Eastern State Penitentiary
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Autumn, fewer visitors, perfect weather to visit such a towering structure of the past. Clouds or rain will only add to the drama.
One of the most haunting places I have visited in the US, haunting in the way the stories of the past cling to the walls and to your ears on the tour. You will be unable to resist connecting with the personal stories of the prisoners. There is a self-guided audio tour that pairs nicely with walking slowly through the halls. Tickets are under $15 a person, and if you can make it in the fall, for higher ticket prices ($13 - $39 a person depending on how late in the evening you go) there is a special "Terror Behind the Walls" haunted house tour. Personally, I think the whole place carries enough mystery, that its authentic story is rich enough to leave a lasting impression.
Fascinating that a place that was the home of honorific tales was founded on a Quaker concept that criminals could have penitence given lengthy isolation, leaving ample time for reflection. In the 1800's this was a ground-breaking idea, just as the structure's layout was considered revolutionary and became the example for the criminal justice system world-wide.
Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article on solitary confinement, Mary Hawthorne described the Quaker-inspired experiment in incarceration eliminated corporal punishment (whipping, stocks, and the like) and called for “the complete isolation of the prisoner from all human society.”
The system, Hawthorne writes, was “ironically and perversely, a reform attempt, based on the notion of “penitence” (hence “penitentiary”), conceived by the Philadelphia Society for Ameliorating the Miseries of Public Prisons.” Prisoners were kept alone in their cells to work, read the Bible, and contemplate their crimes. To ensure that they did not know precisely where they were, and did not catch sight of other inmates, their heads were covered with hoods whenever they were taken from their cells.