Jan 23, 2012
*** Plus Returning Favorites such as Bastille Day, Prison Break Weekend, Alumni Reunion and Terror Behind the Walls ***
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site kicks off its 2012 season by opening two dramatic new spaces, presenting four new artist installations, and launching a Searchlight Series to discuss current correctional issues. An overview of 2012 programming follows:
“Life and Death” Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, March 31 and April 1 celebrates new Hands-On History stops and the opening of dramatic new spaces:
“The Ruins of Death Row” takes visitors into the collapsing exercise yards of Cellblock 15, Eastern State’s Death Row. The starkly modern cellblock was the last to be added to Eastern State Penitentiary and held some of Pennsylvania’s most violent, aggressive criminals. Death Row’s dedicated exercise yard has high walls and its own small guard tower. The yards today are among the most ruinous spaces at Eastern State.
“The Operating Room” takes visitors into the long-abandoned surgical space, part of the prison’s once state-of-the-art hospital. Completed in 1910, the sterile Operating Room in Cellblock 3 provided a vastly improved surgical environment over the earlier space used – an inmate’s individual cell. The Operating Room, converted from two single cells and three exercise yards, was part of a larger renovation to turn the entire cellblock into a complete hospital. There were more than 100 surgeries a year performed in this operating room by 1920. Al Capone had his tonsils removed there in September 1929. By the 1950s and 60s, Eastern State’s medical wing was a sophisticated prison hospital, with inmates from other facilities being transferred to the penitentiary for treatment of challenging medical conditions. Today, the space is in a profound state of ruin, but the massive surgical light still hangs in the middle of the room.
“Families at Eastern State” explores the strange, unexpected, and often heartfelt relationships that existed between family members at Eastern State during its 142-year history. Wardens, guards, and their families set up residence in different parts of the penitentiary. Visitors can step into the ground floor of one of Eastern State’s corner guard towers, discovering evidence of a former residence. Unique personal stories are revealed about a group of brothers who served more than 150 years combined at Eastern State, a warden’s daughter’s wedding inside the cellblocks, and women who gave birth inside the prison’s walls.
The Searchlight Series
Eastern State Penitentiary will be partnering with local organizations to present a four-part discussion series relating to crime and contemporary corrections issues:
- Monday, May 7, 6:00 p.m.
- Monday, May 21, 6:00 p.m.
- Monday, June 4, 6:00 p.m.
- Monday, June 18, 6:00 p.m.
Each discussion in the Searchlight Series will focus on a different contemporary issue and will feature guest speakers from both Eastern State and other organizations. The discussions will be open to the public for a fee of $5.00 and free for members of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.
Eastern State Penitentiary welcomes four new artists to its growing artist installation program. Artists are chosen for their ability to address Eastern State’s primary themes – including issues of crime and justice, architectural history, and the site’s fascinating past – with a memorable, thought-provoking approach. The 2012 season features four new and seven returning artist installations:
- Judith Schaechter: The Battle of Carnival and Lent
- Ryan Legassicke: States of Security / Security States
- Lisa Bateman: Next Year
- Tyler Held: Identity Control
- Greg Cowper: Specimen
- Jordan Griska: Separate System
- Michelle Handelman: Beware the Lily Law
- Karen Schmidt: Cozy
- Susan Hagen: Recollection Tableaux
- William Cromar: GTMO
- Alexa Hoyer: I Always Wanted to Go to Paris, France
(Press Note: Artist installations are detailed in a separate press release.)
2012 Calendar Highlights:
Alumni Reunion - Saturday, May 12, 1:30 p.m.
People are sometimes surprised to find that many of Eastern State’s former officers and inmates enjoy returning to the cellblocks to catch up with old friends and share their memories with the public. This weekend only, Eastern State’s “alumni,” both officers and inmates, will gather with visitors for an informal round table discussion, comparing their memories of the penitentiary. Previous discussions have addressed work details, recreation, race relations and daily life for inmates and officers.
Prison Break Weekend - Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10
Designed to commemorate some of Eastern State’s most famous escapes, Prison Break Weekend will feature interactive and educational family-friendly activities all weekend long. Two actors, one portraying Clarence Klinedinst and one portraying bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton, give their conflicting accounts of who designed the 1945 tunnel, how it was built, and why the escapees got caught. Visitors can meet the inmates, hear how their accounts vary, and vote on which they think is telling the truth.
Visitors can also experience one of the ways inmates learned to find meaning, friendship and recreation as a means to “escape” by trying their hand at Bocci Ball, a traditional Italian recreation practiced by aging inmates at Eastern State throughout the 20th century. The original courts were built at the base of Eastern State’s massive wall, and after a full restoration, will be open for the first time as part of Prison Break Weekend. Prizes will be awarded this weekend for the best players.
Bastille Day - Saturday, July 14
Bastille Day has become one of Philadelphia’s most popular summertime events as Eastern State Penitentiary teams up with Philadelphia cabaret act The Bearded Ladies and local businesses for a playful reenactment of the Storming of the Bastille. Dozens of French revolutionaries, armed with muskets and cannon, singing “La Marseillaise,” will storm the grim walls of “the Bastille,” (Eastern State Penitentiary, which has an historic connection to the French Bastille), capture Marie Antoinette, and ignoring her mocking cries of “Let them eat Tastykake,” drag her to a real, functioning guillotine, built for the occasion and 2,000 Tastykakes fly from the prison’s towers.
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone.
Tours today include the cellblocks, solitary punishment cells, Al Capone's Cell, and Death Row. A critically acclaimed series of artists' installations is free with admission. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for students and children ages 7-12 (not recommended for children under the age of seven). The penitentiary is open every day, year round. From April 1 to November 30, admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. For more information and schedules, please call (215) 236-3300 or visit www.EasternState.org.