The weekend after my visit to Vermont, Jim and I loaded up the car and headed out for another long weekend trip. Jim is originally from Philadelphia and his cousin was getting married there, so we decided to make Philly one of our summer vacation destinations. Besides the wedding, initially the only real plans we had were to see the Barnes Collection. That never happened, in part because we accidentally stumbled upon Eastern State Penitentiary while out for breakfast one morning. I’m so glad we did because it was one of the highlights of my summer this year.
Eastern State Penitentiary is the oldest penitentiary in the US, and is considered the first true one in the world. That’s right folks, THE WORLD. I could ramble on and on like a giant nerd about the history of this place, or instead if you are actually interested you can check out the wiki page when you have some time to kill.
The museum is set up so you explore all of the different wings on your own. Each is restored to a different time period in the prison’s history. Even with that said, much of the prison was still in ruins, which I found really fascinating. Jim and I LOVE our old stuff.
Here’s some of my favorite shots from our day spent there.
The first wing was set up to it’s original state when it was first built. There was a heavy religious element, with the focus on penitence (hence the name, penitentiary). Cells were designed where all inmates were in isolation so they could read the bible and reflect on what they have done and what they can do to make it up to society.
The rest of the wings were set up for different eras during the prisons history. The vast majority were in ruins. There was one wing in particular the staff claims is haunted, and by the looks of it I don’t doubt it. It’s so dilapidated it’s dripping with stalactites and stalagmites.
This is what the prison looks like from above. Each wing meets in the center circle, which at the time made it easier to watch over all the wings from one specific vantage point.
There was also an old greenhouse on the site, as well as a bocce court which at one time was entertainment for the prison’s Italian inmates. Being of Italian decent I found this really interesting.
One wing they had a guest exhibition of artworks from various artists making statements on the prison system. Two pieces in particular that caught my attention was one where a transgendered inmate spoke of her horrendous abuse while in the system, and another which was an exact replica of the cell in Guantanamo. As you can see, it’s much smaller and open to the elements than what Eastern State provided their own inmates.
Al Capone was one of the infamous inmates at Eastern State. They had his cell still intact. I don’t know whether or not I can say I’m a lucky girl, I’ve now seen his cells at both Eastern State as well as Alcatraz.
If you are ever in Philadelphia and looking for a unique educational experience to check out, check out Eastern State! As mentioned, this place was literally the highlight of my summer. I hear they do a great “haunted house” night for Halloween I’m trying to get Jim to take me to, but I think I’ll be unsuccessful in convincing him it’s a good idea.