No one really knows what goes on behind prison walls, except the prisoners, the guards, and the…spirits? Many of the former prisons in Pennsylvania – some now serving as museums and others sitting abandoned – have become legends within their communities for the spine chilling events that once took place within their walls and for the spirits that are now said to roam the abandoned halls. These nine forgotten prisons in Pennsylvania will send chills down your spine:
1. Old Jail Museum, Jim Thorpe
The 1880s proved a solemn time for community members of Mauch Chunk where, at the site of the Carbon County Jail, 20 Irishmen were put to death for committing murder. The coal miners, all members of the Irish Molly Maguires, proclaimed their innocence. Today, visitors to the Old Jail can look closely for a hand print on one cell wall where one of the condemned men placed his hand in the dirt and then onto the wall, declaring that his hand print would remain there forever. And, despite prison officials' best efforts, the hand print remains.
2. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
Al Capone's first prison stint occurred at Eastern State Penitentiary. The historical landmark, which opened in 1829 featured running water, a central heating system, and toilets that flushed – amenities not even the White House had at the time. Eastern State Penitentiary closed in 1971 and now serves as a museum for curious visitors.
3. Old Allegheny County Jail, Pittsburgh
Join a free tour of the Old Allegheny County Jail, now the Allegheny County Courthouse's Family Division, each Monday morning from February through October but beware. Local lure tells of the spirit of a former inmate, who committed suicide behind bars and then tormented prisoners with his constant wailing. Listen for that forlorn wailing as you visit the museum.
4. The Old Jail, Chambersburg
Nothing – not even an attack by the Confederate Army in 1864 – could bring down the Old Jail in Chambersburg. Built in 1880, the jail is steeped in local history with local stories telling of runaway slaves staying in the jail cells on a stop on their journey with the Underground Railroad. Today, the jail is a museum that welcomes visitors all year around.
5. Old Jail Museum, Smethport
Visit the Old Jail Museum in Smethport – if you dare. Built in 1872, the jail housed plenty of angry prisoners during its tenure. But, one is said to have been so angry that he swore, just before he was put to death, that he would return to haunt the jail from then on. Stay on alert, especially when you visit the former jail's dungeon, where the spirit is said to lurk.
6. Bradford County Jail Museum, Towanda
It would come as little surprise if spirits haunted the Bradford County Jail for it was there that prisoners, the first in 1844, were executed for their crimes. That first prisoner, James Dolan, endured a public hanging. Perhaps because executions occurred at the jail, numerous prisoners throughout the jail's history successfully escaped. The museum hosts visitors from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
7. Old Cumberland County Prison, Carlisle
The Old Cumberland County Prison – which hosted prisoners between 1854 and 1984 – now houses local government offices. But, county officials aren't exactly the only residents. Visitors tell of seeing spirits lurking and strange sounds resonating in the building.
8. Holmesburg Prison, Philadelphia
If only walls could talk, Holmesburg Prison would have plenty of gory, terrifying tales to tell. Stories of murder and prisoners overthrowing prison officials. Perhaps the most eery of all stories is that of 25 prisoners who started a hunger strike in the boiling heat of summer. Prison officials turned the heat up to a whopping 190 degrees, locked the men in a room, and left it that way for nearly 60 hours, essentially cooking several prisoners to death. Because Holmesburg Prison is located on private property, be sure to get permission from the owner before going there. Never trespass on private property.
9. York County Prison, York
Visitors to the now-abandoned York County Prison tell stories of a building, which opened in 1906 and was abandoned in 1979, frequented by the spirits of prisoners, following them as they made their way through the prison. Still others speak of the distinct smell of cigarette smoke when, in fact, no one is smoking. The old York County Prison is located on private property so secure permission before visiting to avoid trespassing.
Planning a road trip to see these nine forgotten prisons in Pennsylvania? Well, while you’re planning your itinerary, be sure to consider these
10 abandoned places in Pennsylvania that are terrifyingly incredible.