Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fort Mifflin

Posted by Stu On May - 13 - 2010

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Fort Mifflin is a unique and, sadly, little known point of interest in Philadelphia.  It’s right on the Delaware River; it’s actually next to the Philly Airport.  It is a bit of a pain to find, though.  You’re definitely going to want to look this one up first.  There is also a small admission fee; well worth it though.

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The fort’s former hospital, now the ticket & info office.

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Outside the fort’s wall.  Notice the plane coming in.

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All around the fort’s perimeter is very swampy, hence the area’s name of Mud Island.

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The fort was built in 1771 and was used by the military up until 1952.  It served some purpose for every war within that time span.  Although there are several, the two big reasons this fort is so famous come from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
During the Revolution, the British invaded and ultimately captured the city of Philadelphia in 1777.  General Washington used Fort Mifflin as a distraction and ordered it manned until the very last possible moment of escape.  He knew he was outnumbered and under-supplied; fighting full force in Philly would have been suicide.  For five weeks, the British pounded Mifflin, with many of its buildings being reduced to rubble.  The fort’s official website states “It is the site of the largest bombardment the North American continent has ever witnessed.”  Holding Mifflin allowed Washington’s army to escape and flee to Valley Forge; it’s almost certain that if the fort fell sooner, the Revolution would have been much shorter with very different results.
During the Civil War, the fortress was used as a prison for captured Confederates, so it’s no surprise there are ghost stories surrounding the place.  The most famous involves the hanging of William Howe, a Union deserter convicted of murder.  He was held in what is known as Casemate #11.  His signature can still be seen on the wall inside.  He’s said to still haunt the fort, especially the casemate.  When I went, there were actually 2 ghost hunters trying to record voices inside the casemate.
There are, of course, many other supposed ghosts haunting the place.

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Finally heading through the gate…

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Officers’ Quarters & Soldiers’ Barracks

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Quartermaster’s store.  Now a gift shop.  Closed when I went.  I really wanted a magnet :/

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Commandant’s House.  The inside was being restored during my visit…

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Guessing that’s what the place’ll look like after renovation…

Some more outside shots before heading underground to infamous Casemate 11…

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Entrance to Casemate 11

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Some of Howe’s writing.

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End of the casemate.  Imagine this as your prison cell.

Lots of places on the grounds where you can go underground…

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Like I mentioned earlier, the fort served as a prison during the Civil War.  Mister Howe may have gotten special treatment and had his own casemate, but that wasn’t the case for the Confederate prisoners.  6 casemates were used as prison cells.

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The barracks and officers’ buildings serve as a museum, with artifacts, models, and even a small display of photos of TV’s Ghosthunters when they came to visit the fort.

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Ghosthunters stuff

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For admission, hours, directions, and all that jazz, check out Fort Mifflin’s official site.

Popularity: 19% [?]

The Old Jail Museum

Posted by Stu On November - 6 - 2009

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The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe is almost like any other old restored prison museum I’ve been to.  Almost.

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Sure it’s got its display of artifacts from when the jail was in use.  Sure it’s got cells you can enter.  And it’s even got a solitary confinement area, aka “The Dungeon,” which you can wander.  However, it also has, according to local legend, proof of supernatural activity.  Right up on one of the cell walls.

4 of the Molly Maguires (an organization among Irish immigrants sometimes equated to a mafia) were accused of murdering a higher-up of the coal company for which they worked.  Long story short, the trial, jury, and judge were all very biased.  The men were never proven to have committed the murder.  They were found guilty anyway and hanged right in the prison.  Before the execution, one of the Irishmen is said to have placed his hand on the prison wall and said something along the lines of “my handprint will remain here to prove my innocence.”

And the handprint is still there.  Allegedly it has been painted over, ripped down, and knocked out of the wall.  And it always comes back.

Unfortunately, the prison loves their handprint.  And nobody is allowed to take a photo of it.  Not even yours truly.  I did, however, get access to sections of the jail that are usually off limits to tours, like the upstairs cell block.

