The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

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# Visiting Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, The Complete Guide

## Summary

Welcome to our complete guide to visiting Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP). Established in 1829, ESP was a pioneering correctional facility that aimed to cultivate genuine remorse and penitence in its prisoners. Despite its honorable intentions, ESP’s theory of remediation through solitary confinement proved to be flawed. In this guide, we will take you through the history of ESP and provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your visit.

## History of Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary, also known as ESP, opened its doors on October 25, 1829, and operated until 1971. It was designed by architect John Haviland based on the principles of the “Pennsylvania System,” a revolutionary approach to prison reform. The system was developed by Quakers, including Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin, who sought to improve the conditions of mass incarceration in public prisons.

The key principle of ESP was solitary confinement, which aimed to provide inmates with a humane and rehabilitative environment. The prison’s design consisted of seven wings of cell blocks radiating from a central hub. This unique layout allowed guards to have a clear line of sight down the long, straight cellblocks, ensuring efficient monitoring of inmate activity.

The interior of ESP was designed to resemble a church or monastery, with tall vaulted ceilings and cells equipped with “eye of God” skylights. The prison’s infrastructure was ahead of its time, offering central heating, flushing toilets, and shower baths – luxuries that were not even available in the White House at the time.

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During their confinement, prisoners spent 23 hours a day in their tiny cells, with only the Bible as reading material. They were only allowed outside for two half-hour sessions a day, with schedules synchronized to prevent communication between inmates. If they left their cells, they were hooded to avoid any contact with other humans.

ESP quickly gained worldwide attention and received more visitors than even Independence Hall. However, not everyone was convinced of its effectiveness. Charles Dickens, in particular, condemned the concept of isolation, believing it to be cruel and detrimental to mental health.

Over time, ESP became overcrowded, and its theory of rehabilitation through isolation proved to be ineffective. In 1913, the prison abandoned this approach and began promoting inmate interaction and shared activities. Severe overcrowding eventually led to the downfall of ESP, which closed in 1971.

## Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary: What To See

A visit to ESP offers a unique opportunity to explore this historic and haunting prison. Here are some of the highlights and best things to see:

### Cellblocks

Cellblocks 1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 15 are open for public exploration. These crumbling cellblocks once housed some of America’s most notorious criminals. One cellblock you should not miss is cellblock 7, also known as the “Two-Story Block.” Visitors can walk through the rusty iron gate and climb the stairs to the second level, where two tiers of cells overlook each other.

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### The Rotunda

The rotunda is a central area of ESP that served as a meeting point for guards and administrators. It is a beautiful architectural feature worth exploring during your visit.

### The Synagogue

ESP had a synagogue to cater to the religious needs of its Jewish inmates. You can visit this space and learn about the prison’s commitment to respecting inmates’ religious beliefs.

### The Hospital Block

The hospital block was where prisoners received medical care and treatment. It provides a glimpse into the healthcare system within the prison and the challenges faced by inmates in need of medical attention.

### Administrative Offices

The administrative offices were where prison staff managed the day-to-day operations of ESP. You can visit this area to gain insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of the penitentiary.

Visitors to ESP can also explore the prison’s various wings, yards, and outdoor spaces, immersing themselves in its eerie beauty and storied past.

## Conclusion

A visit to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary is a unique and captivating experience. Although its theory of isolation as a means of rehabilitation was ultimately flawed, ESP played a significant role in shaping modern prison systems worldwide. Exploring its crumbling cellblocks and learning about its history provides visitors with a profound understanding of the complexities of the criminal justice system.

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## FAQs

**Q: Can children visit Eastern State Penitentiary?**
A: Children under the age of 7 are not allowed to visit ESP. It is worth noting that the prison can be spooky to some, and parents should use their discretion when deciding whether it is suitable for their children.

**Q: Is Eastern State Penitentiary safe to visit?**
A: While ESP may appear eerie with its peeling walls and crumbling infrastructure, it is generally safe for visitors. The museum, which now occupies the premises, ensures that all necessary precautions are in place to protect visitors. However, it is essential to follow the rules and guidelines provided during your visit.

**Q: Can I book a ticket to visit Eastern State Penitentiary?**
A: Yes, you can book tickets to visit ESP through their website. We recommend booking in advance to secure your preferred time slot.

## Final Thought

Visiting Eastern State Penitentiary allows you to step back in time and witness the remnants of a once revolutionary prison system. The imposing exterior, combined with the haunting interiors, creates a truly unforgettable experience. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or simply seeking a unique adventure, ESP is a must-visit destination in Philadelphia. Book your ticket today and embark on a journey through the captivating world of Eastern State Penitentiary.

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