And, as it would involve an overnight stay, we decided to add some activities to our meeting. We decided to take the tour of Eastern State Penitentiary, a prison that originally opened in 1829 and closed in 1971.
Much of the facility is in an advanced state of decay, but it is a fascinating view into the past, both the original plan and design -- which was based on the total isolation of each prisoner so that they could repent for their sins, along with mastering trades that would enable them to reenter society -- and the economic and societal demands that resulted in overcrowding, over-building, and the complete abandonment of the original premise.
A few of the takeaway facts:
* The "wagon wheel" design had the guard station in the center and a single guard could check all of the original corridors while standing in one spot. As the need for more space required additional construction, including a second level on some of the "spokes," this became more difficult.
* Each cell had its own private "exercise yard," into which the prisoner was released for an hour or less a day.
* Prisoners served their terms, usually a year or two, in complete isolation, with the exception of a visit from the chaplain or a guard who was giving the prisoner some instruction in developing a skill, usually for about thirty minutes a week.
* Though the penitentiary was originally built in the middle of a cherry orchard two miles outside the city, by the time it was closed, it was surrounded by residential housing and businesses, including an elementary school right across the street.
* It was the first public building in the United States to have central heating, running water, and indoor plumbing. These were all part of the initial design and construction.
* Al Capone served eight months of a one-year sentence there in 1929. He had been arrested in Philadelphia for carrying an unlicensed gun. His recreated cell looks more like a hotel than prison.
* Willie Sutton (known for responding to a reporter's question about why he robbed banks, "because that's where the money was") was one of twelve prisoners who tunneled to freedom in 1945; Sutton was recaptured a block away.
It was a very entertaining and enlightening tour and an excellent addition to the opportunity to see Bob and Deb.