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AIC 2011, Post Script

The Eastern State Penitentiary really should have been on the AIC tour list. If you haven’t been here, get here. It’s an amazing historic building with a rich, if slightly frightening, history.

The site is being preserved in a state that allows for stabilization of the architecture, but stopping short of full restoration so that visitors can get a real sense of the age and deterioration of the place.

One project underway now is the restoration of the wall murals in the Catholic Chaplain’s Office. Lester Smith (aka Paul Martin), an inmate in the late 1880’s, converted to Catholicism and was allowed to paint the walls with religious imagery. This newly discovered room is currently being worked on by Milner + Carr Conservation, LLC.

The prison opened in 1829 and remained open until 1973. It has housed many notable prisoners, including Al Capone for a short time. He even had a “suite” outside the regular cells complete with a double skylight, curtains and nice furniture (if the re-creation of his cell is accurate).

It would have been really great if AIC hosted a tour here. It seems to me the restoration of this building, and indeed its entire history, is directly relevant to this year’s themes of ethics and decision making. Personally, I think they are doing a good job balancing these. And I love that they provide behind-the-scenes tours into areas that are not usually open to the public. I also talked to a lot of the tour guides, one of whom was a history major interested in preservation, and two had preservation degrees and were working at the prison until they could find preservation jobs. We talked a lot about the conservation work at this site and their career goals, it was fun.

That’s it for my conference experience, I’ll be hitting the road and contemplating what I heard and learned this week. See you all in Albuquerque I hope.

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