Saturday, September 17, 2005


Corridor, originally uploaded by hbomb1947.

Looking down Cellblock 11 at the Eastern State Penitentiary, a prison in Philadelphia that was abandoned in 1971, but which re-opened years later as a museum.

Opened in 1829, the ESP was the first modern prison in the world; it pioneered the idea that if prisoners were given quiet time to reflect rather than being tortured, they would feel penitent (this is the root of the word "penitentiary") and could rejoin society as productive members. Thus, for many decades the prisoners here were kept in their own cells and were prohibited from interacting with their fellow inmates. They exercised in individual, walled outdoor areas that were attached to their cells. It was only much later that "solitary confinement" came to acquire a negative connotation, as a special punishment for infractions committed while already in prison.

Among the ESP's more illustrious inmates in its 142 years of operation were Al Capone (who spent a year here), and the bank robber Willie Sutton. But perhaps its most unusual inmate was a dog, Pep (a black Labrador retriever). Said canine reportedly killed a cat belonging to Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot; the governor retaliated by sentencing the dog to life in prison. I even saw a picture of the dog's admittance papers (he was admitted in 1924). But then the Governor got a lot of bad press over this, so he changed his story and said that the dog was his, and that he donated it to the prison for the betterment of the inmates. Yeah, right.

In the mid-19th century, the ESP was quite the tourist attraction. Its distinguished visitors in that era included Alexis de Tocqueville and a young Charles Dickens. Before embarking on his first trip to the U.S. in 1842, Dickens said that the two places in this nation that he most wanted to see were Niagara Falls, and the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Note that at the end of the hallway here, it curves around to the left. Cellblock 11 is the only corridor in the ESP where you can't look straight from one end to the other. What supernatural forces might lurk around the corner?

Photo by Harvey Silikovitz, New York City - USA.


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