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The following text is the transcrip from an persuasive speech to save Eastern State Penitentiary that I gave in July of 1998. In the speech I present the reasons why Eastern State should be preserved for future generations.
by: brett bertolino
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today you will hear the pleas of my client, a 175 year old inmate. Although my client has committed no crime, he has sat on death row since 1971. During this time, my client has come very close to being executed on several occasions; however, in each case, his life was spared with a temporary stay of execution. Today I will convince you beyond a shadow of a doubt that my client can be can be a productive member of society; and, therefore, his life should be spared.
By now you may be asking yourself several questions - just who is my client, why is he on death row if he has not done anything wrong, and how could he be 175 years old? Well, it may make more sense when I tell you that I am not even talking about a person, but rather a place --Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary.
Many of you may be familiar with Eastern State Penitentiary as a prison or as a historical museum, you may even know a little bit about Eastern State Penitentiary's history, but what you may not know is that although Eastern State Penitentiary is a successful tourist attraction today, its future still remains uncertain. In addition, you may not know exactly why Eastern State Penitentiary is worth preserving or what you can possibly do to help. According to the surveys all of you completed in class, everyone unanimously agreed that it is important to preserve historical buildings for future generations and one of you even added the comment that this is the only way future generations can experience and learn about history first hand. I could not have said it any better myself. Today I will try to convince you that Eastern State Penitentiary has enough historical significance to warrant preservation, as well as updating you on Eastern State Penitentiary's present status and letting you know how you can help the preservation effort. But, before I discuss these two topics, I want to be open and honest with you and tell you now that preservation is not the only option for Eastern State Penitentiary.
Currently, there are three basic options for Eastern State Penitentiary. The first is redevelopment. After Eastern State Penitentiary was abandoned in 1971, not much was said about the future of the site until 1974 when, then mayor of Philadelphia Frank Rizzo, suggested demolishing Eastern State Penitentiary to construct a criminal justice center. In 1980, the City of Philadelphia purchased Eastern State Penitentiary from the state for $400,000 and four years later the city transferred the property to the Redevelopment Authority to seek proposals for commercial use. During the next few years, there were many proposed uses for Eastern State Penitentiary's eleven acre site including a supermarket or other retail stores, an amusement park, condominiums, mini industrial park or even a Middle Eastern bazaar. Despite the plans aggressive developers, it was Eastern State Penitentiary's massive stone walls, which are 30 feet high and eight feet thick at the base, that bought the historic landmark some extra time. Although the walls were almost 200 years old, they were in such good condition that they would be too expensive to destroy. As the movie Let the Doors Be Of Iron stated, "Eastern State Penitentiary is too significant to ignore and too massive to simply knock down." This did not stop developers, they proposed new plans that retained the penitentiary's walls. In April of 1988, on the eve of a decision to develop, then Mayor of Philadelphia Wilson Goode, according to the book Philadelphia Then And Now "scuttled plans and stated 'This historical site must be preserved.'" Plucked from the hands of developers Eastern State Penitentiary was given a stay of execution. The second option, is for Eastern State Penitentiary to be preserved and continue to operate as a historic museum as it does today. The third option is to abandone Eastern State Penitentiary and let the deterioration continue. This is by far the worst option, because unlike the previous two, no one benefits. Although any of these options are still possible, I believe that the best option is to preserve Eastern State Penitentiary for future generations and I think that after you hear about Eastern State Penitentiary's historical significance, you too will agree.
There are many old buildings in Philadelphia and it is simply not possible to preserve every single one. That is why we must preserve buildings, not simply because they are old, but because they have some historical significance. Eastern State Penitentiary has that historical significance. Philadelphia Weekly called Eastern State Penitentiary "Philadelphia's most historic site" and the History Channel called Eastern State Penitentiary "the world's most influential prison." In addition, many historians have agreed, calling Eastern State Penitentiary the single most historic building in Philadelphia. Eastern State Penitentiary is historically significant for two reasons - its architecture and philosophy. When Eastern State Penitentiary was being constructed, the United States was only 50 years old. It was the most famous prison in the world and it was one of the most famous buildings in the young United States. According to Sean Kelley, program director at Eastern State Penitentiary, it was an "architectural marvel" and "absolutely massive by 1820's standards." Eastern State Penitentiary was the biggest building project of the day and, upon the completion of the original seven cell blocks, it was the most expensive building in the United States costing $770,000. In addition, Eastern State Penitentiary was the first large scale building to have indoor plumbing, toilets, and central heat. Eastern State Penitentiary even had toilets before the White House. At the time, Eastern State Penitentiary was also the largest housing facility in the United States. In addition, Eastern State Penitentiary's trademark arched ceilings, skylights, and radial floor plan are also historically significant because of their world wide influence.
In addition to Eastern State Penitentiary's architectural significance, its philosophy of prison reform is also very historically significant. When Eastern State Penitentiary was built, it was on the forefront of prison reform. It would not simply be a jail or holding pen like its predecessors. Instead, it would be a means to reform. It was the first wide scale implementation of the idea of time as punishment. In addition, its idea of complete solitude, labor, and religious study was a revolutionary and even radical new idea that had never been proposed before. The goals of reformation, rehabilitation, and penitence made Eastern State Penitentiary stand out from any other prison in existence. Eastern State Penitentiary's goal of penitence coined the term penitentiary, which we still use today. Eastern State Penitentiary's new system of prison reform soon became know as the Pennsylvania System, because Eastern State Penitentiary was located in Pennsylvania, and was emulated by new prisons the world over. Later, the Auburn, named for a prison in Auburn NY, or congregate system was developed. For years these two systems competed head to head, but eventually both systems failed.
