Friday, February 25, 2011


by Leslie Valentin

Eastern State Penitentiary (E.S.P.) was home at one time to thousands of inmates.  The name in itself carries an “eerie” dread in its name.  Add in a celebrity name of Al Capone to its rosters as well as the possibility of Al’s ghost inhabiting E.S.P., and it not only becomes a great ghost story but also a reason to conduct a paranormal investigation for some.
Alphonse “Al” Capone was born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York.  In 1920, Johnny “the Fox” Torrio, summoned Al Capone to Chicago, Illinois to help build the mob empire there.  In 1921, Johnny Torrio returned to New York City, leaving Al Capone behind; thus causing Al Capone to rise from a street thug of New York City to the mob king of Chicago.  It was also during this time period that Eliot Ness was at the peak of his career as a Prohibition Agent with the US Treasury; launching quests against Al Capone and other criminals.
In 1929, on February 14th to be exact, Al Capone answered a failed hit authorized by George “Bugs” Moran.  Capone, who headed up the Southside Italian Gang, launched the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in which seven men were killed that day.  Among the men killed was Albert Kachellek whose alias was James Clark.  Clark was Bugs Moran’s second in command to the North Side Irish.   Capone was officially charged with “carrying concealed deadly weapons” and on top of the fines and court costs incurred, Capone cut a deal for imprisonment so he could “lay low” from Eliot Ness for a while.  On May 17, 1929, Al Capone entered Eastern State Penitentiary as an inmate.  This would be his first incarceration.
Eastern State Penitentiary is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The first inmate set foot on its grounds on October 23, 1829. During a visit in the 1840’s, writer Charles Dickens described the punishment and treatment of prisoners as, “that it is worse than any torture of the body” and “the inmates appeared as being buried alive”.
Punishment at Eastern State Penitentiary included:
-          The Water Bath:  A horrid form of punishment that was especially popular during the winter months. The inmate would be submerged into ice cold water and then hung on the wall over night.  By morning, thin layers of ice would have developed on the inmates’ skin.
-          The Hole:  This was merely a pit in the ground under Cell block 14.  An inmate would be locked in for periods of days to weeks with no light. Inmates in the hole would have to fight rats for a slice of bread and water that was served.
-          The Mad Chair:  This form of punishment would find the inmate strapped into a chair with leather restraints that were so tight that the slightest movement could not be made.  Food was withheld and the inmate would stay in the chair for days until the circulation of blood to the limbs had almost stopped due to the lack of movement.
-          The Iron Gag:  This was quite possibly the deadliest of all the punishments to inmates at E.S.P.  An iron clamp would be locked down on the tongues of inmates.  Chains would be attached to this clamp and attached to shackles that were on the inmate’s wrists.  Their arms would be suspended high behind their back when the chains were attached.  The slightest movement would cause profuse bleeding and often inmates died from the loss of blood before the punishment had been completed.

During the time that Al Capone called Eastern State Penitentiary home; his stay was in relative comfort; unlike the other inmates whose fates befell harsh punishments and dismal cells.  Each cell was 8 ft. x 12 ft. x 10 ft. ceilings.  Each prisoner was provided a table, a bunk, a toilet and a Bible.  Also, each inmate spent 23 out of 24 hours in their cells each day.  Al Capone was permitted to furnish his cell with a plush sitting chair, a desk, carpets, hanging art and antiques.  He spent the better part of his year sentence in some relative ease with only one complaint.  Al Capone was convinced that the ghost of James Clark was haunting him. He was released from prison on March 17, 1930 for good behavior.
Reports of haunting at Eastern State Penitentiary are frequent and common.  It is listed as the most haunted prison in America.  In addition to all the spirits and lost souls that dwell there, the only tie to Al Capone is a prison roster and cell number.    Is it possible that Al Capone makes a visit to E.S.P.?  Anything is possible.  However, one must question a haunting due to the “celebrity” of the name.  Sometimes in the end, a good ghost story is derived from partial facts and a lot of imagination.
-          Alcatraz Prison, California – Banjo music is heard from Al Capone’s cell there.  Capone was given a Banjo by his wife Mae while incarcerated here.
-          Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois – Capone was reinterred here circa 1950’s as his final resting place. He died at his mansion in Palm Island, Florida.

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