2. Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary, located in Philadelphia, PA, is actually one of the first penitentiaries ever built. Before its construction in 1829, large-scale penitentiaries of this nature did not exist. In fact, its radial floor plan resembling a seven-sided asterisk has actually been duplicated by hundreds of other prisons across the world. Cindy earned special access to areas in this prison that are not open to the public as a prize for winning first place in the 2012 Eastern Sate Penitentiary Photo Contest. Many of the images featured here were taking during this VIP photo session.
The halls of Eastern State Penitentiary were modeled after a church-like feel, something that is still somewhat evident in its current state of decay.
Solitary confinement in Eastern State Penitentiary was among the worst in the world at this time in history. Inmates were forced into very small cells with no light, no furniture, and no bathroom plumbing. These cells were so small that prisoners had to crawl into them (over piping in some cases) and couldn’t even stand up once inside. The solitary confinement block is seen below. While the photo itself looks well-lit, this is simply because of modern-day camera technology and added lights (light bulbs weren’t even invented until the prison had been in operation for 50 years). In reality, this part of the prison deemed “The Hole”, housed literal holes in the wall in pitch black. During a stint in solitary confinement, prisoners would remain in complete darkness with no human contact and minimal food. It wasn’t uncommon for a trouble-making prisoner to be thrown in one of these cells for up to two weeks at a time.
Cells in Eastern State Penitentiary were considered decent sized for the time period, and included advanced functionality such as running water, flushing toilets, and even heat. Some prisoners were even allowed comfort items such as chairs and desks. One-time resident and American gangster Al Capone spent some time in this prison. His cell even included a radio, lamps, and a framed picture hanging from his wall. The cells as they exist today all but leave evidence of this lavish prison life to the recesses of history. Today, these cells look more like dungeon corridors than suitable living areas.
The ceilings of Eastern State Penitentiary cells held skylights, installed specifically to encourage prisoners to contemplate the ever-seeing eye of God. This light, of course, provides a rare treat for the camera in this otherwise dingy dungeon.
Like many other prisons at this time in history, prisoners were subjected to harsh conditions, including severe mistreatment from the guards. Acceptable punishments included pouring freezing water on prisoners during the winter, or tightly restraining prisoners to objects such as chairs for days at a time. In 1945, twelve inmates managed to escape after spending a year secretly digging a 97-foot tunnel under the prison walls. This escape and other attempted escape routes are shown as part of the historical tours that are held at the prison.
Not to be outdone by other crumbling prisons from this time period, Eastern State Penitentiary has also been featured in several movies, including “Twelve Monkeys”, “Animal Factory”, and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”.
It’s not just the prison itself that has been left to the unforgiveness of nature; many objects from the prison’s operation days have been left to decay within those stone walls. Below, old vehicles used in daily prison functions remain on the grounds, lost to time and now a permanent part of the prison’s history.
Shortly after its closure in 1970, the prison nearly became the site of more modern structures such as a mall or apartment complex. Redevelopment never got off the ground, however, and the site has remained open to public tours since 1994. Drawn to the prison’s shady history, this site has also been a tourist attraction for thrill-seekers looking for a scare.
Between the tours and preservation funds, money has actually been raised to allow portions of the prison to be restored. While significant progress has been made via this effort, many portions of the prison, (including many pictured in this article) remain closed off to the general public.
NEXT PAGE: Check out Virgina’s abandoned Lorton Reformatory