The nights are long and when you wake up, time is all you have. I recently took a trip to infamous Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. I was not sure what to expect, was this going to be a trip into a haunted house type place. While there was talk of ghosts and those might have never left, I was surprised at the focus on prison reform and the attention taken to bring the life of those who served there to the forefront. I’m not going to give you a deep history of the place instead I’m gonna give you some of key points and my own feelings on how I felt on that Sunday in October.
Eastern State was opened in 1829 and was in use until 1971 so its history is still very much in the recent memory of many who were in it’s walls. It was a leader in the idea of separate incarceration in which prisoners were kept apart from others in solitary confinement. When it was complained it was the largest public building in the United States. Eastern State was an example of what was called the Pennsylvania system, it was copied all over the world but another system known as the New York system was much more popular in the US. In the New York system, the idea was that prisoners should be forced to work together in hard labor. A good example of that would be Sing Sing prison.
The halls were designed to look and feel like a church which was you walk along the halls you get that feeling. You could almost see a priest walking down its halls. The cells had a small door that lead into the halls with a single window into each cell. Outside the cell was a small area for exercise, gardening and even room for a pet.
As you walk around you get the sense that while has passed on, there is a heavy feel to the air. It was hard to put into words but you feel that the tears, pain and anger that was in the air never left. The doors and walls that saw men and women walk amount them, all felt like they have lived to see a lot of that will never be spoken of.
It has been more then 45 years since Eastern State closed but walking the place, even in daylight, you got the feeling that you were being watched by something that has never really left.
By 1913, due to overcrowding the model of holding prisoners in cells alone had been abandoned.
The most famous prisoner was Al Capone who briefly was held here in 1929. Over 220k visitors come every year and many I’m sure come for the ghosts that keep getting pushed on the public, my visit was actually informative. A good amount of time if given to prison reform and how do prison fit into our society as a whole. While many do not want to hear this message and want the scary aspect, its this take to educate us on reform that was a good reason to visit.
It’s ghosts or the idea of them being held here that brings many people here. Many paranormal shows have filmed here over the years. But of course the real world is much more scary then anything that our minds think we will find within old walls.