Philadelphia, PA

Eastern State Penitentiary: America's Most Famous Prison in Philadelphia, a Historical and Educational Landmark

Diana Dopheide

About Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary, previously known as the most prominent and expensive prison globally, with former inmates including Al Capone and “Slick Willie” Sutton, serves as a historical and educational landmark teaching guests about the United States' past and current criminal justice system.

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Daytime FacadeAlbert Vecerka, Eastern State Penitentiary

Located in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, not only was Eastern State Penitentiary well known, it was also the earliest of its kind back in the 1800s. The building was proclaimed for its structural designs and the rigorous punishments that the inmates faced throughout their stay.

Audio Tour

During the day, Eastern State Penitentiary offers an audio guided tour. This tour is included in the general admission price, and guests will be provided an MP3 player and headphones to learn more about the building’s history, inmates and cell blocks while touring the exhibits.

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Audio Tour in Cellblock 4Jeff Fusco, Eastern State Penitentiary

Exhibits

Eastern State has a variety of exhibits for guests to explore including former inmate Al Capone’s cell, Prisons Today and Jewish Life at Eastern State to name a few.

Al Capone stayed in the prison for eight months from 1929-1930 after being caught for carrying a lethal weapon in Philadelphia.

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Capone Bertillion CardCourtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

His cell was complete with furniture, oriental rugs and a radio.

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Al Capone's CellErin Davis, Eastern State Penitentiary

The Prisons Today exhibit explores the United States’ current judicial system and provides guests with practical suggestions that they can implement on their own to change the future of the system.

The Jewish Life at Eastern State explores the prison’s synagogue that is believed to be the first ever constructed in a United States prison. While visiting, guests can also explore the display next door, The William Portner Memorial Exhibit on Jewish Life at Eastern State Penitentiary.

Virtual Group Tours

In place of in-person group tours due to COVID-19 restrictions, Eastern State is offering virtual tour sessions that can be done from anywhere led by the museum staff. Topics include the history of Eastern State, Past and Present of the Criminal Justice System, the Prohibition Era and Prison Structures Then Versus Now. Visit their website to learn more.

Night Tours: Summer Twilight

During the summer season from May to September, Eastern State offers night tours. Guests visiting during the evening hours are also able to tour the penitentiary identical to the daytime hours. Attractions specific to the evening sessions include applied programs to learn more about the museum’s history and judicial system.

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Night Tours (Façade)Sean Kelley, Eastern State Penitentiary

Other attractions include The Fair Chance Beer Garden with select beers available for purchase. On Thursday and Friday nights, the Grant Blvd shop is on-site and available for guests to shop their sustainably produced clothes and jewelry. Learn more here.

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Visitors in CellblockEastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

Members Only Events

Eastern State also offers events exclusive to members. A few upcoming events include exploring the administrative offices, learning about 19th-century crimes and hearing the stories of families who were imprisoned at the penitentiary. Learn more here.

Halloween Nights

Each fall, Eastern State hosts an internationally renowned Halloween attraction, Terror Behind the Walls, that has been declared “One of America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions,” by The Travel Channel.

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Cellblock GateAndrew Garn, Eastern State Penitentiary

This year, the penitentiary is putting a twist on the Terror Behind the Walls and offering "Halloween Nights" for the first time. The various attractions include a haunted house machine shop, a delirium immersive walkthrough, a haunted house vampire crypt and an after dark tour to name a few. To learn more and reserve tickets, visit their website.

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Silhouette in yardRandall Wise, Eastern State Penitentiary

Visiting Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Visitors in the CourtyardEastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

The penitentiary is open for daytime tours Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is closed on major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Visit their website for more information, to plan your visit and reserve tickets.

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Diana Dopheide is a communications graduate from Penn State University. She is an aspiring journalist who loves to write and takes great pleasure in being able to share interesting stories with the local community. Her features include outdoor activities, community and lifestyle news in Greater Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, PA
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