Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA

Yes, we drove 14 hours round trip to visit a museum.

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you`ll notice that former prisons tend to be a bit of a trend on here. One of my close friends and I have made a point of visiting as many prisons turned museums that we can. A weird hobby, but the history of it fascinates me.

Since we’ve exhausted the close by prison museums (Orignal, Cornwall, Trois Rivieres), we decided to head to Philly and visit Eastern.

Unlike the prisons we`ve visited in the past, Eastern was mainly left as is. It was closed, set abandoned, and then was reopened as a museum with little restoration.

Some history: Eastern was the first penitentiary, opening in 1829. Before that, prisons were basically holding tanks, crammed full, often of people awaiting hangings. The Enlightenment came around, some prominent Philly residents met at Benjamin Franklin’s house, and the idea of a penitentiary was born.

The idea? Solitude and silence would help the prisoners find God, inner peace, and the right path. If you know anything about current day prison issues, you’re probably aware that solitary confinement largely drives inmates insane.

So, the Philadelphia system was born, of separating and isolating inmates was born at Eastern. The New York system, like Sing Sing, of having inmates work and live together, didn’t make its appearance at Eastern for a long time.

The prison eventually abandoned solitary confinement, which had gone as far as having inmates wear hoods on their heads when out of their cell,so as to not see the other inmates (or learn the prison’s layout), and having them exercise in separate yards out back of their cells.

Eastern closed in 1971, and sat abandoned until the first tours occured in 1994.
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