Sunday, March 20, 2016

HGB Ep. 113 - Eastern State Penitentiary

Moment in Oddity - The Underwater City of Yonaguni Jima, Japan
Suggested by: Toby Hessenauer

Did you know there was a Japanese Atlantis? That is how some refer to a mysterious underwater city found near Yonaguni Jima, Japan. It is believed that the city was above water until an earthquake 2,000 years ago caused it to sink. The largest building in the underwater city is a megalithic stepped pyramid. The ruins were first discovered in 1985 by a local diver. Some believe this is the lost city of Mu, which has been thought to just be a legend. Masaaki Kimura is a marine geologist who has studied the site for 15 years. He claims that the stone appears to have quarry marks and etchings that could only have been made by humans. He has identified 15 structures including five temples, a large stadium, a triumphant arch and a castle. He even claims that there are formations that seem to resemble animals and that a relief featuring a cow-like creature is on the wall of a structure. The Japanese government has done nothing to preserve the site or draw attention to it because there is some controversy over whether this really is an underwater city. And therein lies part of the mystery. Not only is the city itself and whoever created it a mystery, but there are those who claim that the city is actually just a result of natural formations. Some scientists claim that earthquakes and tsumanis could have helped shape the sandstone under the water, so that it appears to be manmade. Whether it is manmade or natural made is still up for debate, but if this truly is the remains of some Atlantis-like ancient city, that would certainly be odd!

This Day in History - First Woman Executed in Electric Chair
by: Steven Pappas

On this day, March 20th, in 1899, Martha M. Place became the first woman to be executed by electric chair. Born September 18th, 1849, Martha was a typical girl. At the age of 23 she suffered a blow to the head, which her brother said she never fully recovered from. She became unstable. She eventually married Willliam Place in 1893. She was said to be jealous of her new step daughter Ida and the police were called on multiple occasions when Martha became violent. In February of 1898, William was attacked by Martha, who was wielding an ax. He managed to escape and go for help, but Ida was killed by Martha. Martha then tried to commit suicide by starting a gas leak, but was hospitalized and arrested. She pleaded innocence, but was found guilty and sentenced to die by electric chair. She was the third woman to be sentenced to death by this method, but because of the brutality of her crime, was the first for whom the sentence was carried out.

Eastern State Penitentiary (Suggested by listener Steven Fitzgerald, Research Assistant April Rogers-Krick)

Eastern State Penitentiary was built to start a reformation when it came to America's penal system. Prison was making the move from a place of punishment to a place of reform. Eastern State became the most expensive building in America when it was built in the late 1800s and it was the most famous prison in the world. Al Capone even spent time here. Officers and inmates have reported haunting activity for decades at the prison and this activity seems to have only increased since the penitentiary was closed to inmates for good. The reputation of the prison makes it a perfect place for the haunted house attraction it becomes every Halloween. But the ghosts here are very real. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Eastern State Penitentiary!

The period after the American Revolution was considered a time of Enlightenment in America. Great American thinkers like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin were challenging traditional beliefs when it came to religion, science and politics. Six major ideas to come out of the Enlightenment were deism, conservativism, liberalism, toleration, republicanism and scientific progress. The adoption of rational and humanistic principles developed during the Enlightenment affected prison reform and design. As we know from previous podcasts on prisons, many of these institutions were basically large holding pens where all genders and ages were thrown in together. Abuse by prison guards was the norm. With prison reform came changes to the American prison system.

In 1829, the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons opened Eastern State Penitentiary, an experiment in correcting behavior through solitary confinement and reform instead of punishment.  The Society began in 1787 and met in the home of Benjamin Franklin. The group was led by Benjamin Rush and he expressed a desire that the group made a goal of having Philadelphia become the place known internationally for prison reform. The group believed that causing prisoners to have penitent hearts would lead to them reforming. That is why this prison was called a pentitentiary. Advocates for the system believed that if inmates were left alone for long enough, away from the dirty outside world, a criminal’s innate morality would prevail and straighten them out. Eastern State  was considered the world’s first true penitentiary.  Its system of incarceration was considered revolutionary, dubbed the “Pennsylvania System” or separate system.  Inmates were held in separate confinement as a form of rehabilitation.  The warden was legally required to visit every inmate every day and the overseers were mandated to see each inmate three times a day. Eastern State was designed by John Haviland and opened its doors on October 25, 1829.

Originally, inmates were to be housed in cells that could only be accessed by entering through a small exercise yard attached to the back of the prison.  A small portal, just large enough to pass meals, opened onto the cell blocks. This design proved impractical, and in the middle of construction, cells construction was changed to allow prisoners to enter and leave the cell blocks through metal doors that were covered by a heavy wooden door to filter out noise. The halls were designed to have the feel of a church. It was believed by some that the doors were built small, so that prisoners would have a harder time getting out, thus minimizing an attack on a security guard.  Others have explained that the small doors forced the prisoners to bow while entering their cell.  This design forced the appearance of penance and ties to the religious inspiration of the prisons.  The cells were made of concrete with a single glass skylight, representing the “Eye of God”, suggesting to the prisoners that God was always watching them. Fear was a key to instilling in prisoners a desire to never return to jail. Early Prisoners were petty criminals, muggers, purse-snatchers, pickpockets, burglars, etc. First time offenders often only served two years.  Eastern State was intended to move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change and not simply punishment.  Proponents of the system believed that the criminals if exposed, in silence, to the thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes, would become penitent.

