When you first see Eastern State Penitentiary you expect a bunch of really horrible stories about vicious prison fights and some jump scares to “shake things up,” and part of me was intrigued to hear what the fuss was about. As soon as I walked in the guard took me past the largest and freakiest gate ever and I was walked into the darkest and scariest hallway I’d ever seen in my life. I was honestly scared and all my expectations were shattered. You don’t expect a penitentiary to have so much history, but this one had been a part of the community since the 1800s! As soon as I walked into cell block #4 I was hooked. I began asking questions about everything feeling the walls here and there, trying to understand what it would have been like to live there. I walked into a few of the original rooms, which aren’t set up like regular prison doors. Each cell has two doors, one made of iron and one made of wood. Originally, all the cells were solitary confinement because that’s how the prison used to work. Each prisoner got their own little room, so no one could make friends. I got to look at Al Capone’s cell and the tunnels that led to the square exercise yards were prisoners got their one hour of freedom.
Walking through the penitentiary is like a kid walking through a really historical Toys R Us because every two seconds there is something new to see or some new story to hear. There are also interactive exhibits, like the Tower Cam. It awakens every part of your imagination and you get to feel like you’re a part of Mission Impossible: Prison Edition. There are these excellent stories about elaborate prison escapes were people disguised themselves and even dug tunnels to freedom without anyone knowing until it was too late. It was an amazing experience and I regretted having to leave the place when I felt there was so much more to learn and see and experience.
Eastern State is the perfect place to take someone when you want to make learning fun, when you want to go on a real live adventure, and especially on Halloween. Every year they host “Terror Behind the Walls” which is a haunted house like no other. If you’re an artist they commission some to put their works in some of the old cells. Currently there are artist installations including a knitted cell, and one of a car.
Eastern State is an amazing place that’s nothing but fun, and I know I’m telling everyone I know to go there ASAP.
READY TO VISIT Eastern State Penitentiary? Check out the Eastern State profile page for the hours you can use your STAMP pass!
This post was written by Kaia Burke, a STAMP Teen Council member. Kaia attends CAPA.