When it was first constructed, the Eastern State Penitentiary was the most expensive of its kind built in the United States. The design was so popular that 300 other prisons used Eastern State as its inspiration. With a history of harsh punishments and poor conditions, several ghost tales and stories of paranormal activity have been associated with this site.
The Eastern State Penitentiary was operated under the Pennsylvania System from 1829 to 1913. With this system, the practices of the Quakers were embraced. The people sent to the prison were forced to take a look at themselves and lifestyle, and find God. However, prisoners were placed in complete solitude and many sane men turned mad in the process of their stay.
As a prisoner at Eastern State Penitentiary, you lived in a cell that had a toilet, table, bunk and Bible. You were locked in this cell all day long with the exception of one hour. When you did leave your cell, a black hood was placed over your head so that you could not see any of the other prisoners as someone guided you through the halls of the prison. It was forbidden for inmates to have any kind of interaction or communicate in any way.
This everyday solitude was maddening. Prisoners only caught sight of sunlight in glimpses as it came through a slit in the prison ceiling. This was referred to as the ‘Eye of God.’ When desperation set in, inmates would tap on pipes or whisper through the vents to one another. If they were caught, the penalty was quite cruel.
Prisoners were subjected to harsh punishments at Eastern State Penitentiary. If you were out of line, some of the following things may have happened to you:
Water Bath , Inmates that didn’t follow the rules at Eastern State Penitentiary ran the risk of dunked in a bath of ice-cold water before being hung from a wall for the rest of the night. This punishment was quite popular during the winter months because the water would freeze on the skin of the inmate before the next morning.
Mad Chair , Inmates were known to go mad whenever they were subjected to this punishment chair, which involved being strapped into the seat with leather strips. The strips were fastened so tightly that the inmate couldn’t even squirm a bit. They were kept in the chair for days without any food. The tightness of the straps and the lack of movement actually caused the circulation in their body to almost stop.
Iron Gag , If an inmate refused to obey the no-communication policies, they would suffer the Iron Gag , a punishment believed to be the most deadly at the prison. The inmate had an iron collar clamped onto their tongue, and then chained to his wrists , which were strapped behind their back. The wrists were positioned high in the air. If they moved, their tongue would tear and severe bleeding would follow. Many inmates that underwent this punishment would die from a loss of blood before their punishment came to an official end.