Philadelphia: Eastern State Penitentiary

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The ‘World’s first true penitentiary’ designed in a wagon-wheel style opened in 1829 and was built “to create genuine regret and penitence in the criminal’s heart” (as per Eastern State Penitentiary website)

It was the first and the most interesting attraction on our list of places to see in Philadelphia. And by eleven in the morning we were there to avoid the crowds later during the day. We bought our tickets, picked up the headphones for the audio tour and began this tour with tons of curiosity.

The moment I stepped into the cell block one, it was as if I was transported to a different time. Massive ceilings, chipped walls, broken cell doors and the eerie silence – it was intimidating. It is hard to imagine how frightening it must have been when it was functioning – reminded me of the scenes from ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ and ‘Shawshank Redemption’.

Some of the cells are recreated to understand how the inmates used to live – with a small skylight, a toilet and a hard bed – it must been incredibly difficult. And not to forget, Al Capone’s cell which was equipped with all the comforts of those days – strikingly different from the others.

We walked through the hallways while listening to the stories of inmates, the kind of punishments which were given to them, their escape plans and how the entire penitentiary worked. It was fascinating to know so many stories – and the most unforgettable was the ‘Tunnel Escape of 1945’ when 12 inmates escaped through a tunnel they dug over a period of one year.

Spent a while going around the various cell-blocks, clicked some awesome pictures and enjoyed our time walking through the pages of history.

Such a unique experience, it was the best part of our trip to Philly.

Copyright © Vasudha Aggarwal & travel-defined.com, 2014 -15. All rights reserved.

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19 thoughts on “Philadelphia: Eastern State Penitentiary

  1. Your photographs are very evocative. We moved to the Philly suburbs from Scotland eight months ago and this is at the top of our “Must Do” list for once our youngest child is old enough to get at least something out of the experience.

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  2. Very nice pictures. I went out there with my wife last year on a really hot day. The Steve Buscemi audio tour really helped an already awesome experience. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Hi Vasudha, haunting pictures you’ve got there. Did this inspire Prison Break? I’m a TV news reporter from the Philippines and even though this prison is old, it’s way more beautiful than the prisons I’ve been covering in our country 🙂

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    1. Hi Bam. Yes, the place itself is so haunting that pictures couldn’t have gone wrong.
      The frightening prison must be the reason for inmates to escape. But, if you are referring to the Prison Break series, I have no idea.
      Good to know about your interesting work. Yes, this prison is really beautiful, a must-see.

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