Friday, June 1, 2007

Pennsylvania Eastern State Penitentiary

Pennsylvania Eastern State Penitentiary

Built in 1829, this hulking pile of stone was Pennsylvania's Eastern State Penitentiary, a cautionary landmark for nearly a century and a half, the place nobody wanted to go.

Willie L. Smith, spent 20 years at Eastern, even building some high-security cells.

Now, people are paying to get in.

Almost 150,000 tourists passed through the forbidding gates of Eastern State last year Ñ into a dark hallway, through a gift shop that has a subterranean feel and down dusty corridors lined by crumbling walls. With audio tour guides at their ears, they go through cellblocks; gaze at the mess halls, hospital and prison chapel; climb into a guard tower; and pace in the exercise yard. They peer into the cells of death row.

Teenagers giggle tentatively; children are subdued; adults exhibit a kind of nervous relief, never happier to be law-abiding citizens. But the paying customers keep coming. And Eastern State is just one of three dozen prisons and jails now collectively drawing millions of visitors each year around the country.

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