30 June 2005


photo.bin When you bring up the subject of ghosts my friend Jon will talk about how a couple of years ago he went out with some ghost hunters. He'll tell you about how he learned that ghosts are actually just memories absorbed by the environment. Emotionally charged into our surroundings. He'll go on about how wood is better for absorbing memories than concrete because of it's fibrous nature. He'll say every human being has it's own electromagnetic field and these fields are what trigger the memories dormant in the environment. That if someone with the right frequency field were to walk into the right place it would be like pressing 'play' on the past.

And if you think about it, he's right.


It's noon by the time Tom, Katie and I make it into Philadelphia and take the first steps into Eastern State Penitentiary. It's been about five years since I was last here. A lot has changed. Areas have been cleaned up and restored. There is a big production audio tour now and the once abandoned prison is again full of people.

We had to sign waivers in the gift shop next to where they sell DVD's and t-shirts. Five years ago where they're selling pens and pencils used to be carcasses of dead birds, lead paint flakes, broken glass, and enough dust, dirt and asbestos to last your entire life.

Now they have a full-time staff and pictures on the walls.

It used to be my photo instructor Tom was one of the only people to have access to this place. He knew the crazy old grounds keeper and could get us in on the down low. Back when there was no tour, no signs, no people. Back when it was just you, the prison, and the memories.

It was Tom who brought me here 5 years ago and it's Tom who I'm with today.

After we've signed our waivers and gone to the bathroom Tom shows us the combinations to some of the locks. This is so we can go into some of the places where the general public can't. It wasn't full access but it was better than nothing.

We split up. I headed toward one of my favorite cell blocks only to find it's been renovated. People are walking up and down the corridors with headphones, they're traipsing in and out of cells talking to each other, snapping pictures with cell phones. It used to be if you heard voices you had something to be alarmed about. Not now, not in this section at least.

After about an hour of taking pictures around the people on tour I went looking for Tom and Kate. I wanted to get into some of the really locked places, the places with locks that needed keys, not combinations.

I met up with them in the main Rotunda area, Tom was just about to head up to one of the guard towers to get some shots of the courtyard. I was eager to tag along. I missed my old prison, the one only me and a couple other people knew about. I wanted to get off the Disney tour and on to something a little more real.

We unlocked the door that took us up to the tower. The darkness was blinding. I could just barely see a spiral staircase in the center of the room. It stretched like a spine out of the shadows up to an open maw of faint daylight. Outside you could see the entire grounds. We must have been 200 feet up.

After getting some shots I stepped back down into the dark.

Yes, the darkness, I had forgotten about it. In this place the dark is it's own thing entirely. It's so thick it's almost tangible. Murky, and in some places you can't see your hand two inches from your face. It's oppressive and once you're inside, it suffocates you.

After shooting for another hour or so in Cell Block 3, the infirmary block and "non-tour" area, I got a phone call from Scott. He wanted advice on getting a PSP. I talked to him for a couple of minutes and when I came back Tom and Kate said they were going into another cell block. I told them I wanted to get one more shot here and I'd meet them over there. By the time I was done, I turned around and they were gone. I didn't see which way they went.

I called out for Tom. No answer. They couldn't have gone far, it had only been a minute. I called out again. Dead silence.

I decided I'd get some more shots while I was here and in a couple of minutes, when they realized I wasn't behind them, they'd come back.

Ten minutes passed and nobody showed. Silence. I paced up and down the cell block trying to find where they had gone. Suddenly the hair on the back of my neck was standing straight up and out of no where I got chills. I called out for Tom again. I heard someone walking around and some faint voices. I called out again. Nothing.

Then something. A very loud, pronounced voice. One that didn't sound like anyone I know. Coming from down the empty corridor it said, "Here's Johnny."

I shit you not.

I ran through one of the locked doors we had come through and saw Kate down the hall on the complete opposite side of where I had just been. I called to them and they showed me how to get over to where they were.

Later, I told Tom about what happened. I told him to stop fucking with me, it had to be him playing a joke. He said he was no where near me when it happened and that I was no where even near the tour. He was right, I wasn't.

At about 4:00pm we all entered Cell Block 12, said to be the more violent of the cell blocks. These were not solitary confinement cells like in the rest of the prison. Steel rods span each floor level, which were installed to discourage inmates from throwing each other from the catwalk.

Kate decided to go upstairs alone while Tom and I took a picture of a door that had been rent from it's hinges. A minute later she came down white as a sheet.

At first she wouldn't talk about it but finally we got it out of her. She told us she was upstairs taking a picture of one of the cells when she felt wind on the back of her neck. Like someone was standing behind her, breathing, heavily.

Around 5:30 we wrapped up, put away our gear and headed next door to a BBQ place for some dinner. Oddly enough it was an old firehouse that had been converted into a restaurant. The whole time I was eating I was thinking about the Ghostbusters headquarters. There is indeed something strange in your neighborhood.

The car ride home seemed longer than the car ride up. We talked about what happened. About ghosts and strange things that we had heard and seen before within the walls of that prison. I told them about Jon's theory. About how they're just memories.

From there on the car ride was pretty quiet.


Jaxe said...

Random flyby, but these pics are fantastic! I saved your site so I can come back and read your write up! Awesome site!

Paul said...

hey thanks man.

Yo Mama said...

This pics are outstanding. My fav is the room with the table that has the drawer open. I think you should contact "Asylum" in Adams Morgan and see if they would let you display 10 or so of these in their restaurant. People need to see these.

Paul said...

*sigh* Thanks mom. I'm actually thinking about contacting the prison site and seeing if they want to link my site directly. They have a gallery section with links to other photographers who have taken pictures there, I think I want to be included.

Yo Mama said...

Do it. Do it now!

Jon said...

Get to the choppah! Give dem air!

Oh wait, wrong blog.

Yeah, you should tell people about how, re: me and spirits, I'm also the incarnation of an ancient Elder God named Ryk'ylklklkl'Lych'klogtha. You can call me Ryki for short.

I was born to p0wnzor the world.

Paul said...

what the hell was in that burrito?

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