My Tour of Eastern State Penitentiary

Obviously, I’m not the first person to have seen the Ghost Hunters Eastern State Penitentiary episode and immediately want to go there. I might be one of the few paranormal supports to say “meh” to the idea of having horrible ghosts and negative energy haunting the place.

My husband, my best friend, and I went to ESP on the eve of Christmas Eve 2011. We got there just in time for the last tour of the day. It was turning into a stinging cold kind of evening, even at 4 p.m. We’d spent the day walking around the city in the wind and cold; and now it was time to go to ESP. It was even more exciting to think we’d be touring ESP in the near dark.

After passing through the gates we took a right and headed underground, somewhat, to buy our tickets and check out the gift shop (of course we had to get T-shirts!). Before going to the courtyard, we took a breather from the cold and watched a bit of video on the history of ESP in the former visitation area.

I should probably preface this by saying that I absolutely believe in the affects of energy, be it the energy of the guy standing in front of me in line at the grocery store, or the psychic energy of a historical building. Of all the places in ESP, this was truly the only room where I felt anything other than cold. My husband and my friend were off in search of the restrooms leaving me to hang out in the visitation room with the other tourists. The room was basically a long hallway separated in the middle by security glass. Every so many feet the glass had been taken out and a TV put in its place. I sat on an uncomfortable bench against the wall of the visitation room and watched some of the movie.

As the early history unfolded I started to feel bad. I later tried to explain it to my husband; but bad is the best word. I felt kind of rotten inside as if I had eaten a really bad lunch and was not only disappointed emotionally by the bad meal but felt physically disappointed too.

I can only remember two other times when I was so deeply affected by my surroundings, when every nerve in my body told me to leave where I was. One of those places was Dachau, a Concentration Camp in Germany. The other, oddly enough, was EPCOT at the Magic Kingdom resort. But these are stories for another time. (EPCOT? Really?)

When you think about it disappointment was probably the main feeling on my side of the glass of the visitation room. I can’t imagine a lot of families visiting relatives at ESP and feeling joy. The longer I sat there the worse I felt. Even when my husband joined me, I felt wrong. I knew I needed to get out of there. The courtyard of the penitentiary was a much more calming and serene place than the visitation room had been.

Luckily, my excitement overwhelmed the foul energy I previously felt as we began our tour in Cell Block 1. Because of the season most of the cell blocks were closed off to us. I hung back from the crowd some so I could take some pictures and not feel rushed, but also still be close enough to hear the history told by our guide. I ducked my head into several dark cells and took random pictures just to see what would happen. All I captured were crumbling floors and rotting walls, which have a certain intriguing beauty all of its own. It was a fun photographic experience, kind of like shooting from the hip with a toy camera.

We were encouraged not to let the group get too far ahead of us for safety reasons. After having my fun of trying to capture something on my SD card, I rejoined the group and had my second and last experience at ESP.

 Something tugged on my bag strap.

I nearly jumped out of my skin because it happened so unexpectedly. It wasn’t a malicious grab and go kind of yank as some might think; thieves had been housed at Eastern State after all. It wasn’t an angry gesture either. It was merely a tug. To be precise, two downward tugs. The tug almost seemed to be a kind of “hi ya” gesture.

I quickly looked around me to see if I had latched my bag on something or if one of my fellow tourists had maybe invaded my personal space. Nope, I was latch and invasion free. The door wall of Cellblock 1 was to my left. My husband was standing in front of me to the right. The tug was at my right shoulder blade. I reached out a bit to see what I might feel around me but all I could feel was the cold and wet of a December evening in Pennsylvania.

Because I believe that we can invite good and bad energy into our lives, I wanted to put out some positive energy, just in case all those ghost hunting shows were right about the supposed hauntings and evil energies in ESP. I thought, “Okay, I recognize that you’re here and I’m a guest.”

That was that. The rest of our tour was uneventful in the okay-that-was-weird department. The history of ESP became the thing I was most interested in next to taking pictures of the crumbling buildings. I chuckled to myself wondering how many “orbs” I would find. Later when I viewed my shots I found no indescribable mists, no floating balls of light, no shadows blocking faces, or anything odd or out of the ordinary.

My shots reflected what I discovered about Eastern State: Other than the negative feeling I got in the visitation room, ESP was not a scary place. It is actually quite a beautiful place with an interesting history. Maybe because I wasn’t necessarily looking for The Big Bad that nothing really showed itself other than in the visitation room. It could also be that since I projected positive energy I kept myself safe from what might have been lurking around.

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