These photographs were taken at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It’s a weird and interesting place. One thing I remember from the first time I visited, back in the late 90s, is this: when Charles Dickens came to the US for the first time in 1842, he had two “must see” items on his list – one was Niagara Falls, and the other was this prison. It seems he was horrified by what he saw. When it was built in 1829, it was revolutionary. It was built with a radial “panopticon” design, where a central guard station could see down all cell blocks at once. At the beginning, prisoners were held in solitary confinement, so they could see the errors in their ways and get right with God. The idea was to inspire “penitence” in the imates – hence the name.
It didn’t last – they ran out of space quick, and prisoners got roommates. The prison stayed in use for another 143 years, until it was abandoned in 1971. It seems the government just locked the doors and walked away. These days it is a rambling wreck of a tourist attraction – the history is told, there are art installations in some of the cells, and around Halloween they run a haunted house.
It’s also a mecca for photographers. I’m fairly ambivalent about ruin porn, but it’s a real cool place, and for this Pinhole Atlas Obscura, I was glad to stop in for a few hours.
These photos were made using an ONDU 6×6 camera.
Learn more about Eastern State Penitentiary, there’s a good website here.