Places to Visit »Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State PenitentiaryThere's a huge abandoned prison in the heart of Philadelphia that we learned is now open to the public. How could we not go?

We were expecting to meet the standard ticket sales team for mansions, arboretums and anything else historic: mean old ladies sworn to protecting the place by condescending the visitors; sometimes even making up arbitrary rules involving pointless waits so that we just leave; always totally outraged that I've brought a camera; and generally distrustful of our semi-youthful appearances (see: The Breakers, Planting Fields Arboretum).

Then we assumed that once we purchased our tickets and waited the requisite 59 minutes for the next tour to begin, we'd be lead around a very limited part of the grounds by an inept and inarticulate guide (see: Howe Caverns, The Breakers).

Not so! Not only were the ticket sellers really nice kids, do you know who your tour guide is? Steve Buscemi.

It turns out that nearly the entire place is open and totally self-guided. You can peruse the marked points of interest while listening to Mr. Pink's insightful account of the prison's history or you can opt to wander around on your own; there's no better way to visit a historical attraction.

Opened in 1829 when corporal punishment was out and self reflection was in, the philosophy behind the prison differed dramatically from every other jail in the world. Basing their penal concepts on traditional Quaker values, the founders (among them was one Ben Franklin) believed that through total isolation, hard work and the bible, inmates would become penitent. Each prisoner was furnished with a single cell and attached to a small yard which they never left during their stay (unless they were hooded); communication with the outside world was totally forbidden.

The prison is pretty massive, it's also pretty run down, over 11 acres large, it held about 250 prisoners when it opened. As crime went sky high and more folks were incarcerated, the Pennsylvania system of quiet reflection was abandoned as the prison's population exceeded its capacity. It finally closed in 1971.

But now you can walk the halls of the famous prison that once held Al Capone unmolested–and they have a Halloween haunted house that must be down right terrifying, the place is eerie enough at noon time on a Sunday.

See more: Places to Visit

Posted on December 3, 2007

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