City guides

Haunted Histories

Man in Cellblock 7. Photographer John Van Horn. Image courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.

Why visit a staged haunted house with ghost actors this Halloween, when you can explore some of Philadelphia’s many historic sites that locals believe to be haunted? You don’t have to be a professional Ghostbuster to enjoy these sites on your own or with a local walking tour company that can share both the site’s history as well as its hidden stories.

Solitude House. Image: Wikipedia
Solitude House at the Philadelphia Zoo. Image: Wikipedia

Philadelphia Zoo – 3400 W. Girard Ave.

The spooky happenings at the Zoo are not inside the animal enclosures. They are in the three houses built before the Zoo existed in West Fairmount Park and are now located inside the Philadelphia Zoo grounds. Solitude House, also known as the John Penn House, a Federal-style mansion built in the mid-1780s, is said to be haunted by the spirit of a woman in a long dress who stands at the top of the staircase. Zoo staff has reported seeing apparitions, the sound of music playing, and a light in the attic that likes to turn itself on. Other supposedly haunted buildings at the Zoo include the Treehouse Building, Pennrose Building, and the Shelly Building. 

American Philosophical Society. Image: Wikipedia.
American Philosophical Society. Image: Wikipedia.

American Philosophical Society – 105 S. 5th St.

The American Philosophical Society was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin with the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge” and continues to support his original mission today.

Not all apparitions are scary. In death, as in life, the vivacious ghost of Benjamin Franklin has supposedly been seen climbing down from his statue above the door at the American Philosophical Society and wandering with an armload of books through the Philosophical Society Library and dancing in the streets. 

Christ Church Burial Grounds. Image: Visit Philly

Christ Church Burial Ground – 340 N. 5th St.

Want to spend more time with Franklin’s ghost? Head over to his grave at Christ Church Cemetery where it is rumored his playful spirit steals pocket change from visitors. Christ Church Burial Ground, established in 1719, contains 1,400 grave markers and is home to the graves of many famous Philadelphians.

Pennsylvania Hospital – 800 Spruce St.

Another ghost that is said to climb down from his statue is William Penn. He reportedly comes down from his pedestal and visits the garden of Pennsylvania Hospital, founded by Ben Franklin in 1751. Can’t blame him. This is one of the loveliest walled gardens in Center City.

Laurel Hill Cemetery – 3822 Ridge Ave. 

One of the oldest cemeteries in the nation, Laurel Hill Cemetery contains the graves of many of Philadelphia’s most notable citizens and according to some their ghosts too. Situated overlooking the Schuylkill River in Fairmount Park, the Cemetery offers a variety of tours in which you will learn about its infamous inhabitants and unusual monuments reported by visitors which include angels prying open caskets and lifting the deceased toward heaven.

Mutter Museum – 19 S. 22nd St.

Located inside the College of Physicians, the Mutter Museum is not for the faint of heart. Its exhibits contain an array of death masks and abnormal anatomical formations preserved in jars of formaldehyde, as well as 17th-century medical instruments. These specimens were collected by American surgeon Thomas Dent Mütter, MD, and were first exhibited in 1863. While the museum itself may not be haunted, it definitely fits the bill as a historic site with a scary past, and some suspect that several artifacts on display might indeed be haunted.

Baleroy Mansion. Image: Guide to Philly

Baleroy Mansion – 111 W. Mermaid Lane

Built in 1911, this 32-room estate in Chestnut Hill once earned the title “Most Haunted Home in America” due to many reports of paranormal activity.  Supposedly three people who sat in the same chair in the Blue Room died within two weeks. It is now believed that anyone who sits on a chair will die shortly after. The ghost of Thomas Jefferson is among the several ghosts believed to haunt this home. 

Eastern State Penitentiary at night. Image: Sean Kelly, courtesy of Eastern State Penitentary.

Eastern State Penitentiary – 2027 Fairmount Ave.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the famous Eastern State Penitentiary. Opened in 1829 as a “model” prison, Eastern Pennsylvania State Penitentiary was the first to enforce solitary confinement, putting prisoners in cells by themselves, under the mistaken belief that this would lead to rehabilitation. Tours of these bleak cells, which housed famous American mobsters such as Al Capone, are available throughout the year. However, in October and early November, the prison presents Halloween Nights, an immersive experience with five haunted houses, live music, and themed bars.

Whether you believe in ghosts or merely are a fan of Philadelphia history, we invite you to take one of the many self-guided or small group ghost tours of our City with Nightly Philly Ghost Tours, Ghost Tour, or Grim Philly Tours this October. You can also check out our “Secret Life of Buildings” series to learn about the history of Philadelphia’s charming alleys and historic sites like Boathouse Row, among others.

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