Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) (www.easternstate.org) was constructed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was opened in 1829. The design and concept of the prison was groundbreaking at the time and ESP soon became one of the most famous prisons in the world, serving as a model for 300 others. The purpose of the institution was not to inflict corporal punishment to offenders, but rather to incarcerate criminals to produce sorrow for criminal behavior and induce true "penitence." Hence the word "penitentiary" rather than "prison." The prison was designed with a menacing medieval facade, within which were seven cell blocks radiating from a central observation hub in wheel-like fashion. The design featured 30-foot high barrel vaulted hallways and tall, arched windows, almost monastic in style. At the time, it became one of the most expensive public buildings of its day and included central heating, running water and flush toilets in each cell. By contrast, the White House had no running water and was heated with coal-burning stoves.
When first opened, each prisoner was confined his own cell which was secured by a large wooden door hung from wheels which was slid shut. The only opening was a peep-hole. Each cell received illumination by a skylight in a vaulted, church-like ceiling. In the rear of each cell was another opening to give each prisoner access to his own court yard, about the size of his cell, surrounded by ten-foot walls. Each prisoner was hooded when leaving the cell and had no interaction with other inmates. Each prisoner was effectively in solitary confinement.
Over the years, the prison was home to the likes of bank-robber Willie Sutton, Chicago gangster Al Capone and many other notable felons. Badly in need of repairs, the prison was decommissioned in 1971 and was purchased by the City from the state in 1980. The prison in maintained and operated by a non-profit corporation as an historic site, and is operated as a preserved ruin.
Eastern State Penitentiary is a photographer's paradise! The dramatic mood and decay of the place has a unique, eerie, ghost-like beauty all its own. The lighting is contrasty and very dramatic because of the many skylights and windows. Endless photographic opportunities abound. It's a wonderful place to apply and refine HDR skills.