With all of the elements needed for good hauntings – the site of war battles, deadly epidemics, murders, old and decaying cemeteries and a prison left in “preserved ruin” – the city is the ideal destination for a hair-raising experience year-round.
The Bishop White House is considered the most haunted structure in Independence National Historic Park, with even park rangers reporting feeling uneasy. White was the first bishop of the American Episcopalian Church and lived in this house for more than 50 years and died in its third-floor library in 1830. One of White’s family members also died there, one of the 5,000 Philadelphians lost to yellow fever during the 1793. The book White was reading before his death is still in the house and the tall, thin bishop has been glimpsed in the library window. Visitors have reported seeing and hearing a crying cat that disappears when approached. Mrs. Boggs, a White family maid, matches the description of the ghostly woman who wanders the first floor. The site is closed to visitors through June 2020.
The land now comprising Washington Square was used as a cemetery in the early 1700s and during the Revolutionary War, it became the final resting place for thousands of soldiers. One of the most active ghosts wandering here is allegedly the spirit of a Quaker woman named Leah who walks through the cemetery at night to scare away grave robbers. This is a public park and open to all.
City Tavern was the place where Thomas Jefferson took meals while writing the Declaration of Independence and where Paul Revere showed up with news of the Boston Tea party. The current site is a replica of the original structure, which was destroyed by fire in 1854. Spirits reported there include a young woman killed in that blaze while preparing to celebrate her wedding and a young waiter who was killed in a duel who likes to move silverware around. The tavern is still a full-service restaurant.
The ghost of Edgar Allan Poe has been seen walking along the Schuylkill River Banks near the Fairmount Waterworks and at his former home. The “Master of the Macabre” wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “Murders at the Rue Morgue” while living there and “The Black Cat” was reportedly set in this house. If you know the story, you know about the cat. And the wife. And the basement. Park Rangers report that some visitors to the dark room say they’ve seen glowing cat eyes watching them. Others say it just feels eerie down there. A statue outside depicts a large raven, representative of one of Poe’s most famous poems, “The Raven.” The house does not include any items originally owned by the Poe family, however many are collected nearby at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Admission to the site is free.
Philip Sing Physick has been called “the father of American surgery.” He dissected corpses (for educational reasons) in his basement and some of his tools, including bloodletting instruments, are on display. When he and his wife Elizabeth separated in 1815, Physick and their children stayed in the home. Elizabeth was cast out and she has been seen standing and crying outside the house. The house is open to visitors, with tickets costing between $6-8.
Once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, Eastern State Penitentiary housed notable inmates including one of America’s most notorious gangsters, Al Capone. The allegedly haunted prison, which opened in 1829, was abandoned in 1971 and is now a National Historic Landmark, kept in “preserved ruin” and open for tours. Over the decades, officers and inmates reported eerie and mysterious experiences and hundreds of paranormal investigations have been conducted there. During Halloween season, the crumbling cellblocks play host to the scariest haunted house event, Terror Behind the Walls, a combination of themed areas consisting of Hollywood-quality special effects and live actors.
Learn all about Philadelphia’s haunted past with the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour, traversing the cobblestone streets of Old City by moonlight to explore more than twenty scary sites. Hear about the legendary ghosts that inhabit Independence Hall, the spirits of Carpenters’ Hall and visit famous film locations from big screen thrillers such as The Sixth Sense and National Treasure. Take a VIP expedition tour with a “ghost hunter,” using ghost hunting equipment such as EMF Detectors, infrared thermometers and other paranormal detection equipment and processes. Private and group tours can be arranged for almost anytime from 1-300 walkers.
The Ghost Tour of Philadelphia is offered year-round and features candlelit walks along the back streets and secret gardens of Society Hill and Old City and to haunted houses and graveyards. Group rates are available for 15 or more. Historic Philadelphia’s Bloodletting & Burials Story Stroll uncovers true and gory tales about the city’s history of infection and inoculation.
For even more of a scare, Grim Philly Tours offers lurid guided excursions that are guaranteed “to shock and offend.” Popular tours include Vampires, Sex, Ghost Tour, Serial Killers and Cemetery Tour, Haunted Pub Crawl and more, designed to educate and entertain about Philadelphia’s lesser-known, dark history.
Cover image courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.