Before the opening of Eastern State, prisons were nothing more than holding pens for the unwanted and corrupt; men, women and children were housed alongside petty criminals and violent killers. In the late 18th century, The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, led by founding father Benjamin Franklin, worked to transform these wasted prisons into facilities that fostered reform.
Their ideas became tangible in 1822 when construction began on Eastern State. It was an expensive undertaking to bring the groundbreaking design to fruition. It featured vaulted ceilings and skylights to let in "God's light" and each cell was equipped with a toilet, running water, heat and a Bible. After its completion, more than 300 prisons all over the world copied its designs, systems and practices.
Isolation was impressed upon prisoners even when they left their cells for work detail. Each inmate wore heavy masks that prohibited communication with one another. The loneliness and isolation was oppressing; too much for some prisoners to bear, many took their own lives at Eastern State Penitentiary.
Eastern State's most famous inmate was undoubtedly Chicago gangster, Al Capone. From 1929 to 1930, Capone served 8 months for carrying a concealed, deadly weapon. Though his cell was the nicest at Eastern State -- furnishings included a desk, lamp, paintings and a cabinet radio -- he complained during his incarceration that he was haunted by the ghost of James Clark, one of the victims of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago. The massacre was the result of gang rivalry, and Capone led one side of it. Solitary confinement even plays with the minds of history's most notorious criminals.
The prison's most famous figure was Warden Herbert "Hardboiled" Smith who ruled the prison with an iron first during the 1920s and '30s. During his reign, the state only sentenced prisoners to Eastern State who needed Warden Smith's fierce reform tactics. At this point the state had abandoned strict solitary confinement and two to three prisoners shared cells. However, with the loss of one form of punishment came a bevy of others that included: the water bath, when inmates were dunked in a bath of ice cold water and then hung from a wall for the night -- this was especially popular during the winter months; the mad chair, where inmates were strapped tightly to a chair, restricting any and all movement for days on end; and periods of induced starvation.
Although executions were not carried out at Eastern State, the prison was home to its fair share of murders. At least two guards were murdered over the years as were many inmates. Hundreds of others died from disease and old age. The grounds are haunted with the spirits who met their end at
Eastern State Penitentiary. Eastern State Penitentiary is open year-round and offers many different tours. During the summer, Twilight Tours allow visitors to experience Eastern State during early night hours. It even offers Winter Adventure Tours during the colder months.