Eastern State Penitentiary - Philadelphia, PA

richterslrichtersl Major grinsRegistered Users Posts: 3,322 Major grins
edited October 10, 2010 in Journeys
Opened in 1829, Eastern State is considered to be the world's first true penitentiary. Its system of incarceration originated and encouraged solitary confinement as a form of rehabilitation in the hope that it would move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. The method was a Quaker-inspired system of isolation from other prisoners, with labor.

The early Quaker-inspired system was strict. To prevent distraction, knowledge of the building, and even mild interaction with guards, inmates were hooded whenever they were outside their cells. Proponents of this system believed that isolating the criminal from his surroundings in such a manner forced them to think of the ugliness of their crimes and as a result would inspire the criminal to become genuinely penitent, hence the term "penitentiary".

By 1913, Eastern State officially abandoned the solitary system and operated as a congregate prison until it closed in 1970. Some its more famous inmates included Al Capone and Willie Sutton. It is now open as a museum.

No significant attempts have been made for renovations or upkeep. The facility is intentionally kept in a state of preserved ruin. Visitors are asked to sign a liability waiver due to some minor safety concerns.

In the middle 1970’s, the empty prison was designated as a National Historic Landmark and was eventually purchased by the city of Philadelphia to be used as a tourist attraction. The Pennsylvania Prison Society of Philadelphia was placed in charge of operating and promoting it as a historic site and they continue to conduct tours of the penitentiary today.


Eastern State was a modern marvel of the early 19th Century. Seven cell blocks radiate from a central surveillance rotunda. Each prisoner had his or her own private cell, centrally heated, with running water, a flush toilet, and a skylight. This was in an age when the White House, with its new occupant Andrew Jackson, had no running water and was heated with coal-burning stoves.

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In each vaulted, skylit cell, the prisoner had only the light from heaven, the word of God (the Bible) and honest work (shoemaking, weaving, and the like) to lead to penitence. The "light from heaven" emanted from a skylight. As the number of prisoners increased, some of the cell blocks needed to have a second story added, which obscured the skylight.

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Throughout the prison there are sculptures of cats. These sculptures represent the colony of cats that took up residence in the prison after it was shut down. For 28 years a man by the name of Dan McCloud (Dan the Cat Man) came to the prison three times a week to take care of the 30-40 jailhouse cats. In 1993 the cats were trapped and neutered by the Spayed Club. The population dwindled and several years later Dan turned the cat care over to the staff at Eastern State.

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The cell block hallways are very cathedral-like in appearance with 30-foot, barrel vaulted hallways, tall arched windows, and skylights throughout them. The prison's architect descibed it as a forced monastery, a machine for reform.

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Probably Eastern's most famous inmate was Al Capone. Here's how an article in the Philadelphia Public Ledger for August 20, 1929, described Capone's cell: "The whole room was suffused in the glow of a desk lamp which stood on a polished desk.... On the once-grim walls of the penal chamber hung tasteful paintings, and the strains of a waltz were being emitted by a powerful cabinet radio receiver of handsome design and fine finish..."

Capone continued to conduct business from prison. He was given a private cell and allowed to make long-distance telephone calls from the warden’s office and to meet with his lawyers, friends, and family, all of whom made frequent trips to Philadelphia.

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The exterior is a menacing, medieval facade, built to intimidate.

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Eastern State Penitentiary has been the location for films and for many ghost tours. Throughout the web you can find information about different paranormal investigations that have taken place there. No, I did not see any ghosts while I was there....at least none that I know of. :rofl

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But I'll tell you honestly that this is undoubtedly one of the creepiest places I've ever visited. Would I go back? Probably. :rofl

Just a note for any of you who would like to visit for the purpose of taking pictures: they do not allow you to bring tripods in there with you. If you head there on a bright sunny day, you'll have plenty of natural light to work with and bars to lean on for support.

Edit (10/8/2010): Thought I'd stick this here so no one would miss it. Apparently you CAN bring a tripod with you but you will need to pay a fee to use it. You can also check their web site in case there are any changes. Their photographer guidelines may be found here: http://www.easternstate.org/visit/options.php
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Comments

  • i_worship_the_Kingi_worship_the_King Point & Spray Registered Users Posts: 548 Major grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    :jawdrop Gorgeous, nothing less.
    I make it policy to never let ignorance stand in the way of my opinion. ~Justiceiro

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  • wholenewlightwholenewlight Press Any Key Registered Users Posts: 1,529 Major grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    Neat shots.

    I didn't realize you could tour the place. I've seen documentaries on penetentiary and found it very interesting.

