Posts Tagged ‘ Pennsylvania History ’

Welcome to Cellblock 3: The Ghosts Here Are Probably Coughing

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Frequent visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) in Philadelphia are familiar with the red cross on the gate— it’s the cellblock that visitors have been trying to sneak into for 20 years!   Cellblock 3, known as the hospital wing, has long held the public’s curiosity.  Abandoned for many years after the prison closed in 1971, it’s now open to the public for guided tours.   Visitors have long wished to explore this space, but its severe deterioration has made touring the hospital block almost impossible – until now.

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Opportunities to step past that head gate with the iconic cross have been few and far between. In the past, ESP has offered rare glimpses of the space with sporadic hard-hat tours, but the area was never stable enough to allow the normal foot-traffic of daily visitors.  To allow the public to view Cellblock 3, staff and volunteers had to stabilize the crumbling cellblock, remove debris, and create an informational experience for tourists.  The effort cost nearly $200,000 to complete.  The bulk of the money was raised through private funds and their Halloween fundraiser, Terror Behind the Walls.

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Now visitors can enter the former surgical suite that served thousands of prisoners, including Al Capone who had his tonsils removed there.  During his imprisonment at ESP, Capone had two surgeries. The second was most likely a circumcision–a procedure that was utilized at the time for treating syphilis.

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The rest of the hospital wing’s rooms are visible only from their doorways.  Described as a “monument to misery”, the rooms reflect the myriad of maladies suffered by the prison population and the treatments available to them. The hospital wing treated typhoid, influenza and common colds, among many other ailments. It also treated injuries from accidents and violence that occurred within the prison. Visitors can view the laboratory, X-ray lab, hydrotherapy room and the psychiatric department, along with specially designed cells that were meant to aid in the treatment of certain conditions.

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Known as one of the most haunted places in Pennsylvania, ESP was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Today it stands in ruin–a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Some 47 years after it was shuttered and abandoned for its intended use, noise–now from tourists and not from shouting inmates–reverberates. If there truly are ghosts there – a concept promoted each fall in the historic site’s Halloween fundraiser — chances are they are coughing.

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While in operation, tuberculosis was its most prevalent health issue inside the thick prison walls.  Before antibiotics, there was no cure for tuberculosis. The prison was dark, damp, and crowded with coughs and sneezes filling the air. Inmates eventually diagnosed with the contagious disease were moved and quarantined in special cells called “solarium cells” that provided more access to light, ventilation, and fresh air. TB patients also had their own hydrotherapy room, gymnasium, and recreation yard.

Most of the deaths that occurred at Eastern State Penitentiary happened in Cellblock 3.

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Angela Park: An American Eulogy (Update-Ferris Wheel)

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Angela Park, a once popular roadside attraction that reads like a sadly typical American eulogy to lost community, prosperity, and small town life, closed in 1988 after being a regional landmark for three decades.

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During an auction of the park’s assets back in 1990, Gary Grant purchased the Ferris Wheel, which is roughly the height of a two-story home.  According to newspaper reports, the Grant family enjoyed their own private piece of Angela Park for about five years, especially during birthday parties. Sadly, Gary Grant passed away in 2011.  The Ferris Wheel still stands idly by on the property of the family home.

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To Learn more about Angela Park, check out:

Angela Park: An American Eulogy

 

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Come Fly With Me—Abandoned & Infamous: Birchwood Resort

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“Come fly with me, let’s take off in the blue

Once I get you up there

Where the air is rarefied

We’ll just glide

Starry-eyed

Once I get you up there

I’ll be holding you so near

You may hear

Angels cheer, ’cause we’re together”

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Photo Courtesy of Jenn O’Malia

Arguably, Birchwood is the most notorious of the abandoned resorts located in the Poconos. It’s most recent use as a hideout by an alleged cop killer added yet another chapter to the resort’s colorful history.

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For decades, private pilots have used the term “$100 Hamburger” in reference to the expense of flying one’s own plane to small airports and airstrips in rural areas for a diner hamburger, which, when factoring in the cost of the airplane, was an expensive but adventurous lunch.  Forget the burger—imagine the glamour of dropping down out of the clouds to stay at a resort! 

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Built on the site of an old farm during the 1950s, Birchwood quickly became one of the Poconos’ most recognizable honeymoon spots. In 1969, the Birchwood-Pocono Air Park was added to cater to resort-goers who wanted to add a little extra enchantment to their visit.

