Eastern State Penitentiary
When Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829, spectators from around the world marveled at its grand architecture and radical philosophy.
The experiment, to reform criminals through strict isolation other than daily visits from the warden and guards, soon became a model for prison design worldwide.
Once built, it was the most expensive construction in the USA at the time.
Eastern State finally closed its doors as a prison 1971, after 142 years in use, and has since been named a National Historic Landmark.
Located in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, Eastern State Penitentiary remains one of the most famous prisons in the world, with a list of former inmates that includes bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and legendary gangster Al Capone.
In its day, Eastern State set the standard for penal reform, with its soaring, castle-like Gothic architecture and its founders’ Quaker-inspired belief that solitary confinement could help reform criminals.
An estimated 300 prisons on four continents used Eastern’s distinctive “wagon-wheel” floor plan as a blueprint.
The 11-acre site had central heat, running water and flush toilets even before the White House did.
Today, tours offer a glimpse at life inside the prison’s historic cell blocks through exhibits like Al Capone’s restored 19th-century cell, stories of inmate escapes, and critically acclaimed art installations.
Each year, Eastern State hosts Terror Behind the Walls, one of the region’s most anticipated Halloween haunted houses.
Designed with a high-startle factor, the terrifying attraction includes Hollywood-quality special effects and lighting, digital sound, animatronic creatures and custom props. More than 200 performers help instill fear in all who dare to enter.
Zombies roam the former prison during Terror Behind the Walls, the popular annual haunted house at Eastern State Penitentiary.
— Photo by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia
General admission tickets include “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour, hands-on history interactive experiences, history exhibits and artist installations.
If space is available on the day of your visit, you may also reserve a spot at the admissions desk for that day’s guide-led tour and discussion at no additional charge.
Tours at the penitentiary offer a glimpse at life inside the prison’s historic cell blocks.
— Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia
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