Craig and I were in Philadelphia this past weekend to attend a wedding as guests, a delightful and rare treat for us (I will be posting a few snapshots from the wedding in the next few days). On the morning of the wedding, however, we found ourselves with a few hours and decided to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. I have wanted to visit ESP my entire life and was so excited to take the tour. We opted for the audio version and I loved EVERY MINUTE of our time spent there. The history was fascinating. The architecture was astonishing. And the feeling from walking the halls of place where criminals did hard time was surreal.
In 1829, legislation specifying “separate or solitary confinement at labor” was passed. Many leaders believed that crime is the result of environment, and that solitude will make the criminal regretful and penitent (hence the new word for a prison, Penitentiary). This correctional theory, as practiced in Philadelphia, would become known as the Pennsylvania System. This system eventually broke down and was abandoned in 1913.
Plans were finalized to prohibit all contact between prisoners at Eastern State, the world’s most ambitious Penitentiary. Masks were fabricated to keep the inmates from communicating during rare trips outside their cells. Cells were equipped with feed doors and individual exercise yards to prevent contact between inmates, and minimize contact between inmates and guards. If you look closely at this rendering, you can see the individual exercise yards.
One of the historical facts that fascinated me the most was how the famed architect John Haviland figured out how to have facilities in each cell. This was in an age when the White House, with its new occupant Andrew Jackson, had no running water. He devised a way, through a central piping system, to essentially flush the toilets all at the same time, once per day. The pipes in this photo were added much later.
The interior doors were also added much later. Originally, the only way into each cell was through a door located on the outside of their individual exercise yards.
Love the colors, texture, and the years represented by the different materials and craftsmanship.
And the entire time I was there, I kept thinking… if I only had a bride with me.
Notice the ghost cats?The cells were made of concrete with a single glass skylight, representing the “Eye of God”, hinting to the prisoners that God was always watching them. Built on Mormon principles, the authorities believed that prisoners were innately good, that their environment had corrupted them. This, of course, goes against Biblical teachings, which asserts the opposite, that humans are born with a sin nature.
This was the control panel for the cell doors on death row.
Inmate barber shop. The officers barber shop was much nicer.
This time of a year they offer a Terror Behind the Walls haunted tour and I have heard that it is awesome! Provided you like to be scared out of your mind. Either way, I highly recommend taking a tour, we really enjoyed the history.