Never have I been to a city with more dynamic infrastructure from one block to the next. From Center City, you can find yourself in the quaint tree-lined blocks in the south or the abandoned apocalyptic landscape of the north. Both areas have an edgy feel to them, similar to NY in the early 90s. It was really good to see a lot of the buildings from the old days still being used by both businesses and residents.
You definitely don’t want to get chased by a car in this city
Some of the old street signs from the 40’s still hung on
Philly Electric Co – Founded in 1881
Eastern State Penitentiary – Of all the abandoned places I’ve been, this one was definitely one of the most impressive. Built in 1829, it is America’s second oldest prison and the world’s first true Penitentiary (a derivation of the religious term “penitent” which alludes to atonement of one’s sins). The whole place was shaped like a big wheel, with each individual block of cells serving as the “spokes”. It guaranteed the maximum amount of isolation. The “Pennsylvania System” was developed here which called for zero communication between prisoners and severe corporal punishment for those that did not comply with the rules. Needless to say there were many tortured souls that passed through these walls over the years. When it closed 42 years ago, it was slated to be demolished but due to lack of funds that never happened. In 1994, after years of deterioration, it was designated a national historic landmark and has been open for tours and exploration since.
The Main Gate
The Courtyard – An area rarely seen by more than two prisoners at a time. They were allowed to do some gardening and some even had pets, but no other recreational activities were permitted. When a prisoner left his cell, an accompanying guard would put a hood over his head to prevent him from being recognized by other prisoners. You can see two of the “spokes” spreading out from the main guard tower.
Inside the prison was dark, with the only lights coming from skylights above
You never saw one cell that looked like the other, but they all had very small doors that forced the inmates to bow to the guards as they exited their cells.
Despite the seemingly primitive conditions, cells were advanced for their time. Each had a faucet with running water and pipes along the wall that served as a source of heat during the frigid winter months.
Each cell had a glass skylight with an “eye of god”, a constant reminder that a higher power was constantly watching them
Al Capone’s Cell – Where he stayed after getting indicted for income tax evasion from 1929-1931
As usual, life finds a way
The contrast of light and darkness was everywhere. There was the false illusion of safety in the sunlight. Perhaps it was the same for those who died behind these walls.
Looking down the “spokes” was a pretty impressive sight. You could see how easy it was for just a few guards to manage the population while they were all safely encased in their cells.
Center of the wheel
Cell Block 10 leads to the solitary confinement area. There, prisoners were sprayed with freezing water and left naked in the dark, had their tongues tied to their wrists, bound to chairs for days and thrown into “the hole” with no human contact and scraps of food for weeks on end.
One of the best chores prisoners had was repairing the skylights. it gave them interaction with other humans and a chance to spend additional time outdoors.
Cell Block 5
From the center, you could see the spokes clearly
Remains of the Barber Shop
Taking back the walls
Off the hinges
This was the site of many strange occurrences in the prison. You could feel something at your back when looking down this corridor.
184 years of history in the walls