America's Most Historic Prison
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cell blocks and empty guard towers. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including "Slick Willie" Sutton and "Scarface" Al Capone.
Such is the description on their website.
Even though I lived in Philadelphia for fours years, I never visited the State Penn. Now that the city has built up around it, it feels out of place. It has the feel of an old castle. It first opened in 1829 and was the first prison built on the concept of solitary confinement. Even the entrance leads you into the prison. The initial hallway is narrow and confined, although Luke didnt seem to mind.
During your visit you are taken around by an audio tour. It is done exceptionally well. It is narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. You are given a headset and a little ipod like device. At you walk along there are numbered signs. You punch in the number and a new audio track plays.
The initial cell blocks were only one story high. When the penitentiary was first opened it was designed to hold 250 inmates. The image above shows the first cell block that the tour takes you down. It is very creepy. Cell block one, two and three were all only one story.
Later on, they realized that they needed to more room for the increasing number of inmates. They added a second story when they built blocks four, five, six and seven. The above photo is of block 7. The tour takes you up the stairs and you get a great view from where a guard would have stood.
The Eastern State Penn was designed with the "hub and spoke" plan. This had a central tower in the middle where all the blocks extended out from. The room in the above image is the center tower. If you stand in the middle you can turn and see directly down the hallway of every cell block in the prison.
The height of the outside walls is 30 ft. This image gives perspective of how tall they are. Despite this, there were still many escapes from the penitentiary. Every escpaped prisoner was caught and returned to the penn except for one.
Now many of the cell blocks are in poor conditions. This gives a very haunting feel to the place. You can feel the history as you walk around. After you complete the main section of the tour you are able to walk around freely. The place is large and you often end up in cell blocks by yourself.
There are a lot of great photo opportunities. I took a ton of pictures while I was there. I am only sharing a few of my favourites.
We had an awesome time at the Eastern State Penitentiary. It was one of the highlights of our trip.
If you are ever in Philly I highly recommend that you go and visit for yourself.
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