Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lens on Pennsylvania on Display at Eastern State Penitentiary

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lens on Pennsylvania on Display at Eastern State Penitentiary

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA

A mounted wooden fish. Dog figurines. Colorful soap carvings of clowns and Santa. A wallet made of interwoven cigarette packs. It sounds like a bad garage sale -- until you get to the shivs. And the century-old mug shot book. And the inmate death ledger.

Those items are among dozens of prison artifacts set for display at the historic Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The brief exhibit opens Saturday and runs for 10 days.

The defunct and decayed prison, which once housed gangster Al Capone, was abandoned in 1971 but has since been preserved in a state of semi-ruin, becoming one of the city's eeriest and quirkiest tourist attractions.

The objects have never before been exhibited because the dank, decrepit facility didn't have any climate-controlled rooms. But recent renovations will allow the prison to temporarily convert its staff conference room into a "pop-up museum."

Chronicling the inmates' arc of arrival, hard time and departure, artifacts range from mug shots and the prison's original front-gate key to handicrafts, shanks and a death ledger. Many died of tuberculosis; some were executed elsewhere; others served their sentences and went home.

The objects remind visitors that hundreds of people once lived and worked in the now spooky and silent cellblocks, said Sean Kelley, director of public programming. …

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