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Ghouls Behind Bars: The Spookiest Abandoned Prisons You Can Tour in the U.S.

Written by Suzy Guese

It’s only fitting that some of the spookiest places in the U.S are spots you would rather not frequent at all, namely prisons. The tales of former inmates live on, or rather haunt on, in these spaces. From West Virginia to California, not only can you tour a number of historic jails but you can also be a bit spooked by them too. Adorn your best ghostbuster attire and visit these hair-raising abandoned prisons in the U.S. where you might spot a ghoul lurking behind those rusty old bars.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Abandoned Prisons - Eastern State Penitentiary

Located in Philadelphia, the Eastern State Penitentiary certainly gives off the air of being haunted. Built in 1829 with an imposing castle-like appearance, the prison was known during its heyday for its palatial architecture and strict practices. As the world’s first true penitentiary, a prison laid out to instill penance in inmates, over the course of its operations, the prison developed a bit of a reputation. Prisoners were forced to live in solitude. Their faces were even covered to leave their cells, never seeing or interacting with others. Eastern State Penitentiary even housed a number of famous criminals from Al Capone to Willie Sutton. As you would expect out of what was once the most notorious and expensive prison in the U.S., hauntings seem to be a nightly occurrence around here. Footsteps, laughter and shadows have all been reported. You can tour the property during the daytime or visit its haunted house attraction at night in the fall, Terror Behind The Walls.

The Ohio State Reformatory

Abandoned Prisons - Ohio State Reformatory

Built in the late 1800s in Mansfield, Ohio, the Ohio State Reformatory housed over 155,000 men up until its eventual closing in 1990. The former prison, thanks perhaps to its volume of prisoners and age, has become a bit of a hotspot for paranormal investigators. In fact, the prison hosts an entire paranormal program where you can partake in a public ghost hunt, head out on a ghost walk or even book the reformatory for a private paranormal investigation. If you aren’t feeling that daring, you can go on a daytime tour of the former prison. Fans of The Shawshank Redemption will recognize the space as the film was shot all throughout its cells.

West Virginia Penitentiary

Abandoned Prisons - West Virginia Penitentiary

Settled in Moundsville, West Virginia, the West Virginia Penitentiary boasts an imposing Gothic-style. Opened in 1876 and officially closed in 1995, the former prison was known for its riots, fires and some 100 executions. It even graced the Department of Justice’s Top Ten list of the most violent prisons in the country. Daily tours are offered, showing the living and working areas of the prison, from the gallows to the electric chair to the inmate painted art on the walls. As the West Virginia Penitentiary was known as one of America’s most violent prisons, it comes as no surprise that you can also partake in a 3-hour paranormal investigation or even an overnight investigation of the eerie space.


Abondoned Prisons - Alcatraz

Set your sights (and flights) to San Francisco Bay for the fright-trastic Alcatraz. This place might be the most legendary former prison in the U.S. Throughout its history, Alcatraz acted as a fort, a military prison, and a maximum-security federal penitentiary. Many of the most dangerous criminals in the U.S. took up residence at Alcatraz. Some tried to escape. Others went mad due to the extreme confinement conditions. Run by the National Park Service, there are no official ghost tours of this famous prison, but you can visit during the evening for a chilling experience. Throughout the prison, tales of hauntings abound, from Al Capone himself to those who dared to try and escape the prison on an island.

Have you toured a haunted or abandoned prison? Share your experience (and ghost sightings) with us in the comments below!


About the author

Suzy Guese

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at