My wife and I decided to get out to enjoy the 65 degree weather on Sunday by going to Cooper River Park in Camden, NJ. It’s a nice park alongside the river, and there are always people out either biking, running, picnicking with their family, or walking their dogs. I packed the camera as I know there’s an abundance of diverse wildlife at different spots on the river and this time of Spring is prime time for wildlife in our area. Upon arrival, we saw there were two events already going on: a High School rowing competition and an MS walk. There were at least forty high schools there, which means their teams, buses, boats, and most of the athletes’ friends and family were in attendance alongside the river. As if that’s not enough people already crowding “our” park space, the MS walk with its thousand participants was about to begin. So, it follows that our calm and fun walk around the park was a no-go. We had the rest of the day ahead of us with no plans. We decided to go to Philadelphia, about a 20-minute drive, and see what happens once we are there.
We started about a half-mile down from Boathouse Row. Go figure that since our plans were ruined by a rowing competition, we found another location which revolves mainly around rowing competitions at the university level. It was a beautiful day out. There were families enjoying the weather along the river, and this is pretty much what we were looking for to begin with, only in a different state now. Speaking of an abundance of wildlife, Catelin spotted his duck. I’ve seen quite a few ducks around here lately, but I’ve never seen this kind before. I climbed up on some sort of structure to get a better view and snapped this shot. I took plenty more shots of the wife for our weekly “baby bump” shoot, but more on those later as we are still not sure that, at 15 weeks, we have a bump or not.
Moving along Boathouse Row, we found some brilliant flowers. Simply stunning, and there’s nothing more appropriate to shout out “Spring Has Sprung!” than with flowers like this.
We even spotted the hot air balloon advertisement for the Philly Zoo floating off in the distance.
On our way to Boathouse Row, we passed the Eastern State Penitentiary and decided to tour this place after lunch. Catelin has been here a few times in the past and spoke wonders of it, but I’ve never been. Eastern State Penitentiary is an abandoned prison in the middle of Philadelphia. It’s a National Historic Landmark and was last operational in 1971. On one side of the street there are restaurants and bars and ice cream parlors, but right across the street this old prison sticks out like a sore thumb – its walls are like a medieval castle and appears like it’s right out of an episode of Game of Thrones.
Upon entering, the first thing I noticed is that within the castle walls, if you are outside and can see sunlight, this watchtower can see you. It’s very reminiscent of classic prison movies with the watchtower always watching. In a way, it’s very creepy, but it’s no where near as creepy as what awaited me within the cell blocks.
Let’s enter the actual prison and let the self-guided tour begin!
The first thing I noticed in each of the cells, most of which, by the way, we could not enter and was roped or sealed off, was that there were no artificial lights. The only source of light was one small slit in the ceiling to allow in sunlight, but that was it. This was around 3pm but it was still dark in the cell.
I was drawn to this view of the chains above because the single idea which kept creeping into my mind was the concept of confinement. Sure, prisoners were locked away as they are today, but to really see the conditions in which they lived was somewhat claustrophobic.
Everything was preserved in its original state down to the crumbling walls, the rusted pipework jutting out at awkward angles, broken cabinets, and even the wooden frames behind the walls.
Movies and TV shows play on the idea of the toilet in the room, but to see it with my own eyes was something else. I can’t explain the connection because we are clearly dealing with social deviants and the worst of human kind, but this tour started to remind me of the Holocaust Museum in that I’m getting a first-hand look at a cross-section of the darker side of humanity – one that is within all of us but we rarely, if ever, let out.
So, we arrived at the central hub. From the central hub, each corridor extended out like the two photos above. Take your pick from the seven available cell blocks!
These photos are some of my favorites from the day. This abandoned hall was gated and we were not allowed in. I captured this photo by leaning up against the gate and poking the lens through the gate’s bars. It is so creepy! It reminds me of The Walking Dead or your choice of any ghost/horror story which takes place at a prison.
This photo brings me back to the feeling of claustrophobia. Even with the light and the open door, one can’t help but notice the restrictive and oppressive nature of the chains on the door.
Each hallway and each angle takes my breath away, and the photos cannot do the justice this location deserves.
These are some more photos of the cells, each of which were used for solitary confinement, a revolutionary concept which Eastern State capitalized upon. Like before, notice that there is still only the single source of light in each of these cells.
We ventured back outside to get some fresh air and take in some more of the scenery. While there were some guided tours going on, we continued our own self-guided exploration of the facility. Even outside in the warm spring sun, the exterior high wall still gives off the feeling of confinement and restraint. There’s no escape.
I can’t imagine what would go through a prisoner’s mind while serving his or her sentence at Eastern State Penitentiary.
This was an underground lair with four punishment cells which I could not enter. It had a very low ceiling and was very dimly lit.
These two shots are perhaps my favorite from the trip in terms of composition as well as the raw feelings they bring to mind and heart. This is cell block 14, and the caption outside the door read that if ghosts exist, they would certainly be in this row.
We moved on into death row, photographed above. The cells were closed off and this was the only shot I could take of the cells. These cells, interestingly enough, were built around the time electronic doors were first available. The buttons above controlled which gates would open.
On our way out, we passed through and saw a few more rooms. Again, this photo above illustrates just the raw energy and emotion this place can offer.
After seeing all the creepy and eerie abandoned and decrepit cells, the last cell we saw was the one above. This was Al Capone’s cell when he was locked away at Eastern State. I cannot believe that someone, arrested and serving a prison sentence, could live with such luxury at this prison. Along with the luxurious lamps, furniture, and oriental rug, he had a cabinet radio which blasted big band jazz from the Roaring 20s.
All in all, this was an incredible trip that I would recommend to anyone. It only takes about two hours tops, and it’s conveniently located near other famous Philadelphia landmarks which one can fit into a full day at the city.