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The tour begins in the prison’s cell block.  A replica gallows is also in the room.  The handprint cell is also in this room.  After an introduction and brief history, visitors are led around to view the cells and can even enter a few.  The handprint cell can be looked into by one person at a time, but expect a museum employee to be watching over your shoulder making sure you’re not trying to sneak in a pic of that handprint.
If you want a picture of the handprint that badly, you can buy a photo for 50 cents in the gift shop anyway.

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After poking around the cells for a bit, we were led upstairs to where the women’s cells are located.  Before heading there though, I stayed behind and checked out the upstairs section of the cell block first, again not part of the regular tour.  But I’m special so I was allowed to go.

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The women’s cellblock, no bigger than a larger room, is only a handful of cells upstairs on the opposite end of the jail.  They reminded me more of cages than prison cells.  I mean look at the “bars.”

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Finally, we headed down to the basement, where the solitary confinement cells are located.  It was dimly lit, as it was back when the prison was in use.

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Popularity: 21% [?]

West Virginia Penitentiary

Posted by Stu On July - 21 - 2006

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I. Hate. Group. Tours.
I was expecting another Eastern State romp – getting a map, signing a waiver, and going off on my merry little way.

Wrong.
…well, it really isn’t a fair comparison, since Eastern is older and in worse condition.

The tour lasts roughly an hour, and unfortunately it’s a guided group tour. Nothing against the tour guide…I just can’t stand group tours. She told us of the 1986 riots, the Aryan Brotherhood members in solitary cells, and several other stories. You also get locked in a cell, which is kind of cool.

The prison ran from 1866 to 1995. It was closed because the conditions and cell sizes were deemed cruel and unusual punishment. The prison is also said to be haunted.

Popularity: 6% [?]

Eastern State Penitentiary

Posted by Stu On November - 20 - 2004

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Quite a few pics; worth the loading.

I can’t recommend this place enough. I’m sorry I put off going to it for 3 years. How much does this place rock? You have to sign a waiver to even set foot in it, that’s how much.
Yes, ESP is state run, but that doesn’t affect very much. The tour is a self-guided 45 minute audio tour. Then after that, you’re off on your own. You can go to many places the tour doesn’t cover. You don’t have free reign however; some sections are entirely closed off. That doesn’t really matter, since you can still spend a good part of a day here.
Interestingly, like the Burlington County Prison in Mt. Holly, Eastern State stayed open well after it should have closed….it was open til 1970.


This plaque shows inmates who fought in WWI…credited only by their number.


This cart runs along the ceiling.


One of the last remaining ‘exercise rooms’. Early in the prison’s history, each prisoner had one.


The Philly skyline must’ve really discouraged later inmates.


Parts of a tree trunk that were growing into the fence around the baseball diamond.


Capone’s cell. Capone was here for 8-9 months.

For more info, hours, directions, whatever else, go to Eastern State’s site.

Popularity: 4% [?]

Burlington County Prison Museum

Posted by Stu On June - 20 - 2004

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Most sites won’t cover a place like this, and I feel they’re missing out on quite a bit by not doing so.

This prison was finished in 1811 and used up til 1965. For the most part, it’s in its original condition, with many of the walls still having prisoners’ graffiti on them. It also has the distinction of being the 1st fireproof building in the US. Many hangings occurred here, the last being a double hanging in 1906. 2 guards were also killed here by drunken inmates.

It starts out as most museums do…a room with artifacts set up as they would have been arranged back in the day. Nothing too exciting.

Then on to the good stuff. I think what really made this trip was the writing on the walls. Know how in the old cartoons & movies the prisoners mark off the days on the wall? They really do that.
Take note that most of the writing had plastic over it, so the flash was reflected.

You can go out in the courtyard too. Not much to see except for the high walls and reconstructed gallows.

All in all, not a bad trip. At only $4 it’s not bad if you’re near Mt. Holly and have an hour to spend. My favorite part was reading the writing on the walls. That alone made it a worthwhile place to check out.
For more info about the prison museum, check out this link.

Popularity: 5% [?]

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