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 Eastern State Penitentiary

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Number of posts : 352
Registration date : 2007-09-26

PostSubject: Eastern State Penitentiary   Thu Sep 27, 2007 10:26 pm

Designed by John Haviland and opened in 1829, Eastern State is considered to be the world's first true penitentiary. Its revolutionary system of incarceration, dubbed the Pennsylvania System, originated and encouraged solitary confinement as a form of rehabilitation. It was opposed contemporaneously by the Auburn System (also known as the New York System), which held that prisoners should be forced to work together in silence, and could be subjected to physical punishment (Sing Sing prison was an example of the Auburn system). Although the Auburn system was favored in the United States, Eastern State's radial floorplan and system of solitary confinement was the model for over 300 prisons worldwide.

Eastern State was viewed as a progressive reform in that it eliminated many of the excesses of physical punishment in colonial America. Despite this, it was widely believed (then and now) to have caused significant mental illness among its prisoners due to its solitary confinement. The system quickly collapsed due to overcrowding problems. By 1913, Eastern State officially abandoned the solitary system and operated as a congregate prison until it closed in 1970 (Eastern State was briefly used to house city inmates in 1971 after a riot at Holmesburg Prison).

Al Capone's cellThe prison was one of the largest public-works projects of the early republic, and was a tourist destination in the 19th century. Notable visitors included Charles Dickens and Alexis de Tocqueville while notable inmates included Willie Sutton and Al Capone.

The Penitentiary was intended not simply to punish, but to move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. The method was a Quaker-inspired system of isolation from other prisoners, with labor. The early 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. Each cell even included a personal exercise yard. Proponents of the system believed strongly that the criminals, exposed, in silence, to thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes, would become genuinely penitent. Thus the new word, penitentiary.

In 1924, Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot allegedly sentenced Pep "The Cat-Murdering Dog" to a life sentence at Eastern State. Pep allegedly murdered the governorís wifeís cherished cat. Prison records reflect that Pep was assigned an inmate number (no. C2559), which is seen in his mug shot. However, the reason for Pepís incarceration remains a subject of some debate. A newspaper article reported that the governor donated his own dog to the prison to increase inmate morale.[1]

On April 3, 1945, a major prison escape was carried out by twelve inmates (including the infamous Willie Sutton) who dug a 97-foot tunnel under the prison wall to freedom.

The prison was closed and abandoned in 1971. Many prisoners and guards were transferred to Graterford Prison, about 31 miles west of Eastern State. The City of Philadelphia purchased the property with the intention of redeveloping it. In 1988, the Eastern State Penitentiary Task Force successfully petitioned Mayor Wilson Goode to halt redevelopment. In 1994, Eastern State opened to the public for historic tours.

[edit] Present use

Inside Eastern State, May 2006Today, the Eastern State Penitentiary operates as a museum and historic site, open from April 1 through November 30. In addition, it holds many special events throughout the year. Each July, Eastern State offers a Bastille Day celebration, complete with a comedic reinterpretation of the storming of the Bastille and the tossing of thousands of Twinkies and Tastykakes from the towers.[2] In October, it offers a popular Terror Behind the Walls haunted house.

The facility has been kept in "preserved ruin," meaning that no significant attempts have been made for renovations or upkeep. Guests are asked to sign a liability waiver due to some minor safety concerns.

Due to Eastern State's ominous appearance, gloomy atmosphere and long history, it is a popular location for television shows and movies about hauntings. The Sci Fi Channel's Ghost Hunters and MTV's Fear both explored the supernatural at Eastern State, while Terry Gilliam's film Twelve Monkeys used it as the setting for a mental hospital. On 1 June 2007, the Travel Channel program, Most Haunted Live, conducted and broadcasted a paranormal investigation live (for the first time in the United States) from Eastern State Penitentiary for an unprecedented seven continuous hours hoping to come in contact with supernatural beings. Punk group the Dead Milkmen also filmed the music video for their song "Punk Rock Girl" in Eastern State.

In 1996 and 2000, the World Monuments Fund included Eastern State Penitentiary on its World Monuments Watch, its biennial list of the
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