Pennsylvania: Eastern State Penitentiary

Displeased with the harsh conditions and the lack of reform in prisons, Dr. Benjamin Rush began the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons in 1787. And with members such as Benjamin Franklin, persistence would pay off. but, not until all those who began the fight were dead. for it wasn’t until 1822 that construction began on a new prison, designed by John Haviland. one which would be known as the worlds first Penitentiary.

In 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary opened its cells to prisoners, with solitude and penance in mind. The thought was if inmates where subjected to permanent solitary confinement, they would reflect on the crimes they committed, and true reform would be achieved. Each single inmate cell would have a narrow skylight which was dubbed ‘the eye of God’. and by no means where inmates allowed to speak to one another, or communicate in any other manner. special Masks where even Designed for those scarce times a convict would have to leave their cells.

The unconventional penitentiary would become world renowned, attracting the attention of foreign commissioners who wished to mimic the workings of this new way of reform, Eastern State even caught the attention of the legendary author, Charles Dickens, who wished to visit the reformatory while visiting America. He said "The System is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement, and I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong...."

But it wasn’t until 1913 that the solitude and separation that was believed to rehabilitate, was completely abolished. By the 1920’s ESP was like most other jailhouses in the United States. In 1929, famous mobster Al Capone spent 8 months in a cell (more like a hotel room). It was in 1965 that the federal government declared the building a National Historic Landmark.

Only five years later, it was closed. Vandals wasted no time as by 1971 the windows were destroyed, and stray cats had taken residence on the property. Over the next 20 years, talks and plans about saving the building were being worked on. And with lots of work, it paid off.

In 1994, the doors once again opened. Only this time, as a museum. And for only $9 and quick sign of a release form, you too can visit it. Restoration efforts are underway all around you as you walk through any one of the 12 massive, multi-floor cell blocks. Or take a walk outside to visit the exercise yard, or baseball field. Not all the cell blocks are accessible however. Aging has definitely taken its toll on the place, evident by the crumbling ceilings, peeling paint and vines growing inside the cells.

This is one of those examples which shows it is possible for us to keep these once forgotten places alive. A place where we can visit, and take a step back in time and take in everything that happened there. A perfect way to take that step into history that we all so much need. It may not be completely renovated, but there’s no need for it to be. Fixing it up and cleaning it all out would almost take the charm away.

Look at it this way. Have you ever wanted to go into some old abandoned house that you pass on your way to the store each day? But never did, because not only is it illegal, but its unsafe? Well, no need to worry about that. Here, you get that great creepy feeling, but its safe enough that anyone can walk around and enjoy every bit of it. The more adventurous may like to hop into a cell or two. And with all the history posted all around, you can get a sense of how it really was.

Now, its not 100% authentic (sorry guys, but I saw the faux metal :aka wood: doors on some of the cells..) but it doesn't matter. The fact is, this place is a piece of our history, and it's being saved. It's definitely a worthwhile trip.

-PaperSouls :October 2007