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Brochures from the 70s offered “fly in” services for honeymooners who would fly, or drive, to the airport in Allentown to connect with the Birchwood Resort Plane waiting to drop them off at the resort’s private air strip.  Because of the private airport, it’s been said the resort was a popular destination among mobsters and other nefarious individuals visiting from New York and New Jersey.  

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Birchwood was quite a destination!  The resort offered all-inclusive, couples-only packages with amenities like private cabins, swimming, a night club, bowling, miniature golf, a shooting range, paddle boats, and badminton. Couples could also take off from the 2,500-foot runway using a glider to soar over the Poconos and soak in thrilling views of the Delaware Water Gap.

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Like the rest of the big Pocono Honeymoon Resorts, Birchwood was struggling to stay open by the late 90s, especially during the slow season of early spring and late fall.  Since the promise of casino gambling fell through in the 80s, some resorts started to cater to fetishists who would book the entire resort for themselves. 

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According to the Pocono Record, Birchwood hosted its fourth annual spanking party on April 20, 1999.  Spankers from around the world paid $500 dollars each for a weekend of erotic play at the resort.  The weekend after that was devoted to bondage. These events weren’t exactly a secret.  The staff, who had the unpleasant task of cleaning up, knew about them. Neighbors of the resort heard rumors about naked hide-and-seek events in the woods, and gossip about a game called “spank the naked bowler”. The police knew because the spankers had a website where the curious could download pictures from their events.

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The local newspaper exposed the fetish events at Birchwood, and the story was picked up by the national news.  Even comedians on late night TV were cracking jokes about the Poconos.  After the Pocono Record exposed Birchwood, the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau put pressure on the resort to cancel these events.  A few years later, the resort closed.  And wasn’t heard about again until 2014. 

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On September 12, 2014, accused cop killer Eric Matthew Frein allegedly gunned down Bryon K. Dickson II, 38, of Dunmore, and wounded Trooper Alex T. Douglass, 34, of Olyphant, in a sniper-style attack outside of the Blooming Grove state police barracks.

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A lengthy manhunt ensued, with many residents living in fear, while hundreds of law enforcement officers swarmed the region.  Schools were shut down. Troopers set up checkpoints on local highways. Eric Matthew Frein became a household name with his photo plastered on billboards and area storefronts. Residents were ordered to remain inside in areas where the suspect was seen. The entire community was under siege with helicopters constantly flying overhead and heavily armed officers everywhere.

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Following the 48-day manhunt that spanned two counties, he was finally captured outside the dilapidated Birchwood airport hangar in Monroe County. Frein was detained by U.S. Marshals at the resort while state police drove slain Cpl. Bryon Dickson’s car to the resort, then used Dickson’s handcuffs to place Frein under arrest.

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Investigators found incriminating evidence, including the .308-caliber rifle used in the attack, inside the airport hangar. It’s not clear how long Frein was hiding out there, but a variety of items belonging to him were found including additional firearms, a bayonet, and more than 200 rounds of ammunition. He also had a computer, water jugs, toilet paper, binoculars and religious items, including New Testament writings from Psalms and Proverbs, a religious plaque, as well as seven DVDS and handwritten notes.

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Birchwood resort first appeared in local phone books in 1953. Its last listing was in 2007. Some reports say the resort closed in 2001. Today the property looks like a ghost town of decaying cabins and recreational facilities, with nothing but broken windows, crumbling cabins and broken down doors looming over the lake and wetlands.

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The Haunted Monkey Candle Shoppe

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Cellars are creepy, especially in old houses.  That’s why the employees rarely ventured into the cellar of the 100-year-old The Candle Shoppe Of The Pocono’s— spooky things were happening down there!

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About four years after the business opened in the large house on Route 611 in the Poconos, those working the closing shift say they could hear strange sounds in the cellar after dark, when the store started staying open late on Fridays and Saturdays.  They even refused to walk around the premises alone at night.

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Because the business continued growing, the owner got ready to expand, and everyone could no longer avoid utilizing the basement.  That’s when the employees told the owner that the store was haunted.  She told them they were crazy and brushed off their experiences by saying it must be the furnace making noise or floorboards just squeaking.

