Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cell Bars and Gravestones

On Saturday DCUE met up at Eastern State Penitentiary, the world's first prison designed so that it's inmates would feel like their punishment was a penance. Initially prisoners were kept in solitary confinement 23 hours of each day with 1 hour allowed in an exercise yard but as more cell space was needed, prisoners had to share.
It was the largest most expensive public building at its completion influencing many prisons built afterwards. It is now open as a museum every day from 10am to 5pm and we were there early,anxious to get inside.
I had the honor of opening the main front gate, a heavy iron door weighing 3/4 ton. In the mid 20's additional gates were added for extra security and also the pill boxes for guards to look down in to the yards.
Long corridors with cells either side branch out from a center point and much of the prison is in an abandoned state with some areas off limits to the public.
This is an interpretation of Al Capone's cell, their most notorious prisoner, and an informative link is here. His wealth allowed to furnish his 8ft x 12ft cell luxuriously whilst others had only a bunk, a table, a toilet and a bible. This was his first stay in prison and he was released on good behavior 10 months later in March 1930. Seems a rather large extravagance for such a short stay.
Richard and I were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time as a guide suddenly opened the medical wing and a small group of about 8 were taken into the surgery room. Apparently Al Capone had his tonsils removed here; the medical center was very well equipped and up to date. Even plastic surgery was performed here and many doctors would volunteer their time to the facility. A great page on the hospital is here.
When we left and the wing was locked back up I met up with Lewis and heard how his camera had dropped off his tripod, landing heavily on the concrete floor and smashing his screen. I shuddered and grimly sympathized as I recalled a similar event with my 50D falling off its tripod, yet thankfully only damaging my UV filter and not my expensive lens. I hope Lewis' camera has a quick cheap fix.
Death Row, opened in 1959, held those prisoners awaiting termination at the State Correctional Institution in Rockview, PA. The unit is suffering weather damage, needing more funds to complete restoration.
The kitchen, a fireproof stone structure, which had the newly invented refrigeration so it could store meat. When solitary confinement was abandoned exercise yards were converted to dining halls so inmates could take their meals together.
The prison is also supposed to be heavily haunted but none of us saw or felt any evidence of that. An interesting article here.
Throughout the cells are ramdom 'art' installations, most of which I thought were a little immature.. A cell with the bed, table and toilet, even the floor, covered in a knitted surface. Another with a TV in a cell showing scenes of Paris, or an empty cell with a film of an orange garbed exercising prisoner projected onto the back wall. These and others are presented as 'groundbreaking' although I regarded them more as 'yawn inducing'.
The prison's main website is here.
Most of us went to lunch afterwards, eating at a great little Belgian cafe, recommended by one of the prison staff. Great beer and delicious food. 
We later stumbled out into the bright sunlight and braced ourselves against the intense heat and humidity. Our next stop was Mount Moriah Cemetery, the largest in Pennsylvania, and currently being slowly cleared of overgrown vegetation by volunteers. It used to belong to a group but since the last member died in 2004 there has been confusion over ownership and the cemetery declined into neglect.
A group, called Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, website here, have been enlisting physical and monetary help from local organizations and the public, and have succeeded in clearing large areas of the 380 acres.
There's an interesting article here about Mt Moriah from 1878 - 1938, where it seems throughout its history, its been dogged with periods of neglect.
I didn't recognize any of the famous names of people buried here, except one. John Whitehead of McFadden & Whitehead fame. This was a big hit of theirs that I loved. It was heartwarming to see that so much work had been done on the grounds, so many forgotten gravestones and sculptures cleared off and standing proudly again, yet there was a quiet beauty in those still covered by long grasses, vines and overgrown trees or bushes, as though we were almost walking through a post apocalyptic world. But unfortunately although we'd been so looking forward to visiting this site, the heat beat us down. It was unbearable, with the sun belting us with over 90 degrees and the humidity at nearly 100%. We were all weakened and enthusiasm waned drastically. After walking around just part of it, we had to admit defeat and sat on the steps of a mausoleum before heading back to the AC in our cars.
Lewis attempting to wear his cap with the least possible skin contact.
This photo taken by Robert's camera makes me laugh. Everyone looking dead beat and struggling to raise a smile but at the last minute I pulled a silly pose. We had very little to drink between all of us so made a beeline for the nearest 7/11 where Slurpees were gulped down by everyone, followed by bottles of water. We'll have to come back here on a cooler day...

No comments: