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America’s 7 Most Haunted Prisons

Step inside and brave these vengeful spirits–if you dare.


Known for the horrendous treatment of the inmates inside their walls, these haunted prisons have gone down in history as some of the most gruesome and deadly. So, if you’re feeling a little adventurous and you’re up for a scare, take a stroll down these hallowed halls and check out these spooky cells and their residents who just refuse to let go. 

1. Eastern State Penitentiary

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This prison was one of the first in the country to try housing inmates separately. The warden was required by law to visit every inmate every day. Sounds kind of nice, right? Not quite. The inmates were routinely tortured as a method of control. Some were soaked in water then hung out in the middle of winter, and left there until ice formed on their skin. Another common form of punishment was the mad chair. Here, inmates were bound so tightly that their circulation was cut off. This frequently resulted in amputations. With the iron gag, an inmate’s hands were tied behind their back with an iron collar strapped inside their mouth. Any movement caused the tongue to tear. 

Related: 30 Scariest Haunted Houses in America 

And these are just a few of the methods that were used. 

In the 1940s, reports started coming in of strange happenings. Cellblock 4 is notorious for the sudden appearance of ghostly faces; Cellblock 6 offers shadowy figures darting around the walls; and Cellblock 12 echoes with voices and cackling. 

The penitentiary shut down in 1971, but people continue to flock to the site, seeking a glimpse of the paranormal, especially around Halloween. Investigators, believers, skeptics, and the merely curious are all drawn to this historic, haunted prison. Will you walk its corridors? 

2. Alcatraz

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  • Photo Credit: Ricky Romero / Flickr (CC)

“The Rock,” which served as the end of the line for some of society’s most notorious criminals, is next on our list. Housing the likes of Al Capone, Machine-Gun Kelley, Alvin Karpis and others, Alcatraz is easily one of the most famous–and creepy–prisons in the world. 

It’s located in the middle of the frigid San Francisco Bay on a rocky island, giving the prison its nickname and its lack of escape routes. This didn’t stop countless inmates from trying, but few ever made it to actual freedom. Alcatraz was overflowing with inmates until it closed its door in 1963. By 1976, reports of unexplainable occurrences were common. Night watchmen report hearing what sounds like men running through the upstairs of the cell blocks and loud and sudden screams. Cell 14D, in particular, is known for forcing an unsettling feeling on its visitors. 

Many people who return from the island claim a lingering feeling of strangeness. Some say it was all in their head, while others claim it’s the after-effect of a brief encounter with the paranormal. Don’t believe them? Plan a trip and see for yourself. 

3. Maxwell Street Police Station

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  • Photo Credit: Martin Konopacki / Flickr (CC)

The prison opened its door in 1889 and quickly garnered a horrific reputation thanks to the incredibly corrupt nature of the local police department. The conditions were deplorable. Upon arrival, inmates were thrown into cells that were freezing cold, rat-infested, and filled with the lingering souls of those who never managed to emerge from the bowels of this ruthless police station. 

As if this wasn’t already bad enough, it was widely believed the basement functioned as a torture chamber of sorts. Because this was never a high-functioning prison like Alcatraz, most of the inmates were those too poor to buy their way out of jail for a minor offense. Their treatment gave way to the rumors which gave the station its nicknames: the “Wickedest Police District in the World” and “Bloody Maxwell.” Visitors claim to have heard moaning, crying and the rattling of chains. 

Related: 8 Most Haunted Places in Chicago

4. Pottawatomie County Jail

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  • Photo Credit: University of Illinois

In its prime, criminals awaiting their death sentence were locked up here. Only three prisoners died inside these walls, but no one familiar with the jail’s strange past believes they’re the ones haunting it now. Rather, it’s the first superintendent, J.M. Carter, who lurks in these halls. He just can’t seem to get away. 

He lived with his family in the upstairs of a nearby home during the early years of the jail. It seems he was rather attached to the site he’s remained a steady resident long after the jail closed its doors in 1969 and his own death. 

5. Mansfield Reformatory

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  • Photo Credit: Tabitha Kaylee Hawk / Flickr (CC)

The backdrop for classic movies like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Air Force One,” the Mansfield Reformatory has a more violent history than the movies may reveal. In the 1930s, a riot broke out in the East Cell Block. The guards eventually got the skirmish under control and ended up condemning 120 rioters to share 12 cells for one week. They were not given food or water during this time. This punishment drove many of them to madness, and for others, it meant death. 

Over the course of its 94 running years, the reformatory housed 154,000 inmates. Most died while still inside the halls. Because of the close quarters, influenza and tuberculosis ran rampant. A handful of inmates went crazy, some hanged themselves, and at least one set himself on fire. A cemetery was erected on the grounds to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of dead. There are more than 215 graves. It’s hard to imagine these tortured souls would remain quiet–and they haven’t. Visitors have reported being pushed and punched by unseen forces, feeling an inexplicable chill while on the grounds, hearing cell doors slamming, and seeing dark apparitions glide through the halls. 

6. Old Charleston Jail

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  • Photo Credit: Library of Congress

During its 211 years as a functional prison, the Old Charleston Jail saw the deaths of as many as 10,000 people due to execution, injury or illness. Built in 1802, the jail functioned until 1939. It was meant to house 130 inmates, but, at any given moment, frequently held 300 people or more. Because of this overcrowding, disease and violence were everywhere and the main causes of many deaths. 

Visitors claim to have heard heavy doors slam closed, objects move or disappear and voices filling completely empty rooms. One investigation yielded a human-like shadow figure moving through the halls, and another claimed to have witnessed white orbs floating around the building. Chains can be heard dragging against the floor. Some visitors have even described an encounter with Lavinia Fisher, the jail’s most famous inmate, who is considered America’s first female serial killer. 

Related: Hotel of Horrors: the Murder Castle of Dr. H.H. Holmes

7. Wyoming Territorial Prison

Wyoming Territorial Prison
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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Featured photo: Martin Pilat / Flickr (CC); Additional photos: Ricky Romero / Flickr (CC); Martin Konopacki / Flickr (CC); University of Illinois; Tabitha Kaylee Hawk / Flickr (CC); Library of Congress