It was good to get outside last week, stretch my legs and attend the Fairmount Flea Market. Fairmount is a Philadelphia Neighborhood north of the Art Museum district. Fairmount’s distinctive landmark is Eastern State Penitentiary which sits on the neighborhood’s southern border. I used to live in Fairmount on a street right behind the prison. Of course, the prison was no longer operating by this time and the prison grounds were home to bands of feral cats who roamed the large expanse.
When they built the prison, it was located far outside the city in a cornfield. Now, it’s surrounded by busy streets and row houses. The prison was considered an improvement on crowded, violent penal conditions of the day. It was felt that giving an inmate solitude and opportunity to reflect would help rehabilitation. But the road to hell, so the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. And so it was with Eastern State. Solitary confinement proved to have a disastrous effect on inmates who it destroyed psychologically. Charles Dickens witnessed this when he visited Eastern State in 1842 and later wrote about it.
Fast forward 160 years and the inmates are gone. Eastern State has been cleaned up, is open for tours, and beautiful playgrounds and gardens cover the grounds where the feral cats roamed. Funny how these things work. Here are some pictures.
Speaking of cats, I met two of them on the way home and they graciously let me take their pictures.