Most of the people think about the Liberty Bell or the Independence Hall when it comes to touring Philadelphia. Although these places come under National Park Services and are highly advertised as “must go” locations when visiting the city, there are other rare places in Philly which are worth exploring.
We had a weekend to us in Philly after Ruj’s exam and decided to check out the America’s most historic prison – The Eastern State Penitentiary (or ESP). ESP as it stands today, is a ruin, but not until very long ago was most famous and expensive prison in the world holding America’s notorious criminals, including Al Capone.
The ideology behind starting such a prison was very unique. ESP was built in 1829 as part of a controversial movement to change the behavior of inmates through “confinement in solitude with labor”. The prison had a wagon wheel design with spokes where each spoke had a number of isolated cells. The spokes themselves were isolated from each other such that the inmates had no idea that there were more than one spokes to the prison. Each cell had an isolated yard (isolated – open to sky area) where the inmate was allowed to spend two breaks of 30 min each day. Rest of the day the inmates were in the closed cells.
It was such a depressing feeling just looking at the cells that I cannot imagine the psychological strength needed to thrive in such an atmosphere for multiple years, without talking a single word to anyone. The Penitentiary was intended not simply to punish, but to move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. This hypothesis of transforming the inmate was actually never corroborated as there were no means to track the inmates after they were released from the prison. Slowly, due to the expensive nature of this type of prison system, this ideology fell apart.
The visitor center has a lot of statistics on prisons and how the number of inmates has exponentially grown over the last decade – It is concerning. The lobby also features a wall where the prison administration encourages visitors to write, anonymously, any unlawful activity that they might have carried out in the past. It’s fun to read some of the responses what people have done!! These are gamified by mixing with responses from convicted criminals and the readers are encouraged to guess if a particular confession is from a visitor or an inmate. [A visitor had written that he took advantage of an old lady and stole her social security, money, driving license etc….]
The other rarity of Philly is the Mutter museum. This museum of medical history displays preserved collections of anatomical specimens and medical instruments from the last century. The museum has brains, skull collections, tumour specimens and cancer exhibits. Yes.. you go to such places when you have a doctor in the family accompanying you! According to Ruj, the college of physicians in Philadelphia might have run out of space for preserving tumours and cancers and hence decided to rather open up a museum and make some money! 😛
(these pics are from google)
Overall, Philly is not just about cheesesteaks and liberty bell but also about these gems like the penitentiary, mutter museum and recreating the famous “Rocky” running scene at the Museum of Art staircase.