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The Abandoned ‘Shawshank Redemption’ Prison and Others Are Eerily Beautiful as They Exist Today

Chilling photos of the abandoned Shawshank Redemption Prison and other 19th-century dungeons give a rare glimpse into a darker part of human history.

3. Holmesburg Prison

Holmesburg Prison
Holmesburg Prison, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

When it comes to prisons with a checkered past, Holmesburg Prison is one of the worst. It was built in 1896 and remained in operation until 1995. Many of this prison’s secrets have been lost to history, but from what is known, life was far from ideal for those unfortunate enough to call this wretched place home.

Holmesburg Prison
Welcome to your new home. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

It remains completely closed to the public, with photographers only being granted access with special permission at times. Cindy achieved access during one of these occasions and learned quickly why the facility was off-limits to the average person. After repeatedly bumping her head and risking worse injury than that a time or two, she managed to survive the shoot in one piece, and perhaps more importantly to such a photographer, with her gear intact as well.

Holmesburg Prison
Halls of cells. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

Countless riots and attacks that left both inmates and officials dead left red on this prison’s ledger, but that was a cake walk compared to some of the government-approved operations that occurred in this facility. It wouldn’t become public knowledge until more recent years, but residents of Holmesburg Prison were subjected to numerous atrocities, including torture and medical experimentation.

Holmesburg Prison
You don’t want to find yourself strapped to this gurney. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

Pharmaceutical and military experiments were conducted on “human guinea pigs” incarcerated in Holmesburg Prison. Dr. Albert Kligman, a dermatologist, allegedly paid volunteer inmates in order to use them as test patients in a number of experiments. Inmates became afflicted with horrific skin conditions resulting from chemical, drug, and cosmetics testing.

Holmesburg Prison
A small skylight is all inmates got in this cell. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

Each cell featured a small skylight, providing inmates with a bit of the outside world during the day, and a small slice of the heavens on clear nights. As insignificant as this view was, it was better than most prisoners experienced in their personal living quarters in other prisons. It offered Holmesburg residents a type of tranquility not often bestowed upon members of society such as themselves who were all but forgotten.

Holmesburg Prison
Inmates in this cell enjoyed a view. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

In 1938, the 25 leaders of a prison-wide hunger strike were locked in what the prison referred to as “bake ovens” as punishment (not pictured). These cells were heated to 190 degrees Fahrenheit for 58 hours. When the doors were opened, four of the inmates had died due to the extreme heat.

Holmesburg Prison
Rusty stairs. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

After a massive attempt on behalf of the inmates to overtake the prison guards, over 100 people were severely injured, including one who nearly lost his hand to a meat cleaver. The prison then moved 235 of its most violent inmates to a nearby facility, Eastern State Penitentiary (which you can read more about on the next page). Other incidents included prisoners being beaten to death by guards as well as hundreds of unspeakable acts of violence among inmates, despite strict rules set forth by the officials.

Holmesburg Prison
Strict rules and penalties didn’t prevent prisoners from carrying out atrocious deeds against one another. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

Abandoned since 1995, and in a state of disrepair from long before then, the prison was known for exceedingly unsanitary conditions. Many inmates were allegedly exposed to chemicals that were suspected to cause various skin diseases. It turns out, these suspicions were quite accurate.

Holmesburg Prison
Inmates were exposed to extremely unsanitary conditions, in some cases on purpose. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

Holmesberg Prison’s decrepit interior has become sealed within cinema history, having been used as the set for several prison films including “Up Close and Personal”, “Animal Factory”, and “Law Abiding Citizen”. The set designers of “Up Close and Personal” actually built an expansion onto one of the guard station areas, adding a sinister-looking glass dome which can be seen below.

Holmesburg Prison
This dome was added as part of a movie set. (Photo Copyright © 2015 Cindy Vasko)

Closed to the public, this decaying fortress has been deemed too dangerous for tours, with rare exceptions being made only for photographers. It remains unknown whether this prison will be left standing or be lost to history. As recently as this year, Philadelphia is considering selling the prison and the land on which it lies for tear down and new development.

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NEXT PAGE: Check out Philadelphia’s abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary

Written by Andrew Fischer

Andrew Fischer is the Head Writer and Editor-in-Chief of PopMalt. He is an avid follower of all things pop and Internet culture, and works as Creative Director at NURV, a boutique creative multimedia and digital marketing company.


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