was, Eastern State eventually became like a regular prison in 1913, up until its closing in 1970.
It had its famous convicts—Willie Sutton served there, and escaped, temporarily, in a tunnel. Al Capone did, too, and his cell is preserved. It’s very reminiscent of the scene in “Goodfellas”, depicting how relatively posh high Mob guys had it inside, with more room, gourmet food and drink, etc. Eastern State has a weird location, too. Initially it was on the outskirts of the city, but over time, Philadelphia grew out and around it, so you have the giant stone walls of a massive prison just sitting in the middle of a city neighborhood.
Greg took us on the usual tour one Saturday afternoon. He had a set of keys to Eastern State, and said he’d spent the night there a couple of times. As it got closer to Halloween, we were intrigued. Finally, one Saturday, eight of us went to Philadelphia, had an awesome Italian dinner, and then went over to the prison to camp out. Some of us were more into the spooky vibe than others, but we were all excited. I wanted to try to creep myself out by setting up my sleeping bag in an isolated cell by myself.

Read the entire article in the October 2022 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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