Although, historic tours began being offered in 1988, this was not the first time Eastern State Penitentiary was a tourist attraction. In fact, Eastern State Penitentiary was built with the intent of being a tourist attraction. This is why the halls of the cell blocks have arched ceilings and ornate railings, even though prisons were never intended to see this area of the prison. The tremendous cost of Eastern State Penitentiary was partially justified because it was going to be a tourist attraction. The Quakers believed that their prison philosophy was humane and could reform prisoners. They believed it worked and they wanted others to adopt their philosophy. The Quakers believed that this could be accomplished by having people visit Eastern State Penitentiary and see the building and philosophy first hand. Eastern State Penitentiary grew as a tourist attraction and it is said that at the height of attendance, the prison was the most popular tourist attraction in the United States. Lack of records makes this almost impossible to prove, but what we do know for sure is that Eastern State Penitentiary attracted visitors from around the world and it did surpass the Liberty Bell as the most popular tourist attraction in Philadelphia (even though it was still over a mile outside of the city). Eastern State Penitentiary's philosophy and architecture made it world famous. If you came to the United States in the 1800's one of the things you would want to see would be Eastern State Penitentiary. When the famous author Charles Dickens first came to the United States, he wrote that the two things he most wanted to see were the Falls at Niagara and Eastern State Penitentiary. But, unlike many of the visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary, Dickens was highly critical of the system.
Eastern State Penitentiary's radial floor plan and revolutionary prison philosophy influenced, depending on the source, anywhere from 300 to 500 prisons world wide, some of which were built as late as the 1960's even after Eastern State Penitentiary abandoned the system named for it. In 1953, the City of Philadelphia declared Eastern State Penitentiary a historic property and in 1965 the Federal Government designated Eastern State Penitentiary a national historic landmark. In 1996, the World Monument Fund included Eastern State Penitentiary on its list of the one-hundred most important endangered landmarks in the world.
Now that you know why Eastern State Penitentiary is so historically significant and why it should be preserved for future generations, I would like to tell you about the state of Eastern State Penitentiary today and what you can do to help preserve this historic building. After Mayor Wilson Goode petitioned for the preservation of Eastern State Penitentiary in 1988, limited group tours were offered for the first time. In 1991, with generous donations from the Pew Charitable Trusts, stabilization and preservation efforts began. In 1994, tours began were offered on a daily basis for six months out of the year. In 1995, with funding from The William Penn Foundation, permanent museum exhibits were constructed and a marketing campaign was begun. During this year the site also received national recognition on many television programs and in newspapers causing attendance to double. 1996 was a very important year for Eastern State Penitentiary. The City of Philadelphia granted Eastern State Penitentiary a stay of execution by granting the Pennsylvania Prison Society a ten year license to develop the site. This insures that Eastern State Penitentiary will remain a historic museum until 2006. At this time Eastern State Penitentiary will be assessed and if it is a success, the Pa Prison Society will be granted a 20 year addition to the license. The idea is that if Eastern State Penitentiary is not a success-what ever that is-in ten years, it is likely it will never be a success. That is why the next few years are critical for esp. As of now it appears that Eastern State Penitentiary is becoming successful as a tourist attraction. It has received world wide recognition and, according to the Pa Prison Society, attracted over 35,000 visitors last year. In addition, this year the first major repairs of Eastern State Penitentiary have begun with generous funding from The City of Philadelphia and PA Historical and Museum Commission. Eastern State Penitentiary is not out f the woods yet, and the road to restoration has not always been a smooth one. At one point, low risk prisoners were being used to repair Eastern State Penitentiary, however this work was stopped because of protests from local labor unions. There is no plan to completely restore the entire penitentiary, it would simply be too expensive. The goal is to stabilize the historically significant buildings and make them water tight. These would most likely include the original seven cell blocks, with special emphasis on cell block number one, and the front administrative building. Once this is complete, there are many ideas of how Eastern State Penitentiary can better educate visitors both about itself and the current prison system.
At the beginning of this speech I addressed you as "ladies and gentlemen of the jury" this may seem a little silly but it is entirely accurate, because those of you in this room and people like you will decide the fate of esp. It is not the city or PA Prison Society that will either sentence Eastern State Penitentiary to death or offer it a final stay of execution, but the common citizen. Because without the common citizen Eastern State Penitentiary can not function as a tourist attraction. There are two very simple things you can do to insure that Eastern State Penitentiary is around for your children and future generations. One, visit esp. Your five dollar admission fee will help the preservation effort. Two, tell others about esp. If people do not know that Eastern State Penitentiary exists they certainly will not be able to visit. And the third option is to volunteer at Eastern State Penitentiary.
In conclusion, Eastern State Penitentiary is a historically significant building with an uncertain future. As a tourist attraction, Eastern State Penitentiary is now regaining some of the fame it once held as a revolutionary prison. But without the efforts of you and those like you, in as little as eight years the only thing that may remain of Eastern State Penitentiary is this sign. Your children will not be able to explore the halls and cells of the world's most influential prison, but instead explore the candy isle of a supermarket or a roller coaster at an amusement park. Today, Eastern State Penitentiary continues to teach those who enter its walls about the prison system in the United States and the horrors of solitary confinement. The prison system continues to evolve as Americans seek to find a way to successfully rehabilitate prisoners. Today, we have SuperMax prisons, some of which are, ironically, experimenting with total isolation as a form of rehabilitation. Maybe it is true that history does repeat itself. That is why it is so crucial that Eastern State Penitentiary be preserved so future generations can learn what has worked and what has failed.