"Don't you get scared, working here?"
I get this question from visitors to Eastern State at least four or five times a week. And the short answer is no, I don't get scared. Which is saying quite a lot, as I am at heart a true chicken.
Last week, I got this question from an elderly woman, who was with her daughter and her grandson (I know this for certain because she told me ... in great detail). When I gave her my usual answer, she asked me why, and I said it was because I felt like I knew my way around well enough that I wouldn't be likely to get lost. And that's true, a lot of the time when something scares me, it's because I am not familiar with it at all, and if it's a place, I don't like the idea of not knowing exactly where I am. Anyway, she mentioned that she thought it was a scary place, and though she was enjoying touring with her family, she would never, ever want to come back.
When she told me that, it made me think about some of the people who have come to visit, and seemed to be really hesitant upon arrival. They often turn out to be the most enthusiastic about the place when they are leaving, saying that they will have to come back, bring their friends, etc.
I then remembered a trip about 20 years ago, to San Francisco. As one of our day excursions, we visited Alcatraz. I really enjoyed it, and found the whole place to be eerily fascinating, but I do recall being relieved when we got on the boat to head back to the city. The idea of an abandoned prison was interesting to me as far as the historical aspects of the place, and from having read about it and seen movies like "The Birdman of Alcatraz." But I was creeped out, thinking of the people who had probably lived in those cells, and what they had done to end up there. I was shocked to learn that there was a school there, for the children of people who worked there as guards, cooks, etc.
So now, here I am, a tour guide at an abandoned, historic prison. I have met some of the individuals, and/or members of their families, who either worked at Eastern State, or were incarcerated there while it was an active prison. For those people, it was where they worked, or where they lived with their families (for a while, the warden and his family lived on site), or where they spent a lot of years serving their sentences. They tell their stories just like the rest of us do, when we talk about family vacations, moving and going to a new school, or getting a new job.
Did I ever imagine myself in this type of place, talking about prison life and inmate activities as part of my job? Nope. But as a result, I have learned that the world can be even more interesting when you aren't scared.*
*(Now, if only I weren't still scared of the other 10,000 things that worry me ...)