Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Eastern State Penitentiary - Philadelphia

Good Morning,

As I mentioned earlier in the week Jason and I spent Saturday in Philadelphia and had a really great day, I have been meaning to write about it all week but sitting down and putting in all the information which by the way is a lot along with all the pictures and what not seems quite daunting and I just haven't felt much like it to be honest. We have had a terrible week of weather, I mean POURING down rain and COLD! which just makes you feel so blah, on top of that at the beginning of the week I was feeling pretty crumby so I basically did nothing but read.. big surprise!

Anyways today I decided to get it together, break the Philly trip down and write a post! So here I sit with a cup of tea and the heat on to tell you all about the Eastern State Penitentiary!

So when we decided that we were going to spend a day in Philly I started doing research on the things to see and do. I will be writing another post on all the other things we saw and did but I thought this place deserved a post of its own. I remember taking a trip in elementary school to an old prison in Toronto and absolutely loving it. I loved that their log books were hand written in the most incredibly beautiful writing, they were so detailed and interesting. We toured the cells and the history and really managed to get a sense of what it would have been like to be imprisoned so long ago.

Knowing that Eastern State Penitentiary was the worlds first true penitentiary and stated to be a building designed to inspire penitence or true regret in the hearts of criminals I was more than a little intrigued. The original seven cell blocks are all still standing, although barely and resemble the shape of spokes of a wheel in setup. These cell blocks believe it or not had running water and central heat before the White House did. Can you imagine?

This was the first actual tour on our trip, we didn't have to wait to get in and decided that it would be a good idea to do the audio tour to make sure we got all the information but were also able to go at our own place. The audio tour is narrated by actor Steve Buscemi who did an amazing job and the information was in depth and so interesting.

The prison was operational from 1829 to 1971 and refined the revolutionary system of separate incarceration which focused on principles of reform rather than punishment.

I wont lie the prison today stands in ruin, its crumbling around itself right in the middle of the city but holds such historical significance they are doing everything they can to preserve it, it is currently a U.S National Landmark. Naturally it is a major tourist attraction that you can come in and tour around yourself, you have the option of an audio tour, an actual tour with a guide and of course they do night time ghost tours. This place is amazing in its own right, but I wont lie.. its also creepy as hell. 

The audio tour allows you to go through the cell blocks and listen to actual voice recordings of people who were imprisoned in the Eastern State Penitentiary as well as guards from way back when. They are able to give very visual descriptions and accounts of trying times and prisoners from many years ago. 

They had some super creepy artifacts such as this mummified cat named Jamie. 

This is an actual cell, some that we were able to look in were completely empty and others had things like seats and dressers pictured above. Again most items are falling to pieces but the fact that they are still standing is pretty amazing and seeing original pieces only adds to the experience and gives you a better understanding of what prisoner conditions were like. 

It was really interesting to see how things have evolved from that time, these doors are quite unlike the cells you will find in most prisons today and let me tell you they were quite heavy. 


This is a view of the center of the prison and entrance to the different cell blocks. 

Some cell blocks are better maintained for tour purposes I suppose. Although this looks extremely eerie and it is, it was an absolutely amazing sight. 

I believe in cell block 9, although don't quote me on this you were able to go up on one of the catwalks to get a completely different perspective and it was an amazing view. On the audio tour the narrator states that this is his favorite view of the entire prison. 

As previously mentioned this penitentiary housed many "famous" prisoners such as prolific American band robber Willie Sutton and American gangster Al "Scarface" Capone. Fun fact, Al Capone's wisdom teeth were removed at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Al Capone was eventually released from prison and died in January 1947 after suffering cardiac arrest following a stroke. 

Below is a picture of Al Capone's cell as it was when he occupied it. I would say that his living conditions were much better than most of the prisoners at that time. 

The prisons history is so interesting, their tactics were eventually decided to be quite inhumane and the treatment of their prisoners was not accomplishing anything positive. I highly recommend checking HERE and reading all about the prison as it truly is a great part of American History and an extremely interesting read. 

If you are interested in visiting the Eastern State Penitentiary which I highly recommend if you are in the Philadelphia area then there are many ways to do so. Obviously you can go straight to the grounds which are located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street in the Fairmount section of the city, it is also a stop on all the major bus tours that go through the city. If you happen to purchase a bus tour ticket you can add that option to include the cost of entry into your bus ticket if you would like as well.

I truly believe this is worth the time, I believe we spent an hour or so there and gained so much worthwhile information throughout our tour. Upcoming events at the prison include:

  • Prison Food Weekend (June 6-7): Sample official recipes of Nutraloaf, the "food product" used as punishment in many U.S Prisons, and learn about the prison fare throughout Eastern States History. 
  • Family Weekend, Pets in Prison (June 27-28): Discover unique stories about animals throughout Eastern State's history and how they continue to play a role in prisons today with New Leash on Life USA. 
  • Bastille Day (July 11 @ 5:30pm): FREE TO PUBLIC. Eastern State teams with The Bearded Ladies cabaret group to present one of Philadelphia's largest free theatrical performances, with a playful reenactment of the Storming of the Bastille.

Have you guys ever visited the Eastern State Penitentiary or any other prison in North America for historical purposes? If so please tell me about it!

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