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A Virtual Tour of Eastern State Penitentiary - Part 2
Please find Part 1 to this article here.
Cell Blocks 8 and 9
Cell Blocks 8 and 9 were built in 1877. In order to see down the length of these two cell blocks a pair of large mirrors had to be constructed. When a guard stood between the two mirrors both passage ways were visible.
Cell Block 10
Cell Block 10 was built using inmate labor in 1877. When it was complete, it housed 2 inmates per cell. When walking down the hall from the Rotunda, you will see that the 3rd cell on the left was converted into a barber shop. One of the original barber chairs is still sitting there. Another cell farther down the hall was converted into a shower room. Due to the ever expanding inmate population, many other cells and exercise yards in the prison were converted into school rooms, bathrooms, dining halls, and workshops.
Cell Block 13: The Klondike
Cell Block 13 is especially frightening. Walking down the stark hallways, you will notice that there are no windows. This cell block was used from the 1920s to the 1950s to house particularly difficult and troublesome inmates. When an inmate was brought here, they were stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement in an unfurnished cell. As a result, the inmates began referring to it as "The Klondike". Conditions in the Klondike were so wretched that it prompted an investigation and subsequent charges of brutality against the prison during the 1950s.
Some inmates passed the time by tending to and growing plants in the prison's gardens. The Greenhouse was built to teach the prisoners agricultural skills. Eastern State maintained an educational program which taught prisoners various trades, skills, and occupations as part of rehabilitation.
Cell Block 14
Cell Block 14 was designed by an inmate who was a Harvard-trained architect serving time for forgery. It was completed in 1926 using inmate labor. This cell block was used to house new and young inmates in order to watch and evaluate them. After a several weeks in isolation, the prison officials would have developed a diagnosis and determined a course of therapy.
By the 1920s, the ballooning population in the prison had made it a dangerous place. Hence the steel bars between the walkways of the second and third floors. These bars were called "bodycatchers" and were intended to catch any large objects that were thrown from the upper floors.
This cell block had lower levels known as "the hole" where inmates were kept for punishment.
Cell Block 15: Death Row
Cell Block 15 was the last cell block to be built and was finished in 1959 and contained 30 cells. It replaced Cell Block 13, The Klondike, as housing for the most dangerous inmates. It was the only cell block in the prison to have electric door locks. All 30 cells were designed for solitary confinement. Each cell had a private exercise yard attached. Executions did not take place at EasternState. Instead, death row inmates were transported to the State Correctional Institution at Rockview for execution.
Charles Dickens on his first visit to the United States in 1842 specifically requested to see only two things — Niagara Falls and Eastern State.
A Walk Down Eastern State's Death Row
After the prison became a congregate prison, inmates were permitted 2 hours of recreation each day, weather permitting. There was a field where inmates could place baseball and football and a separate basketball court as well. They played handball against a concrete surface and boccie ball against one of the walls of the prison.
The inmates had a weekly publication named The Umpire which was later renamed to the Echo which covered games in the prison and other sports related news. Babe Ruth even visited the prison and played a game with the inmates in the 1920s.
After solitary confinement ended, recreation became an important part of life in EasternState. The prison set up hobby shops, organized movie screenings, and compiled a 10,000 volume library for inmates.
Scenes from Tina Turner's music video "One of the Living" were filmed here as well as scenes from the movies 12 Monkeys and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Al Capone's Cell
Al Capone was arrested in a Philadelphia movie theater for carrying a deadly weapon and served 8 months in Eastern State during 1929-1930. His cell can be found at the intersection of Cell Blocks 8 and 9, in an area that was nicknamed "Park Avenue" because it was removed from the other cells, but still close to the Central Rotunda. Al Capone's cell is obviously different than the other cells in Blocks 8 and 9. He was allowed a writing desk, a comfortable sitting chair, a lamp, oriental rugs, and a cabinet radio. His cell was also not locked down during the night, which allowed him to exercise considerable power over both inmates and guards in the prison.
Warden's Office/Chaplain's Office
From the early 1900s to 1923, the warden's office was located in a corridor near the Central Rotunda. After that time, it was moved to the AdministrationBuilding because of security risks. At that point, the office was turned into the chaplain's office. Looking into the office, one can see 23 religious scenes painted on the walls which were done by inmate Lester Smith in 1955 to honor his two favorite saints. Lester converted to Catholicism while serving time in EasternState.
The Prison Closes Its Doors
During the late 1960s, it became obvious that the penitentiary needed many costly repairs and renovations to bring it up-to-date with modern standards. Opting to forgo this costly expense, State Officials decided to close the prison instead. In 1970, prisoners were transferred to State Correctional Institution in Graterford and various other institutions. By 1971, the very last inmate was moved out. Three years later, EasternState was sold to the city of Philadelphia and by 1988 historians and preservationists were working to restore the abandoned prison's history. In 1994, the city opened the museum as a museum.