Last week was a real winner, as I had interactions with visitors to Eastern State who just did not fall into the "typical" category. Each one was memorable in their own way, and in my heart of hearts I hope that if they visit again, it happens on my day off ...
First up, The Sleeping Visitor. One of the things we do as tour guides besides the general history tours is what is called a Topic Tour. It's a 30-minute talk/tour with a specific aspect of prison life or history, and they are open to anyone visiting the site. As I was preparing to get started on one of my topic tours last week, I noticed a man in the back row, who was not just asleep, but snoring. I guess his wife saw the surprised expression on my face, because she said I should just ignore him, since he was "very tired and doesn't like to have to get up." That was fine, except that there is a point in the tour where the group moves to a spot outside. The wife wanted to just leave her husband, but I told her that wouldn't be possible, as everyone had to leave the cellblock when the group moved outside. So she was forced to wake him up, and she was right - he wasn't happy to have his beauty sleep interrupted. He complained the whole route to the outside, and then at the end of the tour, when I asked if anyone had questions, he said, "This is the stupidest waste of time ever, and is not worth $12.00." (Admission fee is $12.00.)
(Whereas, falling asleep and snoring when you are supposed to be taking a tour is not stupid at all ...)
Next was a guy I like to call The Visionary Visitor. I was stationed at one of the cellblocks, and as he passed by, he mentioned that he thought the penitentiary was an interesting place. Then he told me that it was valuable property in a good location in the city, and that it was just "time to move on," because the place was a dump. It seemed silly to him that the entire place was in ruins, and used for tours, when it was "obvious" that with "just a little bit of fixing up," it would be an excellent place to house the homeless! The added benefit being that since the wall surrounding the penitentiary was so high, no one on the outside would have to see them all of the time. It could, he claimed, only help the city's image as a tourist destination!
(Wow. I can see the headline now: "Philly moves homeless behind walls to former penitentiary site - sees tourist visits skyrocket!" I sure hope he is on the Planning Commission.)
Moving on, we have the Wildlife Expert Visitor. A woman wearing a "Shoot 'Em and Let God Sort 'Em Out" t-shirt stopped me to ask why there are a lot of cat statues around the penitentiary, but no real cats. She said that if we kept cats, we wouldn't have pigeons, mice, or rats around. I mentioned that there wasn't really enough staff to make sure the cats were cared for properly, and that they wouldn't be in danger of contacting rabies from other animals that were around. She said that if they seemed to have rabies, we could just kill them. Then I mentioned that a hawk did live on site, and did a lot of hunting. To which she responded, "Hawks are filthy animals, and carry more diseases than rats. You should bring your gun to work and shoot it."
(I didn't want to tell her that my gun had been taken away from me months ago, when I had tried to shoot an annoying visitor.)
Finally, The Artist. A guy who looked to be in his 30s, carrying a lot of photography equipment asked me when we were going to get rid of the cat statues, because every single time he had tried to take a photograph during his visit, "there was a cat statue in the way." (Apparently he was not able to take photographs at any other locations at the prison.) I mentioned that they were part of one of our art installations, and he said, "That is not art. I'm an artist, and I don't want fake art messing up my work."
(Isn't fake art infuriating? As far as I'm concerned, if it isn't on velvet, I'm not even bothering to look.)
One thing I have to say about people, they never disappoint. If I spent all of my waking hours really trying, I couldn't come up with stuff like this ...