An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

October 27, 2013

Eastern State Penitentiary

     In celebration of Halloween, I thought I would share some of the photos I took this summer at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which many sources list as one of the most haunted places in America. Though I try to keep an open mind about things paranormal, I remain a skeptic at heart. However, if any place has a chance to be haunted, it would be Eastern State. Frightening things have taken place here, but on a warm day in August, the only presence I felt was that of the other sweaty tourists.

Front Entrance (1)


Terrace Garden (2)

Central Tower

     Eastern State opened in 1829 and was the first "modern" penitentiary, growing out of a movement to reform all public institutions that began with the American Revolution. Each prisoner had his or her own solitary cell with a flush toilet, running water, skylight, and central heat, adjacent to a private exercise yard. Prisoners were kept in solitary, without being able to contact any other inmate, and had limited interaction with the guards. During time away from their cells, they were kept hooded. It was hoped that this solitary life, the word of God and productive work would give the prisoners time to reflect upon their crimes and to become truly penitent. Obviously as the prison population grew, and times changed, so did the way prisoners were treated at Eastern State. However, its unique, first-of-a-kind wagon wheel layout, and its high minded aspirations, drew people from around the world to see it, and it became the model for over 300 other prisons across the globe. Eastern State closed in 1971 and sat abandoned for years, before it was sold to the city of Philadelphia and reopened for tours.

Cellblock (6)

Cellblock (7)

Cellblock (1)

Cellblock (2)


Cell (2)

Cell (3)

Cell (5)


     Some cells were less spartan than others. The one below was Al Capone's.
Capone's Cell

Cellblock (3)

Hospital Gate

Barber Chair

     In contrast to the bleakness inside, a colorful, lush, and wild garden is maintained outside by neighborhood volunteers with the help of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Terrace Garden (8)

Terrace Garden (3)

Terrace Garden (4)

Terrace Garden (1)

Terrace Garden (12)

     If you are ever in the Philly area, I highly recommend touring Eastern State Penitentiary.  You might ask why you would want to, but trust me, it is fascinating, and judging by the crowd, I was not the only one who thought so. I took many more photos while I was there, and you can see a good portion of them here.  

I will leave with a few facts from the ACLU:
- With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population – that makes us the world’s largest jailer. 
- Since 1970, the U.S. prison population has risen 700%. 
- One in 99 adults are living behind bars in the U.S. This marks the highest rate of imprisonment in American history. 
- One in 31 adults are under some form of correctional control, counting prison, jail, parole and probation populations.


  1. How fascinating! I had no idea about any of this and love the way you presented the dark beauty of the architecture and interior, to the bring us to the brilliant beauty if the exterior gardens.

  2. My son went to Temple University from 2000 to 2004, and for a while he lived right around the corner from this prison. We used to walk past it, but I don't remember noticing a garden. I wish we had toured it, your photos make it look fascinating.

  3. Les, this is a wonderful photo essay. Your images are wonderful, I've looked at them over and over..

  4. I was enthralled by this post. Absolutely amazing photos and facts. I have a grandson in school in Philly. I'll make sure he visits this historic site.

  5. Great photos, as always! What a spooky place. :)

  6. Both creepy and beautiful, well done as always.

  7. Except for the isolation, I'd say conditions there were better than they are now in our Illinois state prisons. And what a great site for a garden!

  8. What a difference the flowers make! Nice post.

  9. Very creepy! The flowers and green give hope to that miserable place.

  10. Grim building, with a grim history, but such a lovely contrast with the plants outside.

  11. How fascinating, and the pictures are excellent! I will like to visit it, but not in October, it looks very spooky!

  12. Members of our photo club have brought back images of this place as well. It's been on my list for a while. You certainly do a good job of capturing the mood of the place. One slide show I have seen of the Eastern State Penitentiary was shown with Ray Charles 'America' as music track. You can imagine the impact.

  13. How did I miss this post ? Beautiful, creepy and ugly all at the same time. I love visiting ruins and abandoned places too.