|Exterior of the Eastern State Penitentiary. Image courtesy of Cheap Date Philadelphia, because I was too busy trying to take atmospheric shots inside the penitentiary to think about getting any exterior views of the facility.|
|Lithograph showing an aerial view of the penitentiary, 1855. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.|
|A typical individual cell at Eastern State Penitentiary. Image courtesy of Ideastream, which features a nice article about the benefits and drawbacks of solitary confinement.|
The penitentiary was quite large to begin with, but eventually grew to such a size that it was no longer feasible to enforce the strict limitations on contact between inmates; whole new wings had to be added to accommodate the expanding population, and the facility included all the sorts of places you'd find in a town--a chapel, a barbershop, a hospital and dentist, and so on.
|Hallway where the interior portion of the audio tour begins|
We learned these facts and more by taking an audio tour (included in the price of admission) around the facility. Amazingly, the tour is narrated by Steve Buscemi, who evidently visited the penitentiary to see whether it might be a good place to film. There are approximately a dozen or so "listening points" associated with the main tour, but you can also select a couple dozen extra recordings to hear details about issues that are a bit tangential to the main narrative (e.g., jailhouse hauntings). These recordings feature the voices of people who are experts on the topics they discuss, which adds some variety to the tour.
The penitentiary is a massive facility, and only a portion of it is open for touring. The public areas have, to some extent, been cleaned and fixed up so as to be safe for visitors, but the whole place is still pretty rough and eerie looking. I think this adds to the appeal of the site, since it makes the place dramatic and mysterious. However, it also does make you feel a bit like you're doing a ghost tour, when in fact there is some very real and interesting history there (though there is also a haunted house in the autumn). I think the nonprofit organization that runs the penitentiary would probably love to fix up more of the facility, and/or to do a more extensive renovation of the bits that are already visitable, but I'm guessing the funding is just not available. When we were there, we passed several signs advertising a fundraiser aiming to earn $50,000 for the preservation of murals in the chaplain's office. I'm sure that major structural changes would require quite a bit more money than that.
|Unused, and unvisitable, portion of the penitentiary; I took this photo through the bars of a locked gate preventing visitor access.|
|Al Capone's cushy cell. Image courtesy of About.com.|
|Panoramic shot taken outside the cell blocks. Our tour occurred in the left-most building you can see in this image.|
We wandered around for something like 1-2 hours, so I think we definitely got our $14 worth out of each of our tickets. Not only was the tour interesting and out of the ordinary, but it was also available on a Sunday and located within walking distance of restaurants, shopping, lodging, and other attractions. I realize that jail visits aren't everyone's idea of a good time, but I learned a lot and enjoyed myself, so I'd definitely recommend the attraction to anybody who has time to spare in the City of Brotherly Love.