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April 27, 2005

Alumni reunion . . . for a prison?

My leading source for all news, AAA World magazine, reports that Eastern State Penitentiary, which closed in 1971, has been sponsoring annual "alumni" reunions of guards and prisoners for about 10 years.

Twenty-five years after closing for good, Eastern State Penitentiary began sponsoring regular Alumni Reunions in 1996, drawing back former inmates and guards who come to tour the grounds and reminisce about the old days—good or otherwise.

"It’s so much like a high school reunion—guys slapping each other on the back and sharing stories," says Sean Kelley, the penitentiary’s program director. "It’s amazing because the prison usually is so quiet."
I can picture the conversations. Alum 1: "I run my own carjacking business with branches in four major cities." Alum 2: "Cool, but my pimping empire has revenues in the seven figures and was the subject of a profile in Fortune magazine."

If the idea of a prison reunion isn't weird enough, I learned from another Top 10 news source, The Quad, a student publication at the West Chester University in Pennsylvania (registration required if you don't arrive at site through Google), that "Despite Eastern State's glorified past, it does have a few ghosts in its closet, literally."
Several visitors have reported hearing an evil, cackling woman in Cellblock 12. Volunteers have seen shadowy forms gliding along the walls in Cellblock 6. The most infamous ghost experience is from a locksmith who came to the prison to remove a 140-year-old lock from the door of an abandoned cell. The man said he encountered an energy so powerful that he was able to see into Eastern State's tortured past.
There's also some sort of "haunted attraction" at Eastern State called "Terror Behind the Walls," about which the Quad says this:
The combination of real ghosts with a haunted house makes Eastern State's Terror Behind the Walls a real treat. Terror Behind the Walls is ranked ninth in the country's list of best haunted attractions.

This year they have all new scares within the 13 rooms.

Visitors must venture through the kitchen, passing dead animals and moldy food. Then there is the infirmary where insane doctors do inhumane experiments on the inmates. The tour also has a 3D section where glasses are handed out so the patrons can experience this terrifying section. After exiting the prison there are a gift shop and a museum that have information about Eastern State and artwork done by the inmates.
Between the "real ghosts" and the apparently real gift shop, you should definitely not miss it. Even if you're not eligible to attend the reunion.