Saturday September 8th…that’s one for the bucket list. I spent the day shooting at the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA. As I walked up to this most imposing rock fortress, I was amazed at the size and architecture of this facility. It was built in 1829 by the passive Quakers, who believed that solitary confinement was the best way to serve penance. Charles Dickens on his first visit to the United States only wanted to see two things…Niagara Falls and Eastern State Penitentiary.
For some of you, like my mom, this seems a weird opportunity to get excited about. However, those of you that like exploring abandoned places, you will understand the giddy excitement that this conjures up. I got there as the doors opened so I could get photos of all the hallways before people started coming in and ruining the tone and mood of the photos that I was hoping to get. This place is huge and stepping in the center hub and looking down each hallway to each cell block was eerie and beautiful all at the same time.
I’ve told you all before about standing in something this old and abandoned, wondering about all the lives that are the essence and soul of a place like this, it can be an awe inspiring experience. This was no exception!
I hope you get the sense of the lighting and decay as you look through my photos. It’s hard to imagine what life at this penitentiary was like.
The cells were small but the thing I found most unique was the rectangular skylight that let natural light flood the cell.
There were a group of us that got access to the private areas, the operating room and another cell block that is being repaired, for 2 hours of shooting. This also included the Chaplin’s Office where you will see religious paintings on the wall that were done by inmate Lester Smith in the mid 50’s. The elements have taken a toll on the works of art, and in my photos you can see the delicate state they are in today.
The photo above that has beautiful furniture, lamps and a deluxe radio, is the cell of Al Capone who served 8 months at ESP.
This is an incredible place and after shooting all day, 1600 photos, I found 51 that I think capture my day. I could have spent 2 or 3 days there but hopefully I will go back again one day. Until then I truly hope you enjoy this journey through my ‘wabi sabi eyes’, seeing beauty in the decay of a once mighty and foreboding fortress of Eastern State Penitentiary.