From the ghosts of Ben Franklin and Benedict Arnold to the scars left by notorious killers like Gary Heidnik, who ran a church and torture chamber out of his Tioga home, Philly’s got no shortage of creepy happenings. A Philadelphia girl myself, my dad’s favorite spooky story to tell me growing up was the time he lived next door to “Unicorn Killer” Ira Einhorn in 1977.
Spending Halloween (or just a ghost-filled weekend) in the city of brotherly love should definitely be on your bucket list, so get on that Halloween jawn and check out our haunted guide to Philadelphia.
I’ll start the guide off with some history. Philadelphia was the first capital of the United States and as such, it’s also a city filled with the ghosts of the country’s biggest historical figures, and even some lesser-known people.
Cliveden of the National Trust
If you’re into battles of the American Revolution, I’d recommend the Cliveden of the National Trust. This historic spot out in Germantown was the site of the Germantown Battle of 1777, one of the bloodier battles of the war. The house was occupied by Benjamin Chew and his family, who, during the war, were forcibly evacuated before the battle. British soldiers took over the house and defeated George Washington’s troops. Now, the space is used for workshops, tours, and events, however, visitors will still find all the scars of the battle. There are blood stains on the walls and ghosts of soldiers and others, including a headless woman, roam the building.
Betsy Ross House
Learn a little history, and see it too. The Betsy Ross House, located in Old City is where Ross, credited with creating the first American flag, lived with her family. Not only will you get to see such a historic landmark, but you will also see and hear Betsy Ross herself, a spooky experience I urge you not to miss. The ghost of Ross has reportedly been seen by many visitors crying at the foot of the bed in the basement, and voices can be heard throughout the building.
First Bank in the United States
Also in Old City, the First Bank of the United States building was chartered under Alexander Hamilton as the first central bank in the country. The building is perfect for history fans and Hamilton fans, both of the person and the hit musical. Hamilton himself is said to even haunt the premises.
Now a tree-lined park in Center City, Washington Square began as a burial ground during the Revolutionary War. If you want a startling night, I say head to the former burial ground after hours, where the ghosts of Philadelphia’s past will surely appear. The most notable ghost of Washington Square is Leah, a Quaker woman tasked with keeping the bodies of 2,000 soldiers, African Americans, smallpox victims, and prisoners of war safe from bodysnatchers.
Craving some great food in Center City? Head to City Tavern, on Walnut and 2nd, to stuff yourself with the best flavors of fall turkey pot pie, corn chowder, 1774 Tavern Ale, and chocolate cake. The restaurant in Society Hill was the regular meeting place for the founding fathers and was even the party spot to celebrate the first Fourth of July in 1777. City Tavern gives you the full historical experience, with all waitstaff dressed in full period clothing, a menu that replicates colonial American food, and host of ghosts, including the former waiter, killed in a bar fight (he may even try to serve your table!) and the young bride killed in the 1854 fire.
Ghost Tour of Philadelphia
To see even more ghosts, head on a candlelight tour of Independence Mall, Old City, and Society Hill. Guided by a host in full colonial costume as you head down the brick sidewalks, you will truly be transported back to colonial Philadelphia. For 90 minutes, you will hear all the famous and the unknown history of Independence Hall, Old Pine Street Cemetery, and more. Watch out for ghosts of US History Ben Franklin, William Penn, Benedict Arnold, and Mad Anthony Wayne. The tour leaves from Signer’s Garden on Chestnut and 5th.
This one is technically not in Philadelphia, rather 30 miles west of the city. Frick’s Lock is a village that was abandoned in the late 20th century when PECO built a nuclear power station in the area. A modern day ghost town, visitors find the abandoned, isolated town completely boarded up and in disrepair, giving it a creepy, unsettling vibe.
Yes, I’m aware this place is not technically haunted, but it is fairly odd. The Mutter Museum in Center City by Rittenhouse Square is perfect for the budding med school student, or simply for the peculiar soul, housing everything from an exhibit on civil war medical treatments to an impressive collection of 139 human skulls. “The Soap Lady”, a body notable for being preserved in a fatty, waxy substance called adipocere is also on display. The Mutter Museum currently has a temporary exhibit exploring the anatomy of fairy tale creatures, just in time for Halloween. The museum also boasts over 1,000 wet specimens – everything from brains and hearts to cysts and tumors, 3,000 bones on display, and a large collection of dry specimens, including tissues and more.
Looking for a little more horror? Check out these two terrifying Halloween attractions, taking place in already haunted, creepy locations.
Eastern State Penitentiary
You can’t spend Halloweekend in Philly without going to Eastern State Penitentiary. This place is synonymous with the word fright. Located just north of Center City in Fairmount, Eastern State Penitentiary was home to the likes of Al Capone and Willie Sutton, who is credited as the first prison to have solitary confinement as a form of punishment. The prisoners, when taken from their individual cells, were covered in black hoods to keep them from interacting with others. If that doesn’t sound eerie yet, this type of harsh treatment led many of the prisoners to go insane.
The prison has been abandoned since 1971, except October when it transforms into one of the most terrifying Halloween attractions in the Delaware Valley, complete with six separate pieces. Terror Behind the Walls “Break Out” simulates a prison escape, with inmates even using you as an escape. “Quarantine 4D” combines psychedelic colors and lights with creepy costumes, run from the cult-like group at “Blood Yard”. Check out the medical experiments and torture in “Infirmary”. “Machine Shop” brings your worst fears about machines to life, and “Lock Down” combines zombies with a prison riot. Kids under 18 need a waiver signed by a parent to enter. If its true terror you want, I say this is your best bet. Get your tickets while you can.
About 30 miles northwest of city limits you’ll find Pennhurst Asylum, a former home for the disabled from 1908 to 1981. The institution was extremely overcrowded and as a result, many patients were neglected and even severely abused. The entire building was abandoned in the 1980s, with many patients’ belongings left behind. Many ghosts of residents who were killed or died on the grounds remain, however. During Halloween, the current owners put on one of the scarier haunted house attractions in the Delaware Valley, complete with a tour of the tunnels under the building, a recreation of the horrors committed in the building dating all the way back to the early 20th century, a haunted maze, and a “self-guided”, flashlight led tour of the most haunted building on the premises. Tickets are still available.
Haunted Places to Stay
For the brave of heart, you can even spend your nights with some spectral guests. Cornerstone Bed and Breakfast, located right by Drexel and Penn, is a quaint, historic building featuring a special guest – a woman from 1855 is said to gently stroke guest’s heads while they sleep. Book a night here for your spooky visit to the city.
Check out AllTheRooms for places to stay in the City of Brotherly Love.