Saturday, August 06, 2005

Do Not Pass Go...Go Directly to Jail...

One of the things I enjoy most with this blog is to be able to talk about some of the unique places around Philadelphia.

So today Mrs. Pratt and I decided to go to prison. Well, we toured the historic Eastern State Penitentiary.

The entrance to the prison. Built in 1829 it gives the impression of a formidable fortress.

Another view outside Eastern State Penitentiary. It's 30 foot walls were hard to breach from the inside.

We were given headsets for an amazing audio tour narrated by one of my favorite actors, Steve Buscemi. He first visited the prison in 1999 scouting locations for a film. Eastern State may be familiar to you film fans. Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys was filmed here.

The prison was in use from 1829-1971, and then abandoned for 23 years, until it was reopened to the public for tours. It's now in a state of "managable ruin". You can walk down the cellblocks today and look to see where thousands of prisoners did hard time.

Inside a cell as it would appear in the 19th century.All prisoners were kept in solitary for 23 hours a day. The door at the back led to a solitary exercise yard. Known as "The Pennsylvania System" this harsh treatment soon became a model for European, South American, and Asian prisons. prisoners couldn't fraternize with each other until 1913.

Down the halls of another cellblock.

The audio tour also featured stories from former guards and inmates. Walking through the corridors you can only imagine the human drama that occured within these walls for 140 years.

The Guard Tower and prison walls.

The Ghost Cats.

For 30 years cats had run of the abandoned prison. They are all gone now but an art exhibit remembers them with these ghostly statues throughout the prison grounds. The prison has now become a muse to several artists.

One of the penitentiary's infamous inmates was "Scarface" Al Capone. Arrested in Philadelphia in 1929 he served 8 months in a rather swanky cell.

The prison cell Al Capone occupied in 1929-1930. Unlike the ordinary prisoners, he was able to have oil paintings, nice furniture and a radio.

We also did a a special tour narrated by one of the staff talking about escapes from the prison. In its history only one man had successfully escaped without being recaptured. We were shown the beginnings of a 1945 escape tunnel which ran from a cell-under the prison wall and onto the street. All participants of that escape including notorious bank robber Willie Sutton were soon recaptured.

The beginnings of the 1945 escape tunnel.

I recommend taking a tour of the prison if you ever find yourself in Philadelphia. It's a unique attraction, and especially eerie around Halloween. Allegedly haunted, the ghostly "Terror Behind the Walls" Halloween tours are the best for good scare in this area.

One of the spooky cellblocks of Eastern State Penitentiary.

After a few hours we left the prison to have dinner and arrive home to find the bunnies digging escape tunnels in our living room carpet.Arrgh.

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