Paranormal experience at a historic penitentiary - United Hub
Employee Travel Blog

Paranormal experience at a historic penitentiary

By The Hub team, October 27, 2017

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By Human Resources Manager Laurie Ledonne

October is the season for pop-up haunted houses and theme parks decked out in ghoulish decorations. My teens can't resist them and flock to find the scariest ones. A mom-daughter weekend trip to Philadelphia for cheesesteaks and some Founding Fathers' history actually ended with the highlight of finding a "real" haunted house/ghost tour -- or in this case a prison -- Eastern State Penitentiary.

Built in the early 1800s, designed to inspire true regret and penitence in prisoners, thereby coining the term "penitentiary," Eastern State was once the most famous and expensive prison ever built. Developed by the Prison Reform Committee, which included Ben Franklin, it was to be a groundbreaking vaulted ceiling/skylight design and rehabilitation concept of total prisoner isolation. In actuality, this idea of complete isolation 24 hours a day most likely led to most prisoners becoming clinically insane. Walking through on our own, with actor Steve Buscemi narrating the audio tour, was unnerving and spooky.

Hallway in Eastern State Penitentiary

Within the gothic castle walls and ancient guard towers with gargoyles, long stretches of cellblock spokes feed into a central stone chamber, much like a giant wheel. Each prisoner was kept in total isolation, never seeing another person, and upon arrival taken to his cell with a hood over his head so that disorientation was complete. The one hour daily exercise was allowed in a tiny, connecting individual courtyard, accessible from the cell by a small crawlspace door. Guards even wore socks on their shoes to muffle walking sounds to keep the prison in complete silence. Originally, no doors existed to the cells from the main cellblock hallways -- only a food pass slot. Prisoners entered their 6 x 6 foot isolation chamber through the courtyard. Entrance from the hallway was a later modification in the 1920s.

Emergency department in the Eastern State Penitentiary

Today, it's a creepy, castle-like ruin, with long corridors of opened eerie cells and half-crumbling walls, warped bed frames and broken furniture that looks like a movie set for a horror film. Eastern State is known for notable inmates, including Al Capone and bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton, who, according to urban legend, when asked why he robs banks, replied, "Because that's where the money is." We walked down the crumbling, damp corridors and into the stark cells. Some rooms, such as the shower area, were so disturbing, my daughter refused to do more than peek her head in. Down a narrow, "duck your head" basement stairway, the punishment "hole" cells are situated with barely enough room to stand up straight amongst the water pipes and conduit lines. That felt like a scene out of "Shawshank Redemption!" The only comic relief of the tour was the mention of a sensational 1930s newspaper article where a dog, a black labrador named Pep, was sent to Eastern prison for killing the governor's cat. In actuality, Pep was most likely brought to the prison as an early-prototype therapy dog, but giving him an inmate number and mug shot probably sold more newspapers at the time.

Main hallway of cells in the penitentiary

Walking the corridors and grounds was enough to give us the chills, but for people who still want a little more excitement, the historical society runs its own haunted house on the prison grounds, with the proceeds supporting the property maintenance as a landmark tourist destination. We saw the costumed zombie guards as we were leaving, and I was glad we didn't opt for the nighttime admission. Since the prison was open from the early 1830s until 1971, there is a long history of ghost stories and encounters. Eastern has been featured on a lot of different shows, including "Ghost Adventures," "Ghost Hunters" and "Most Haunted Live." We didn't see any signs of the supposed ghost shadows from Cellblock 6 or hear the reported cackling in Cellblock 12, but walking around the desolate prison on a gloomy overcast day felt enough like a paranormal experience for us.

Adjusting to Customer Demand, United Adds New Nonstop Service to Florida

By United Newsroom, August 12, 2020

CHICAGO, Aug. 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines today announced plans to add up to 28 daily nonstop flights this winter connecting customers in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four popular Florida destinations. The new, nonstop flights reflect United's continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

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