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Eastern State Penitentiary

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The Abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary

Location: Philadelphia, PA

This is entry number 13 of my urban exploration blog. Click here to go read the last ones!

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The Video

The Property

Eastern State Penitentiary: America’s first true penitentiary. And one of the most isolating cell layouts known in the US correctional system. And while this place isn't actually abandoned, the staff and caretakers of Eastern State have kept it looking like an untouched bando. There is no grafitti here, but there are a few art installations, signage, info plaques, photographs, videos, and running restrooms. I'm including this in my URBEX blog category, because to me, this place is basically maintained to be abandoned, like Alcatraz. This place was designed for isolation and inspired the architectural designs of over 300 prisons worldwide. If you're looking for something to do this afternoon while you're in Philly, pick up some tickets and go on an excursion through the decaying past of Eastern State Penitentiary, by visiting their website.

Built in 1829 on eleven acres of what is now the heart of downtown Philadelphia, Eastern state sits, being swallowed on all sides by skyscrapers, as a historic landmark. It's crazy to me to think that downtown Philadelphia was built around this prison, but it makes sense; the more criminals there are the more legal people their need to be, which leads to law firms in sky scrapers, which then leads to other needs and more buildings. It reminds me of how Guantanamo Bay is set up; there's the prison and then the community that was built to help support the prison.

Getting Past Security

In 1994, Eastern State was opened to the public, so getting past security was as simple as acquiring a ticket. I was out creating content for a sports radio host and recommended that we check this place out while we were in Philly, and I'm so glad we did.

We went in the early afternoon and stayed until closing. There were few enough people for me to be able to capture the prison in an almost completely empty state, giving it an even more authentic urban exploration feel to an otherwise open place.

The Spoils

The cell entrances are uncomfortably low and narrow, making it difficult to maneuver quickly in or out of the cell, which both acted as a method of demoralizing the inmates, but it could have also been designed this way to help minimize the possibility of attack on the guards. Some believe the design was created to force the prisoners to bow their heads, as if paying penance for their sins.

The cells were equipped with pipes for running water and had flush toilets, and curved pipes on one wall serving as central heating during the winter.

Notice the church-like architecture of this cell. The skylight looks like where the bell tower of a church would be.

Each concrete cell has one skylight, representing the eye of god, otherwise referred to as the “dead eye.”

I walked past this cell and seeing the bed upright like that made me stop dead in my tracks. What a crazy visual! Eastern State has since made it their #Picoftheweek on their Instagram, @EasternState

This is great! Check out the tins of Survival Supplies from the Department of Defense just stacked, rusting, on top of each other. I wonder if they were like that or if the staff at Eastern State set this room up to look like this. If it's the latter then I applaud them on this set up. It really made for a great urban exploration photo.

I can't thank Eastern State's staff enough for keeping this place in its state of decay. It means a lot as an avid explorer.

On April 3, 1945 twelve inmates escaped through a tunnel that a mortar layer and inmate had dug over the course of a year, a 97 foot tunnel under the prison wall. All twelve were recaptured and resentenced.

By 1971 the prison was shut down and plans to repurpose the facility into a mall were talked about, until 1988 when a task force petitioned the Mayer to halt redevelopment for historic purposes.


After about three hours of exploring the different veins of the prison we made our way to the exit. This was the last photo I snapped at Eastern State and it's one of my favorites from the trip. I love me a good solar flare.

*bando (n,): slang term for an abandoned location; an urban exploration trip

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