As business needs required the use of the basement more and more, old medical equipment and cages were found down there.  The weirdness only intensified.  There were unexplained pounding sounds and candles would fly off the shelves by themselves.  According to some newspaper reports, employees said they heard stampeding sounds and smelled animals, even though the candle shop has an aroma of perfume and wax.  Then the owner started to hear the noises herself and was convinced that something unnatural was happening in her store.

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Finally, a neighbor filled them in about the house’s grisly history—it was used by a scientist to conduct experiments on spider monkeys that were locked in the basement.

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The house was built in 1897.  A doctor employed by Pocono Biological Laboratories, which is known today as Sanofi Pasteur, took up residence in 1901. He was working on a smallpox vaccine and a cure for yellow fever.  Were the people at the candle shop experiencing the restless spirits of medical experiment monkeys?  You can decide for yourself.

Today, The Candle Shoppe of the Pocono’s offers an attraction on the premises based on the history of the house. It’s located in the basement of the shop and has an amusement park-like vibe.  There are fake monkeys and skulls and strobe lights and gore. But another focus is the authentic documentation gathered about the doctor, William Redwood Fisher, who lived in the house with his family. No photography or video is allowed inside the actual attraction (but when you reach the bottom, you’ll see a video currently available on YouTube).

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The Candle Shoppe of the Poconos has been featured on Animal Planet’s The Haunted and investigated by the Pennsylvania Paranormal Association (not just once, but twice). You can visit the Biological Research Testing Facility turned Candle Shoppe at 1900 Route 611 in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, which is open year-round.

Have a Happy & Safe Halloween!

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Photo Courtesy of Photography by Jennifer O’Malia 

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An Anniversary of Decline: The Significance of the Demolition of the Hotel Sterling

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This is every community’s story in 2016 America. Crazy as it sounds, as you hear residents debate about the possibility of “saving” an abandoned or endangered  building, especially one of historical significance, have you ever considered the issue from the building’s point of view? Now you can, for free (at least from July 27th thru July 29th, 2016) at Amazon.com.

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I had the opportunity to photograph what remained of the historical Hotel Sterling, prior to demolition, and I swear, it “spoke” to me–about the price of preservation, and the cost to communities when non-action occurs, while waiting for some unknown entity to step up with a solution and much needed funding.

First published in July of 2013 and currently ranked on Amazon’s Historical Preservation world-wide category at #121**, Welcome To The Zombie Hotel Sterling, will be available for free, in honor of its demolition anniversary, until Friday, July 29th, 2016.

**(Update: Currently #1 in Pop Culture on 7/27/16 & 7/28/16.  Sorry Taylor Swift!  Just kidding, I love Taylor….)

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“History meets Pop Culture in a tale about time, consequence, and unrealized visions for the future, as an entire community attempts to outrun diminished expectations for a way of life they can no longer hope to maintain. Abandoned and rotting away along the banks of the mighty Susquehanna River, the zombified Hotel Sterling tells its tale of fading grandeur and woe to a photographer visiting the deteriorating structure, seeking to document the reality of the condition of the building, as the hotel waits for its beloved community to decide its fate, once and for all.”

So grab a digital copy for yourself, while you can, for free.  If you don’t have a Kindle App, you can get one, for you smartphone, computer, or tablet at:  Amazon Free Kindle App  .

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 What does local Abandoned Pennsylvania History

have to do with the 2016 Presidential Race?

Visit:

Abandoned Scranton Lace:

A Visual Autopsy of The American Dream

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Cheri Sundra © 2016 All Rights Reserved

 

 

No Fun In The Sun Moon Lake Park

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In 2011 and 2012, local papers were running stories about coming up with a multi-million dollar plan to save Luzerne County owned Moon Lake Park, because today, all plans have to be “multi-million”. For those who are not familiar with the area, Moon Lake Park, located in Pennsylvania, was a low key, inexpensive  (mostly free) kind of place, where people could go to enjoy the great outdoors, with access to a few amenities.  You could camp and fish.  You could bike and hike. It had a pool and some tennis courts.  Picnic tables, were sprinkled throughout the property.  It was a great place to kick back, enjoy nature, catch some rays, grill burgers, and hang out with friends and family.

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The View Thru A Missing Office Window

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By the time the public discussion began about how to fix the park, many amenities had been closed by Luzerne County for several years due to budgetary concerns. The facilities did show obvious signs of neglect when I started photographing the decline in 2012.  But it could have been greatly improved upon with some simple repairs, like repaving those tennis courts and repairing the picnic tables.

