Last month, my daughter and three of her friends went to an AJR concert in Philadelphia. Hubs and I provided the transportation, so we had to figure out something to do while they were at the show. Luckily, I happened upon a Philadelphia Ghost Tour that sounded like it might be fun.
We made our reservation, dropped off the girls, and headed to the meeting place for the start of our tour. Our guide issued us glow sticks, provided a brief introduction, and away we went!
The Ghost of Carpenters’ Hall
Our first stop was Carpenters’ Hall (320 Chestnut Street), built in 1775 for the Carpenters’ Company for the City and County of Philadelphia, the oldest craft guild in the country, and still in existence today. This building was the meeting site of the first Continental Congress in 1774, and the Pennsylvania Provincial Conference in 1776. It was at the latter meeting that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was officially established and declared independent from British rule.
As for the ghost, the story goes that at one point in time, the attic floor of Carpenters’ Hall consisted of apartments rented to members of the guild. One of the residents, Tom Cunningham, died in his apartment in late 1879 from the yellow fever epidemic. (Yellow fever, as it turns out, was quite a big deal in Philly. More on that later.) After Cunningham’s death, other residents stated that they heard footsteps stomping down the hallway and loud banging noises from Cunningham’s old room.
Bishop White House
The Bishop White house (309 Walnut Street) was home to the Rev. Dr. William White, the first Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania and chaplain to the Second Constitutional Convention and the U.S. Senate. It was built in 1787, and was one of the first homes to have an indoor “necessary,” or toilet. While that sounds like a luxury of which most would be envious back in the day, it didn’t turn out that way. Servants emptied the waste from the toilets into Dock Creek… the waters of which flowed in back of the Bishop’s house. The waters from that stream were used, among other things, in food preparation for the White family. Five of the Bishop’s eight children contracted dysentery and died from the disease. (This is what our tour guide told us. Other accounts say that the deaths were due to yellow fever.)
Once called the “most genteel tavern in America” by founding father John Adams, Philadelphia’s City Tavern ( 138 S 2nd Street) boasts two ghosts of legend. The first is that of a waiter who unknowingly stepped into the line of fire at a duel on the tavern grounds around 1790. Some people have reported seeing his ghost fall to the ground as if shot. This spectre also purportedly moves table settings around and makes silverware clatter.
The second ghost is that of a bride-to-be who was upstairs with her attendants preparing for the wedding. During the excitement, a candle set a curtain on fire and the flame quickly engulfed the room, then spread to the rest of the building. The bride died in that 1834 fire which also destroyed part of the building. Visitors report seeing a ghostly woman dressed in her wedding gown with a long train.
The Merchants’ Exchange
This is probably the most beautiful building we saw on our Philadelphia Ghost Tour. The Merchants’ Exchange (143 S 3rd Street) was built in the 1830s and is the oldest existing stock exchange building in the United States. The ghosts at this location are those of Harold Thorn, a wealthy but ill-tempered business man, and Jack Osteen (no relation to Joel as far as I know), a blind beggar.
Jack hung around outside the Merchants’ Exchange building, hoping to get some money from a philanthropic business men. While there, he would often spend time with the horses tethered outside the building, petting them and, when he was able, feeding them apples.
One particular day in 1834, Thorn lost a lot of money inside the Merchants’ Exchange, putting him in a fouler mood than usual. As he stormed out, he bumped into Jack. The bling man stumbled to regain his footing and as a result, inadvertently stepped on Thorn’s shoes. Thorn went into a rage and began pommeling Jack with his fashionable walking stick. When his rage subsided, Jack was dead.
In the silence following the attack, one of the horses let out an unearthly shriek, reared up on its hind legs, and struck Thorn with its hooves. The blow killed him. Today people say that they sometimes see the figure of Thorn and a horse re-enacting the scene outside the Merchants’ Exchange building.
Built in 1786, the Hill-Keith-Physick house (321 S. Fourth Street) was once owned by Philip Physick, the father of american surgery. One of the foremost surgeons of the time, Physick was one of the few doctors who stayed in Philadelphia to care for the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. His many patients included Dolley Madison and Chief Justice John Marshall.
The story goes that Physick hired men to dig up bodies from the grave yard and bring them back to his house, where he performed autopsies to study anatomy and discover their cause of death. Once he had finished with them, he buried the bodies in his back yard. The ghosts at the Physick House are supposed to be those of his dead subjects, robbed of their final resting place.
St. Peters Episcopal Church
In 1793, a group of Iroquois chief tribe chiefs traveled to Philadelphia to sign a peace treaty with George Washington. The city was going through a smallpox epidemic at the time. Unfortunately, all of the visiting chiefs contracted the disease and died. Washington buried them at St. Peter’s Church (3rd & Pine Streets) with military honors.
Today, their ghosts are said to haunt the area because they were buried in a location that was not consecrated for the Iroquois. And because their graves are unmarked, the bodies can’t be moved — no one knows for certain exactly where they are buried.
Old Pine Street Church
Old Pine St. Church & Cemetery (412 Pine Street) – also known as the cemetery that Nicholas Cage ran through in National Treasure – was occupied by the British Army from September 1777 – June 1778. The British soldiers stripped the church of its pews, and used the church building as a stable and hospital. They also used the cemetery as a target range to improve their marksmanship.
It is said that the spirits of those British soldiers have been condemned to remain there as an eternal punishment, and that the fancy fence that surrounds the cemetery is there to keep them locked in.
Washington Square Park
William Penn laid out five public squares in the 1680s to keep the green in his “greene Countrie Towne” of Philadelphia. One of those public squares is Washington Square, and during the Revolutionary War, it was a mass burial ground. It served as a mass burial site again during the yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia in 1793.
Grave robbers were very common at that time, so Quaker nurses wearing black cloaks would patrol the area to keep the graves undisturbed. They say that today, the spirit of one such nurse named Leah still walks through the square.
Next to the imposing and important Independence Hall is a smaller building called Congress Hall (6th & Chestnut Streets). The United States Senate and House of Representatives met at Congress Hall while Philadelphia was the capital of the United States, from 1790 to 1800. President George Washington took his second oath of office in this building, and John Adams’ inauguration also took place here.
They say that the ghosts of some of America’s early legislators inhabit the building, including President John Adams. The story goes that President Adams’ spirit regularly knocks the paintings on the walls so they hang crookedly.
How to Take a Philadelphia Ghost Tour
The ghost tour we enjoyed was the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour. It lasts about 75 minutes, and takes you to 20 different allegedly haunted sites in the historic center of Philadelphia. You can also buy a ghost tour combo ticket with a Constitutional Walking Tour.
While we did not see (or feel the presence of) any ghosts, we did enjoy seeing some of the historic buildings and learning about the history of the city. I would recommend taking this tour if you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly evening activity.
Please note that I paid for our tickets. Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour was not aware that I was a blogger, nor that I would be writing a review of my experience.
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