There was an individual area for exercise outside each cell. High walls enclosed each yard so prisoners could not communicate.  Exercise time was synchronized so that no two prisoners next to each other would be out at the same time.  Prisoners were allowed to garden and to keep pets in their exercise yards.  A hood was placed over the head of a prisoner by a guard when he left his cell.  This was to prevent the prisoners from recognizing one another. Each individual cell had a faucet with running water over a flush toilet, as well as curved pipes along part of one wall, which served as central heating during the winter months. Hot water would be run through the pipes to keep the cells reasonably heated.  Toilets were remotely flushed twice a week by the guards of the cellblock. The original design of the building was for seven one-story cell blocks, but by the time cell block three was completed, the prison was already over capacity.

All subsequent cell blocks had two floors.  Toward the end, cell blocks 14 and 15 were hastily built due to overcrowding.  They were built and designed by prisoners.  Cell block 15 was for the worst behaved prisoners and the guards were gated off from them entirely. Inmates were punished with the “individual-treatment system.”  At the time, this form of punishment was thought to be most effective. Due to overcrowding, the solitary confinement system eventually collapsed.  By 1913, Eastern State officially abandoned the solitary system and operated as a congregate prison until it closed in 1970.  After a riot at Holmesburg Prison in 1971, Eastern State was used briefly to house city inmates. Eastern State was one of the largest public-works in the early days of the United States.

The reality of Eastern State was anything, but reformatory.  The guards and councilors designed a variety of physical and psychological torture regimens for various infractions. Prisoners would be doused in freezing water outside during winter months. The Iron Gag was an iron collar strapped around the tongue and chained to the inmate's wrists in a fashion such that struggling against the chains could cause the tongue to tear. Many inmates bled to death during this punishment. Other prisoners were strapped into the Mad Chair with tight leather restraints that prevented any movement and cut off circulation for days on end and given no food. The worst behaved prisoners were put into a pit called “The hole”, which was an underground cell dug under cell block 14 where they would have no light, no human contact, and little food for as long as two weeks at a time.

In the 19th century, Eastern State was a tourist destination. Charles Dickens and Alexis de Tocqueville were two of the most notable visitors. Visitors were able to speak with prisoners in their cells, proving that inmates were not isolated. However, prisoners themselves were not allowed to have any visits from family or friends during their incarceration. In 1831, after visiting Eastern State, Alexis De Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont wrote in their report to the French government: "Thrown into solitude... [the prisoner] reflects. Placed alone, in view of his crime, he learns to hate it; and if his soul be not yet surfeited with crime, and thus have lost all taste for any thing better, it is in solitude, where remorse will come to assail him.... Can there be a combination more powerful for reformation than that of a prison which hands over the prisoner to all the trials of solitude, leads him through reflection to remorse, through religion to hope; makes him industrious by the burden of idleness.."

Charles Dickens did not agree.  He visited Eastern State in 1842 and in chapter seven of his travel journal, "American Notes for General Circulation," Dickens writes, "In its intention I am well convinced that it is kind, humane, and meant for reformation; but I am persuaded that those who designed this system of Prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentleman who carry it into execution, do not know what it is that they are doing....I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye,... and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment in which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay."

Some of America’s most notorious criminals were held at Eastern State.  Gangster Al Capone found himself in front of a judge for the first time in May 1929 and was sentenced to one year in Eastern State for a concealed weapons charge.  He spent most of that sentence in relative comfort.  Capone was allowed to furnish his cell with antique furniture, oriental rugs, oil paintings and a cabinet radio.   He was allowed special privileges, like being allowed to conduct business through the warden. There was also Morris "The Rabbi" Bolber. He was the leader of an arsenic murder ring. People referred to him as "a veteran witch doctor and compounder of charms." Their main clientele were women who wanted to kill their husbands for insurance money. The group had killed 30 people. The Rabbi was serving a life sentence at Eastern State. Leo Callahan was arrested for assault and battery with intent to kill. He was the only inmate to successfully escape Eastern State and stay at large. He was never recaptured. He used a makeshift wooden ladder to accomplish this feat. The five Buzzard brothers all served time at the prison. Joe Buzzard was one of the best horse thieves in the country. There were women at the prison for 100 years and Freda Frost was the last female at the jail. She had poisoned her husband and killed him.

Bank Robber Slick Willie Sutton was apprehended on February 5, 1934 and sentenced to serve 25 to 50 years in Eastern State, for the machine gun robbery of the Corn Exchange Bank in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  On April 3, 1945 Sutton was one of 12 convicts who escaped the institution through a tunnel.  Sutton was recaptured the same day by Philadelphia police officers; this had been his fifth escape attempt at Eastern State. Willie Sutton claimed to be the mastermind of the tunnel escape. The truth is that the escape was planned and largely executed by Clarence “Kliney” Klinedinst, a plasterer, stone mason, burglar, and forger who looked a little like a young Frank Sinatra and had a reputation as a first-rate prison scavenger.  Willie Sutton said, “If you give Kliney two weeks, he could get you Ava Gardner.  If you give Kliney a year, he could get you out of prison.”

