Eastern State Penitentiary  

The Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) is a former American prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street in the Fairmount section of the city and was operational from 1829 until 1971. The penitentiary refined the revolutionary system of separate incarceration first pioneered at the Walnut Street Jail, which emphasized reform principles rather than punishment.

Notorious criminals like Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton were held inside its innovative wagon wheel design. James Bruno (Big Joe) and several male relatives were incarcerated in this Philadelphia prison between 1936 and 1948 for the alleged murders in the Kelayres massacre of 1934 before they were paroled. At its completion, the building was the most extensive and most expensive public structure ever erected in the United States and quickly became a model for more than 300 prisons worldwide.

Art Exhibits

  • Ghost Cats – When the prison closed in 1971, a colony of cats lived inside. When restoration began, the cats were captured and neutered, thus causing them to die off eventually. Artist Linda Brenner sculpted 39 cat sculptures, which surround the property. The sculptures were purposefully made of a material that slowly dissolves over time to represent the inevitable natural decay that faces all living things.
  • The End of the Tunnel – Hundreds of feet of red piping were installed by artist Dayton Castleman representing paths of escape routes used by prisoners.
  • Recollection Tableaux – Artist Susan Hagen sculpted six dioramas to represent important moments in the prison’s history. They are scattered around cell block seven. Pest Control Kings
  • GTMO – A replica of a Guantanamo Bay detention camp cell was set up by artist William Cromar inside one of the cells.
  • Midway of Another Day – A metal sundial set up to show “the passing of time” by Michael Grothusen in the courtyard of cell block one.
  • I always wanted to go to Paris, France – Artist Alexa Hoyer set up three TVs, one in a cell, one in a hallway, and one in a shower room, showing seven decades of prison films. The title I always wanted to go to Paris, France, is from a quotation from one of the film excerpts screened in the prisoner’s cell.
  • Juxtaposition – Brothers Matthew and Jonathan Stemler divided cell #34 in cell block 11 horizontally. A grid at the ceiling supports a display of suspended plaster pieces along a single plane. Ground mica schistpoured onto the floor softens the step and enhances the texture of the space, while a bench provides a vantage point in which to view and consider the piece’s overall effect.

Address: 2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA

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