February 5, 2014

chilly in philly.

     It’s been so cold and gloomy around here that we decided to drive to Philadelphia to take advantage of a slightly less freezing day. Last year we visited Philadelphia in a whirlwind and jam packed our day walking to the major sights: Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Ben Franklin’s Grave, Reading Terminal, JFK Plaza, Elfreth’s Alley, and the Rocky Statue. This time around we made a much shorter visit and saw the things we didn’t get around to doing last year, which ended up being perfect.

     We spent most of our time at the Eastern State Penitentiary. We arrived just in time to go on an hour tour of the former prison. Eastern State was in operation from 1829 to 1971 and was revolutionary in its emphasis of reform over punishment. Most striking is its radial plan or wagon wheel model of cellblocks that are connected by a single central hub. Eastern State’s design served as an innovative model, at the time, for hundreds of other prisons.

Eastern State Penitentiary
Guard Towers at each corner of the Penitentiary 
Each cell was tiny with only a small bed and a toilet
Down cell block 7; a two-story block
Cell Block 7
The penitentiary was really run down which gave it an even more eery feel
The Operating Room; it was even more creepy in person
Medical Wing
     On the tour, we walked the length of cellblock one and stayed in the central hub, which was thankfully heated. The cold matched the uneasy feeling of walking down a hallway where so many people served out their sentences and lived in these tiny cells. It was fun listening to the tour guide tell us stories of how inmates had escaped. The most famous account was of Willie Sutton and 11 others escaping by digging a tunnel 15-feet deep and 97-feet over. Jason and I have seen so many movies about breaking out of prison, but it never occurred to me that those instances have actually happened. Just listening to the stories made me want to watch the Shawshank Redemption.

     Jason’s favorite part of the tour was seeing Al Capone’s fairly luxurious cell with fine furniture, oriental rugs, and a cabinet radio. In 1929, Capone was arrested traveling back from Atlantic City with a concealed, unlicensed .38 caliber revolver and sentenced to a year at Eastern State. Though he was let out four months early on good behavior, Eastern State was his first visit to prison. Jason and I had an amazing time on our tour of Eastern State and weren’t completely frozen by the weather.
Inside the penitentiary, the only form of security was a guard standing at the center hub and looking down each block
What it is believed Al Capone's cell looked like while he stayed here
Jason outside Al Capone's cell
Trying to climb the 30-foot wall

     We drove to Independence Square and rounded out our visit with some more traditional American history at Franklin Court. Franklin Court is the site of Benjamin Franklin’s home, which was torn down in the early 1800s. It has been memorialized by a steel “ghost structure” outlining the place where Franklin’s house once stood. There were also archeological exhibits that showed the original foundations and walls of the house. It was really insightful in giving us an idea of where Benjamin Franklin lived.

Side note: I found a whole 4 dollars on the sidewalk
The original is always best
Part of the "Ghost Structure" of Franklin's House, it's sad that it's not still standing today

     We also walked along the bridge to Penn’s Landing. Besides the wind coming off of the Delaware River, the waterfront was absolutely gorgeous. A bit of history: after first landing in New Castle, DE—Penn docked alongside the Delaware River in 1682 and later founded the colony of Pennsylvania.

Where William Penn landed and founded "Penn"sylvania

     Before leaving, we stopped at Pat’s King of Steaks, which is supposedly the birthplace of the Philly Cheese Sandwich. We parked our car in a super sketchy neighborhood in South Philadelphia, ordered our sandwiches, and ate them in the car with the heater on. The Philly Cheese Steak is definitely made for a meat eater. I ordered the pizza steak and Jason ordered a traditional  cheese steak. Personally, I thought it was good, but it had way too much meat. In the driver’s seat, Jason devoured his because, well, he’s a carnivore.

Visited the King
Their fries were top notch
Jason approves
     I’m glad that we challenged the cold and snuck in a trip to Philadelphia early in the new year. I’m so excited for new adventures and for whatever lies in store for 2014.

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