Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
I believe my prediction for this post breaking the record of having the most photos will hold true. If you didn’t catch the last post, my sister is a photographer and so between the two of us we took over a thousand pictures in Philadelphia, and we took more at Eastern State Penitentiary than at the zoo. Tina was excited to bring me to the historical penitentiary to take pictures and I was really excited to go – but I was even more excited when we got there. In addition to being a fantastic structure, Eastern State has an incredible atmosphere to it making it easy to believe the claims of haunting.
I wanted to listen to the audio tour because the history of how the structure was conceived as a revolutionary system of separate confinement was fascinating, but I kept being distracted by the striking architecture and ruins. Still, what I managed to learn was very interesting. As a model of separate confinement, Eastern State Penitentiary was designed as a hub-and-spoke plan where long cell blocks radiated from a central area, minimizing contact between prisoners and guards. Embodying the Pennsylvania System of prison reform, it opened in 1829 to rehabilitate the prisoners through inspiration and reflection rather than the punishment-based models found elsewhere. To that end, the halls of each block were barrel-vaulted and made to resemble a church while each individual cell has a skylight, dubbed the “eye of god,” so that prisoners could more easily feel a connection with the divine that might lead them to penitence. The Gothic exterior was designed as an imposing deterrent.
Tina and I both could have easily spent an entire day there (we have plans to go back) to explore. Most of the cell blocks are open and each cell contains different objects and rubble, left as they were abandoned after the prison closed in 1970. These discarded objects are fascinating as a window into prison life and create a poignant atmosphere. “Creepy as hell” was the phrase that kept coming to mind.