Monday, March 26, 2007

The Philanthropist known as the Prisoner's Friend

Welcome to the grave of "The Philanthropist."

What an amazing sight. This was another one of those jam-on-the-brakes moments. It is the most highly carved and figured monument I've ever seen. For all of its opulence, however, the man's name is not recorded. Only his initials, W.J.M.

The figure of a woman sits in the rubble before the broken doors of a prison, which bears a striking resemblance to the historic Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Eastern State was the world's first prison to abandon mere incarceration and punishment for spiritual reflection and change. Unfortunately, this system proved cruel in its own right. Prisoners were held in strict isolation. The prison's website explains: "To prevent distraction, knowledge of the building, and even mild interaction with guards, inmates were hooded whenever they were outside their cells. But the proponents of the system believed strongly that the criminals, exposed, in silence, to thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes, would become genuinely penitent. Thus the new word, penitentiary." Benjamin Franklin and the Quakers were the architects of this system.

I found this monument late in the day when I was worried that the cemetery would lock its gates. When I saw this amazing monument, however, I had to stop. As I took pictures of the statues, the sun bled into a rich, orange sunset. This photo of the angel against the sky was taken when the light first began to turn. The overall shot at the top was taken last, just before I turned to leave.

I don't know anything more about this man, but I thought I leave you with these thoughts about him.

From the plaque: He has shown his love for his fellow men as the founder and president of colleges, hospitals, asylums, [ ]dispensaries, [ ] and mission societies, houses of industry and refuge for discharges and homeless prisoners. Through his strenuous exertions and indomitable perseverance over 50,000 prisoners....

UPDATE: Major kudos to Stephen Johnston for researching and discovering that W.J.M. is William James Mullen, "a jeweler, dentist and philanthropist, estimated [to have] rescued 50,000 people from unjust imprisonment. His monument depicts the door of Moyamensing prison with a recently freed woman on the steps. Mullen himself, in a suit and flowing classical cape, stands nearby on a pedestal." So much for my theory that the monument depicts Eastern State Penitentiary! Here is a lithograph of Moyamensing Prison, which no longer exists. Thanks Stephen!!

(Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)


anne said...

So there would be no real way of knowing who he is? How strange.

[Question. How different was a penitentiary different from incarceration if the prisoners were still held in cells?]

billie said...

What a stunning monument - it reminds me of the statuary in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, very elaborate and poignant and lovely in that old stone beauty way.

One day I intend to dig out all my black and white negatives and make prints. (I do have four prints from that cemetery framed, on my wall, but there were many more)

S. W. Vaughn said...

Hey! ...over 50,000 prisoners... what? What's the rest? :-) Now I gotta find out.

This is wicked. What an incredible monument -- and such a fascinating mystery!

Jaye Wells said...

Wow! I had never thought about the origins of the word penitentiary. Or how the method of repentance differed frorm prisons. Fascinating. The Philanthropist sounds like ripe pickings for a story.

Stephen Johnston said...

Aha! Look what I found, Jason.

...Every tomb tells a story, some more elaborate than others. Said to have been falsely accused of a crime as a young man, William James Mullen, a jeweler, dentist and philanthropist, estimated that he rescued 50,000 people from unjust imprisonment. His monument depicts the door of Moyamensing prison with a recently freed woman on the steps. Mullen himself, in a suit and flowing classical cape, stands nearby on a pedestal.

How cool is that?


Bev said...

Jason, you have done it once again! (Does the wonder never end)

And so we still think we can "reform" people by shutting them away in little cells where they have no chance to change the way they act with others. There must be a better way.

As for the idea that they would become penitent, I have this thought: for those with no sense of right and wrong, that will never happen, for those that do, the guilt will eat them alive anyway.

Thanks for sharing these amazing pictures. I would be interested to know who this guy actually was, and it does seem like a good starting point for a story.

kcterrilynn said...

What a beautiful monument!!

Terri said...

Wow, very interesting - thanks for sharing. I can see why you couldn't pass this one up; the light from the fading day is just brilliant with these photos.
And 50 000 is a LOT of people to save!

Susan Abraham said...

The statued figure of the woman is beautiful and doesn't reflect the pain of her suroundings in the degree that you mentioned. To be imprisoned in solitary confinement and then to be hooded when outside a cell - what a painful punishment that must have been! Yet, even the darker aspects of history stay necessary and enriching to the soul. Thank you, Jason. :-)

Anonymous said...

Anne, thanks to Stephen Johnston, we now know!! As for the difference in imprisonment, the Quakers imposed a mixture of isolation, spiritual study, and hard labor. In a traditional prison, you just got caged and occasionally beat up.

Billie, doing prints, then scanning them would be a treat to post! I don't suppose I could talk you into it. ;)

S.W., apparently these folks Mr. Mullen saved tended to be in debtors' prison.

Jaye, you have to watch those Quakers. They can be downright nasty. (For any Quaker readers I might have, I'm kidding. But the Maybe we'll do the Eastern State Penitentiary halloween tour sometime. That would rock!

Stephen, you are awesome! Thanks so much! I've added an update to the entry with a link to a picture of that prison.

Bev, I think you're right. Someone predisposed to feeling shame and remorse probably would not need this level of penitence. For the sociopaths, this wouldn't work anyway. I believe I read that quite a number of inmates went insane.

KC, thanks! I couldn't believe it when I saw it. This cemetery is the most curious place I've ever seen. Not a soul was there (no pun intended). It's in a bad section of the city, yet when you're inside it, the rest of the world doesn't seem to exist.

Terri, I needed to wrestle with the camera a bit to handle the weird light, but the effect was well worth it. Just another one of those right place, right time moments.

Susan, now that we've identified this individual as William Mullen, I understand that this woman was probably in debtors' prison. Thankfully, she was not subjected to the harsh isolation of Eastern State Penitentiary. BTW, I ride past the old prison every time I visit Girard College.

apprentice said...

I like how the door is ajar, like someone busted out of there!

Seems like the idea of hooding people has yet to go away!

I can see why Quakers would think silent reflection would work, as it is part of their contemplative ritual,but it was more likely to drive people bonkers.

Strange how we still can't resolve whether punishment or rehabilitation should hold sway and so nothing really changes, people just recycle through prison doors like they're turnamatics.
The UK has more people "banged up" than any other country in Europe, and most are locked up 23 hours out of 24 because the system is creaking.

Scott said...

What a wonderful tribute to a mans life. I wish I could make something so beautiful, or be inspired to do so for my own parents.

anne frasier said...


mermaid said...

When we see our own light, we invite the light of others to shine. You come across these graves for a reason, and I am certain you are illuminating something in yourself each time.

If you have a friend who does not share these insights, you have plenty online who do.

I feel like that angel today:)

Shameless said...

I jujst love these graveyard visits! What a unique idea! I have often wandered though cemeteries and wondered about the people who lie there. :)

Anonymous said...

Apprentice, actually, you're right. I remember seeing images of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay being led in hoods.

Scott, I can't even imagine the work that went into creating it.

Anne, it's a beauty. :)

Mermaid, what a sweet thing to say. Know that I do very much appreciate all of you who share them. **Glad to know you're feeling uplifted today. :)

Shameless, I imagine you could visit some amazing ones! I know it sounds odd, but I've always found old cemeteries comfortable, quiet places.

Southern Writer said...

Debtor's prison? It's mind-boggling to think about how big that penitentiary would have to be today! I wonder what those poor people (no pun intended) who endured hell would think about our debts now.