    PS: it would be close for me - I live in Lancaster
    john w

    I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches and foliage that reached up toward the light. But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself.
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  • NikolaiNikolai Darth SLR Registered Users Posts: 19,035 Major grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    Linda,
    Great story, awesome pictures! clap.gif
    Thank you so much for taking us with you! thumb.gif
    "May the f/stop be with you!"
  • LlywellynLlywellyn Temperamental Irishwoman Mountain View, CARegistered Users, Retired Mod Posts: 3,186
    edited October 5, 2007
    Wow. Amazing write-up and stunning photos. Thank you so much for sharing! thumb.gif
  • Awais YaqubAwais Yaqub One Inspired soul Registered Users Posts: 10,566 Major grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    clap.gif Superb series clap.gif
    Thine is the beauty of light; mine is the song of fire. Thy beauty exalts the heart; my song inspires the soul. Allama Iqbal

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  • hamsterhamster Major grins Registered Users Posts: 361 Major grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    Wow, these are amazing! I really love #2 and the gargoyles.
  • kenlynekenlyne Big grins Registered Users Posts: 53 Big grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    Fantastic work! Thanks for the tour, very interesting!
  • richterslrichtersl Major grins Registered Users Posts: 3,322 Major grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    Thanks so much for looking, folks! :D

    To wholenewlight -- Lancaster is a mere day trip from Philadelphia, perhaps 1.5 hours, that's it. thumb.gif
  • schmooschmoo word nerd Registered Users Posts: 8,468 Major grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    ESP! I have wanted to go there for ages and... dammit I just realized it's October already, meaning I've just about missed it this year, too. :cry

    Beautiful photos, even with all the people in there. I know that it gets kinda squeezy with tourists which (Ive heard) makes it difficult to get a clean shot, but I think it adds a surreal feeling to the desolate surroundings. Do they really disallow tripods? Last time I checked they just charged extra.
  • richterslrichtersl Major grins Registered Users Posts: 3,322 Major grins
    edited October 5, 2007
    schmooo wrote:
    ESP! I have wanted to go there for ages and... dammit I just realized it's October already, meaning I've just about missed it this year, too. :cry

    Beautiful photos, even with all the people in there. I know that it gets kinda squeezy with tourists which (Ive heard) makes it difficult to get a clean shot, but I think it adds a surreal feeling to the desolate surroundings. Do they really disallow tripods? Last time I checked they just charged extra.

    Thanks. :):

    All I know is that they checked to see if I had one on me when they saw my dSLR. Normally no one goes through that kind of effort unless it's not allowed. I didn't see anyone using one, either. I suppose you can get away with a monopod or one of those gorillapods, though. mwink.gif
  • ian408ian408 More wag. Less Bark. Administrators Posts: 21,461 moderator
    edited October 5, 2007
    How cool is that? I never knew about that. Cool gargoyles too.
    Moderator Journeys/Sports/Big Picture :: Need some help with dgrin?
  • nicoleshillidaynicoleshilliday Major grins Registered Users Posts: 549 Major grins
    edited October 7, 2007
    i grew up in philly! Great shots!
    Nicole
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  • hiroProtagonisthiroProtagonist Big grins Registered Users Posts: 83 Big grins
    edited June 18, 2009
    I'll be out that way next month and this will be one of my stops. Here is the lowdown on tripods from the ESP web site.

    April through November
    We ask that you honor these policies when photographing at Eastern State Penitentiary:
    • Do not block any pathways or exhibits, or leave backpacks or tripods in these areas.
    • There is a $10.00 fee, per person for all non-members to bring a tripod, monopod, easel, sketching stool etc. onto the site. This pass is valid for the entire season. There is no fee for handheld cameras. (Groups of 15 or more purchasing tripod passes will receive a discounted rate of $5.00 per person, per pass).
    • Visitors purchasing an Equipment Pass are required to sign a form agreeing to abide by our "General Policies for All Photographers" when purchasing a Tripod Pass. No equipment, other than a single tripod, monopod, easel or stool, are permitted during public hours.
    • Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site requires the location credit "Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA" in all uses of penitentiary photos in print, on the web, in broadcast, and in any other public medium.
    • Eastern State Penitentiary assumes no responsibility for loss, theft, or damage to equipment.
    December through March
    We ask that you honor these policies when photographing at Eastern State Penitentiary:
    During the winter months, the penitentiary complex is only accessible by guided tour. Photography is allowed (no tripods), as long as it does not distract or delay the group.

    I'll have both my tripod and monopod with me on the trip, not sure which I'll bring to ESP
    "But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. - Dylan 1968"
  • DigiNewDigiNew Beginner grinner Registered Users Posts: 7 Beginner grinner
    edited June 18, 2009
    i live in philly and i didn't know u could tour. i only thought it was open for touring during halloween.

    robin
  • Allan FGAllan FG . Registered Users Posts: 492 Major grins
    edited June 20, 2009
    richtersl wrote:
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    I love this shot, great write-up thumb.gif
  • JusticeiroJusticeiro E clunibus tractum Registered Users Posts: 1,177 Major grins
    edited June 22, 2009
    The folks who run this place are very friendly, and its a good project. I'm still a member even though I don't live there anymore (well, Jersey, but close enough). I bet you could "rent" the place for some studio type shots if you really wanted to.

