Eastern State Penitentiary: the Gothic Home of Dangerous Criminals

On the dark side of the sightseeing objectives located in Pennsylvania, there is an eleven acres building, that used to host America’s most notorious criminals. Nowadays, Eastern State Penitentiary is a museum, that’s open for anybody who wants to take a look at the first penitentiary ever built.

Back in 1829, the architect John Haviland came up with the radial structure, that was able to host over 250 inmates in separate, single-person small cells. Over the 142 years of functioning, the prison held over 75,000 criminals, both men and women.

Apart from its size and history, there are other architectural details that amaze today’s visitors.

Having 10 feet height and a 8 x 12 feet surface, each cell had a hot water heating, personal toilet and a sink. Back then, it was quite impressive for a prison to offer such services. Also, there were the exercise yards, which were individual as well. The only source of light was a small window close to the ceiling, also known as the “Window of God.” It was often seen as a symbol of the idea, that God is always watching over everyone.

For “Scarface” Al Capone, though, things were different. The notorious criminal was held in the Pennsylvania Penitentiary for 8 months between 1929-1930. His so-called luxury cell had a comfortable bed, a desk and 2 lamps.

While in prison, the inmates heads were covered, so they wouldn’t be able to map the prison mentally. Another reason for it was to avoid violence between criminals; as they couldn’t see each others faces. Despite this, in 1930, while workers were renovating the building, over 30 incomplete tunnels dug by inmates were found.

As for torture practices, one habit to remember was the so-called “mad chair.” Inmates that didn’t behave were tied so tightly that the blood circulation of their joints often stopped and their arms or legs required amputation. For the worst of them, there was “the hole,” a cell located underground. Chances of suffocation were increased here as there was little air, no source of light and, of course, no contact with other people.

In 1971, Eastern State Penitentiary was officially closed. Nowadays, visitors from all over the globe can walk on the long hallways and take a look at what used to be the most secure prison in USA.

Submitted by Hamid Bagha. Thank you.

Photo by jade2k/Flickr

Photo by jade2k/Flickr

Cellblock 5 at Eastern State Penitentiary

Cellblock 5 at Eastern State Penitentiary

Photo credit: Easternstate.org

Photo credit: Easternstate.org

Al Capone's Cell. Photo by Brandon Kopp/Flickr

Al Capone’s Cell. Photo by Brandon Kopp/Flickr

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