Like something out of the Shawshank Redemption, the escapees used spoons and flattened cans as shovels and picks, the tunnel crew, who worked in two-man teams for 30 minute shifts, slowly dug a 31-inch opening through the wall of cell 68.  They then dug twelve feet straight down into the ground, and another 100 feet out beyond the walls of the prison.  They removed dirt by concealing it in their pockets and scattering it in the exercise yard.  They shored it up with scaffolding, illuminated, and even ventilated the tunnel.  At about the halfway point, it linked up with the prison’s brick sewer system and the crew created a working connection between the two pipelines to deposit their waste while ensuring the noxious fumes were kept out of the tunnel.  The tunnel escaped inspection several times thanks to a false panel Kliney treated to match the plaster of the cell and concealed by a metal waste basket.

After months of painfully slow labor, the tunnel was ready.  On the the morning of April 3, 1945, the 12 prisoners made their escape, sneaking off to cell 68 on their way to breakfast.  After all the designing, carving, digging, and building, Kliney made it a whole three hours before getting caught.  He had faired better than Sutton who was free for only three minutes.  By the end of the day, half the escapees were returned to prison while the rest were caught within a couple months. The first few escapees to be captured, including Sutton, were put in the Klondikes. The Klondikes were illegal confinement cells that were completely dark and had been secretly built by guards in the mechanical space below one of the cell blocks.  These spaces were miserable, tiny holes that weren’t big enough to stand up in or wide enough to lie down.  The tunnel itself was analyzed and mapped and then guards filled it with ash and covered it with cement. Until 2005 the location of the tunnel was lost.  A non-profit dedicated to preserving the landmarked prison completed an archaeological survey to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the escape.  To find the tunnel, the group created a search grid over the prison grounds near the entrance, the location of which was known from old photos.  Using ground penetrating radar, the team was able to create vertical sections though the site in increments corresponding to the suspected width of the tunnel.  After a couple failed attempts, the archaeologists detected a section of the tunnel that hadn’t collapsed and hadn’t been filled-in by the guards.  A year later, a robotic rover was sent through the tunnels, documenting its scaffolding and lighting systems.

Although there were riots in 1919, 1924 and 1923, it was the riot of 1942 they saw the loss of life. All the riots were started due to a lack of quality food and poor conditions and the inmates were demanding better. In 1942, Eastern State instituted a cutback of food items, some of which included sugar and coffee.  Because of these reductions, some of the inmates started to protest.  During the meal periods, inmates implemented their own form of a hunger strike by refusing to eat anything but coffee.  When their demands were not met, mattresses were set afire and the riot began.  Because of heavy rain, smoke from the fire was driven down the ventilation shaft to where an inmate named Joseph Anncenski was and asphyxiated him.  Two more inmates were overcome by the fire and one was killed during the riot.

By the 1960’s, Eastern State was in very bad shape.  The cost of repair was too high and by 1970 the doors were closed.  The city of Philadelphia bought Eastern State in 1980 and planned to refurbish and re-purpose the building. That was unsuccessful and the Pennsylvania Prison Society took over the prison in 1994 and opened it for tours. In 1997, it was turned into a museum. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc. took over management in 2001. Every Halloween the prison is opened as a haunted house attraction. Many people believe that Eastern State is Haunted. As early as the 1940’s guards and inmates reported mysterious visions and eerie experiences.  The reports have only increased since the closing in 1970.

A locksmith was working in Cell Block #4 to remove a 140-year-old lock from the cell door. He suddenly was overcome by some kind of force that seemed to possess his body. He was unable to move. It was similar to sleep paralysis, only the locksmith had not been sleeping. Legend has it that when the locksmith removed the lock, he opened a gateway for spirits to come through. Almost as if the spirits of the jail had been locked up here. The negative energy pulled the locksmith towards it. He claimed to see hundreds of distorted forms and faces filled with anquish on a cell wall. Every time he recalled the experience, he shuddered.

You might remember that we touched on a haunting involving Al Capone at Eastern State in our St. Valentine's Massacre episode (No. 28) Other inmates said they could hear Capone screaming at somebody named Jimmy in his cell to go away nd leave him alone. He was tormented every night. The prisoners assumed he was talking to the ghost of James Clark, a man who he murdered at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.  James Clark was the brother-in-law of Bugs Moran.

Cellblock 12 has disembodied voices that echo through the block and occasionally cackling is heard. On the third floor of that same block, a tour guide claims that the cell doors were closed one minute and then wide open the next minute. Cellblock 6 features several shadowy figures that dart along the walls.  Wails, whispers and footsteps are heard in many areas and there is never anyone there to make the sounds. There is a guard tower that has had a shadowy figure visible inside of it on occasion.

Eastern State has seen much pain and loneliness in its time. Are the spirits of former inmates still here in the afterlife? Are there dark and evil entities within the walls of the jail? Is Eastern State Penitentiary haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
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