    Maybe me and Schmoo should get some glamour models up in there the next time I'm stateside.
    Cave ab homine unius libri
  • richterslrichtersl Major grins Registered Users Posts: 3,322 Major grins
    edited June 22, 2009
    Loud Al wrote:
    I love this shot, great write-up thumb.gif

    Thanks, Al! :D
  • schmooschmoo word nerd Registered Users Posts: 8,468 Major grins
    edited June 22, 2009
    Justiceiro wrote:
    Maybe me and Schmoo should get some glamour models up in there the next time I'm stateside.

    You bet!!! That's worth going back for, I'm sure everyone would agree. :D
  • schmooschmoo word nerd Registered Users Posts: 8,468 Major grins
    edited June 22, 2009
    Justiceiro wrote:
    The folks who run this place are very friendly, and its a good project. I'm still a member even though I don't live there anymore (well, Jersey, but close enough). I bet you could "rent" the place for some studio type shots if you really wanted to.

    Maybe me and Schmoo should get some glamour models up in there the next time I'm stateside.

    You bet!!! :smo That's worth going back for, I'm sure everyone would agree. :D
  • Chris HChris H Major grins Registered Users Posts: 277 Major grins
    edited June 22, 2009
  • grimacegrimace Twin Cities, Minnesota Registered Users Posts: 1,533 Major grins
    edited August 22, 2009
    I realize this is from some time ago but I've been researching for a trip to Philly and came across these amazing shots!!

    Any advise or suggestions on shooting the penitentiary?
  • richterslrichtersl Major grins Registered Users Posts: 3,322 Major grins
    edited August 22, 2009
    Glad you liked the photos!

    No specific advice, other than enjoy yourself! Eastern State is a photographer's heaven. The day we were there it was bright and sunny and the light filtering through the skylights was amazing, so you might want to consider heading there on a sunny day. Across the street is an old fire house that's been converted to a restaurant. Food and beverages were good and fairly reasonable. Don't recollect the name, but it was right across from the main entrance.

    Apparently you can being a tripod, but you need to pay a fee to be able to use it. It would be a pain in the butt to schlep with you, though. Not sure how they'd treat something like a Gorillapod, or you removing your shoe and using it to steady your camera to get a shot. But definitely bring a lens that will give you good low light shots. thumb.gif

    It does feel a bit creepy in places, though. :uhoh At least to me it did. ne_nau.gif

    Outside of Philly there are TONS of photo ops as well: Valley Forge National Park, New Hope, Longwood Gardens -- just to name a few places.
  • bigsnowdogbigsnowdog Sylvan Dweller Registered Users Posts: 55 Big grins
    edited September 4, 2010
    Fascinating.
  • dadwtwinsdadwtwins Forever a Novice Registered Users Posts: 804 Major grins
    edited September 4, 2010
    I could spend some serous time in there....what a cool looking place
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  • kittienkittien picture kitty Registered Users Posts: 6 Beginner grinner
    edited September 11, 2010
    Educational and awesome!

    I really enjoyed this series. Thanks!
  • indiegirlindiegirl Light Wrangler. Registered Users Posts: 930 Major grins
    edited September 12, 2010
    Yay! What a great series. I, too, love the gargoyle picture. "I want to go to there."
  • NikonShooterNikonShooter Beginner grinner Registered Users Posts: 8 Beginner grinner
    edited September 16, 2010
    Nice photos.

    I'm actually heading there on 10/3.

    Are there any restrictions on camera backpacks?
  • richterslrichtersl Major grins Registered Users Posts: 3,322 Major grins
    edited September 21, 2010
    There were no restrictions on camera backpacks. I use a Lowepro Slingshot and the only thing they asked me when we paid our entry fee was whether I had a tripod. You can always check their web site, in case things have changed since the time I visited ESP.
  • NikonShooterNikonShooter Beginner grinner Registered Users Posts: 8 Beginner grinner
    edited September 21, 2010
    Thanks so much for the info. If you could offer a tad bit of advice on the shots of the cells... I have a 17-50 f2.8 but I shoot with a d300s ( I'm a little concerned with the crop factor )..... do you think it will be wide enough to get the complete interior of the cell from your experience there?

    Thanks,
    Ed
  • richterslrichtersl Major grins Registered Users Posts: 3,322 Major grins
    edited September 21, 2010
    Hi Ed,

    At the time I had a Canon EOS 20D with the kit lens, which I think was a 17-55. That camera had a cropped sensor. That lens was fine for capturing the insides of the cells. A wide angle, of course, would have been better but I was fine with that particular lens.

    The shot I took of Al Capone's cell was shot at a focal length of 21mm (33.6 mm in 35mm).

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    Hope this helps.
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