Last week Kate and I spent an afternoon poking through the gloomy but beautiful ruin that is Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary. While Kate set up her easel to paint, I wandered around with my camera.
Eastern State opened in 1829. Unlike earlier prisons in which criminals — regardless of offense, age or gender — were herded into large holding pens, Eastern State was based upon Quaker ideas of redemption through isolation and labor. The theory was that left alone to contemplate the errors of their ways without distraction from other prisoners or the outside world, inmates would become truly penitent — hence the name of the new prison model.
Architect John Haviland's original seven-wing design radiating from a central surveillance hub represents the advent of modern architecture in America. Each prisoner had his own centrally heated cell with running water, flush toilet and skylight, plus an adjacent private exercise yard. This “machine for reform” proved so revolutionary that both the building's design and the Pennsylvania System (as it came to be known) served as the model for hundreds of prisons around the world.
Eastern State Penitentiary operated for more than 140 years until it was finally abandoned in 1971. Today the site is preserved as a historic site.For more photos, please visit MundieArt.com.
All photographs © 2006 James G. Mundie