Eastern State Penitentiary was the largest building in America when it opened in 1829. Its grounds still cover a dozen acres; its 30-foot-high walls extend for nearly a mile. It was America’s first penitentiary. Designed to inspire penitence in the heart of convicts, Some of America’s most notorious criminals were held in Eastern’s cells. When gangster Al Capone found himself in front of a judge for the first time in 1929, he was sentenced to one year in prison. He spent most of that sentence in relative comfort at Eastern State, where he was allowed to furnish his cell with antiques, rugs, and oil paintings. Bank robber Willie Sutton joined eleven other men in a doomed 1945 tunnel escape. By the 1960′s, the aged prison was in need of costly repairs. The Commonwealth closed the facility in 1971, 142 years after it admitted Charles Williams, Prisoner Number One. The City of Philadelphia purchased the site in 1980, intending to reuse or develop it. In 1988, with the prison site threatened with inappropriate reuse proposals, the Eastern State Penitentiary Task Force successfully petitioned Mayor Wilson Goode to halt redevelopment. The Pennsylvania Prison Society opened the Penitentiary for the first season of regular guided interpretative tours in 1994.
Death Row Yard with Cell Block 11 decay
Hallway of Decay
Wooden cell doors
credit: Forsaken Fotos