Local Haunts: Philadelphia

In honor of the upcoming Independence Day weekend, I wanted to share a few of my favorite haunts from the city where our great nation was born.  A city as rich in history as Philadelphia is bound to have a few ghosts, so if you’re looking to spend this holiday weekend doing something more exciting than guzzling beer and hot dogs in the name of patriotism, consider taking a road trip here to try and catch a glimpse for yourself.

photo courtesy of www.nps.gov

Any trip to Philly should start with a visit to Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed back in 1776.  Free daily tours, lead by park rangers, take you to the historic site’s courtroom and the Assembly Room, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed.  This tour is mostly focused on the historical events that occurred here, but our guide did tell us that the ghost of Benjamin Franklin has been spotted wandering around the hall, and other rangers have reported seeing an apparition dressed in Colonial clothing in the clock tower.  Given how significant this place was to our founding fathers during their lives, it doesn’t surprise me that they would linger here in death, too, but, alas, no ghostly encounters occurred during my visit.  The scariest thing about my trip to Independence Hall was seeing the line to get in, but because your free ticket is good for a certain time, the wait isn’t as daunting as it appears.  Just be sure to grab your tickets from the visitor’s center across the street as early in the day as possible, as tours fill up fast.

After walking around Historic Philadelphia, make a stop for lunch at City Tavern.  To be honest, you won’t find the best food or the best prices here, and some might find the period piece costumed staff to be less than authentic, but the veritable list of former patrons – among them John Adams and George Washington – make it worth stopping here for a bite.  The tavern also boasts its share of spirits, and not just of the liquor variety; among them is the waiter who was killed in a booze-fueled duel and still reportedly roams the restaurant, getting blamed whenever dishes move on their own or appear out of place.  When the original restaurant burned to the ground in 1834, a bride getting ready for her wedding apparently died inside. The tavern was restored to its original state in 1948, and people still claim to see a woman in white roaming the restaurant.

photo by Michelle Mason/The Occult Section
 Next, I recommend hopping in the car and heading over to Eastern State Penitentiary, which is my favorite spot in Philly, as well as the former residence of notorious criminals like Al Capone and Willie Sutton.  Even in broad daylight this place evokes an eerie feeling, especially as you walk through the crumbling corridors of prison cells (the prison was officially closed in 1970, and re-opened for daily tours in 1994).  This is where the concept of the penitentiary system began; inmates were completely isolated in solitary confinement, left alone to contemplate their crimes in the hopes they would repent (they didn’t; instead they usually went insane). The tour is self-guided, with an audio tour narrated by Steve Buscemi and a few former wardens.  I think being able to walk around at your own pace, stopping to peer down in the hole where prisoners were sent for extreme punishment, or stepping inside a cell in order to feel the sense of isolation the inmates must have felt, is really powerful.  Eastern State is a popular investigation site for paranormal groups; it’s also been featured on shows like Ghost Hunters and it repeatedly makes its way onto lists of the most haunted places in America. Around Halloween, Eastern State becomes quite a popular place to visit when it transforms into a live-action haunted house, but personally I don’t think they should bother with actors or staged effects – this place is scary enough on its own.

And finally, a quick glance around the Mϋtter Museum is a must, as long as you don’t have a weak stomach or mind looking at preserved human remains. Definitely stop here before getting the obligatory Philly cheese steak. As far as I know, this place isn’t actually haunted, but it is definitely creepy to walk around exploring the incredible medical oddities that are stored here (when I went, I joked that the Mϋtter would make for a great next installment in the Night at the Museum franchise). From the brain of a serial killer to a giant colon, to drawers of objects found lodged in people’s throats, to the infamous Soap Lady’s remains – on display in a glass case for all to observe – this museum houses just about everything you never thought you wanted to see.  Because the Mϋtter Museum started off as collection for doctors to observe, it feels more like you’re stepping into a library than a sideshow exhibit, which makes it all the more fascinating to observe.

There you have it.  Those are my recommendations, but what are your favorite haunts or hauntings in Philadelphia?