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But instead of coming up with a real world workable plan, government red tape dictated that the financially struggling county had to waste time and precious resources, like money, creating a completely unattainable $37 Million Dollar Master Plan, which was required to apply for grant money to move forward on an improvement project that could never possibly be implemented within the near future.  Input coming from the public suggested the plan include a water park, snow tubing, rock climbing, zip lining, and nature-survival activities so it could be designed to compete with places like The Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.

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Despite having a yearly budget of only $119,626 to run the park in 2011, the county commissioners approved a $120,000 contract with Sasaki Associates Inc., located in Massachusetts, to be the consultant in charge of creating the master plan that same year. The state agreed to pay for half of the cost while the county planned to spend bond proceeds borrowed in 2008 to fund its $60,000 share according to news reports. How did all of our little community improvement projects turn into these multi-million dollar endeavors, that are never going to be attainable in a county as financially strapped as this one? We couldn’t even afford to write the plan, let alone find the funds to execute it.

Maybe that’s the real issue. Government red tape, and community input with Dom Perignon taste, while trying to scrape together enough change to buy a dollar draft, wastes so much time creating these dream scenarios that our leaders don’t have the opportunity to think about realistic plans which would actually make sense.

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Recently, ownership of Moon Lake Park was transferred to the state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry.  According to reports, they plan to allow most of the park area to return to its natural state, with paved roads being replaced with crushed stone as they deteriorate. The pool and other structures will disappear.  The new public bathrooms will be non-flushable sealed concrete vaults, and the designated camping areas will be rustic with no utility hook-up. Future plans include a new well-manicured area for picnics and a boat launch near the lake.

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It was Jennifer O’Malia who introduced me to the concept of Urban Exploration

Style Photography in 2010.  Jenn, who has the unique vision of a

social documentarian, is now offering her services as a freelance photographer.

Photo by Jennifer O’Malia

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Losing My Religion: Abandoned National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus near Hazleton

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According to several online sources, The Rev. Girard Angelo once told a friend that he promised God if he was ever assigned to a parish with enough land, he would build a Shrine. He did exactly that when he was sent to St. Raphael’s Church in Harleigh, near Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Construction began in 1974, with the outdoor Shrine ceremoniously dedicated on June 22, 1975, the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  The name of the church was changed to Sacred Heart of Jesus, and it was designated as a National Shrine in 1997.

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What Rev. Angelo accomplished was nothing short of miraculous, the largest shrine to the Sacred Heart in North America was built by one of the smallest parishes in the Scranton Dioceses.

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Rev. Angelo personally led tours for the busloads of Shrine visitors who made their way to show their devotion.  Sources say the Shrine had more than 100,000 visitors each year, usually via those organized bus tours.  The Shrine provided breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the dining hall of the Sacred Heart Center. Pilgrims who wanted to stay overnight found accommodations at nearby motels — one of which offered a discount through the Shrine organizers.  Those promoting the Shrine also spoke of the coal mining heritage of the area by encouraging visitors to stop by the “living history” museum of 19th-century mining, known as Eckley Miners’ Village.

SH 7 aThe Shrine’s five circular fountains symbolized the five wounds of Christ

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SH 14 aThe former Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima,

where Sacred Heart visitors could light candles

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Reverend Angelo, who was well-loved by many for building the Shrine, died in 2009 at the age of 82.

On August 10th, 2011, The Diocese of Scranton issued the following press release:

“The National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus located in Harleigh, Pennsylvania has been closed effective August 8, 2011.  Visits to the Shrine decreased significantly over the past several years; and with no direct funding source in place to maintain the Shrine, the property fell into disrepair and potential safety concerns were raised.  In consideration of the future of the Shrine, a facilities study was conducted and concluded that the cost to renovate the Shrine would be prohibitive.

Although a few pilgrims visited the site intermittently, without the finances available to upkeep and maintain the grounds, in concurrence with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, it was determined that the site be officially closed.”

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It was Jennifer O’Malia who introduced me to the concept of Urban Exploration

Style Photography in 2010.  Jenn, who has the unique vision of a

social documentarian, is now offering her services as a freelance photographer.

Photo by Jennifer O’Malia

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