Explore the American criminal justice system, from some of its darker days to present, at the Eastern State Penitentiary – an official National Historic Landmark and one of the most historic and most visited buildings in Pennsylvania.
Designed to inspire penitence and regret in the hearts of criminals through “confinement in solitude with labor,” Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the most important historic institutions in Pennsylvania. It’s often credited with helping to pave the way for reform of the judicial system in the US using methods of isolation and reflection rather than capital punishment and physical abuse.
The building is regarded as an architectural marvel. The original seven cellblocks, spread like spokes of a wheel, had running water and central heat before even the White House. Its beautifully designed vaulted ceilings, sky-lit cells, and castle-like walls stand in stark contrast to the purpose of many of its elements, including cellblocks, solitary punishment cells, and Death Row.
Now, no longer an active penitentiary, the prison stands in haunting ruin with crumbling cellblocks, empty guard towers, and various states of neglect.
You’ll learn all about the function the Eastern State Penitentiary played in the history of the American criminal justice system and learn all about some of America’s most notorious criminals once held there, including bank robber ‘Slick Willie’ Sutton and ‘Scarface’ All Capone, among others.
What to expect:
The Philadelphia Pass grants you free General Admission tickets to the Eastern State Penitentiary.
Your Eastern State Penitentiary tickets include “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour, Hands-On History interactive tours, and all regular exhibits and artist installations. If space is available, you can also reserve a spot at the Admissions Desk for the daily Guide-led Tour and Discussion upon arrival at no additional cost.
As you follow along the audio tour, you’ll see artist installations throughout the Eastern State Penitentiary that you can learn more about with supplemental audio. It’s easy to explore at your own pace with the “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour. The tour recording includes 10 audio stops and lasts 35 in total from start to finish and then there is additional “random access” stops along the way with supplemental information.
The Hands-On History program includes stops with quick, interactive tours led by staff – it’s a great way to explore areas that are otherwise off limits to the public. Stops include Open the Front Gate, Unlock a Cell, Learn to Play Bocce Ball, Explore the Underground Punishment Cells, and more.
Tips for visiting: