The Tour Guide Chronicles

Making of the Pop-Up Museum

Posted: April 10, 2014

It’s springtime, flowers are popping up throughout the city, and Eastern State’s Pop-Up Museum will again be open to the public! For 11 days, the staff conference room, converted into an exhibit space, will showcase artifacts that the historic site has collected and preserved. And, like the flowers, Pop-Up Museum required weeks of unseen effort to reach its final form.

How do you communicate massive trends in a simple, striking way? In this case, you make the illustration itself massive.

Love Behind the Walls

Posted: February 14, 2014

Prison isn’t usually a place one thinks of as inspiring deep love or epic romance. It’s a place of confinement and control, where power dynamics shape every aspect of one’s experience. Even so, we know that some inmates and administrators experienced deep bonds of affection while at Eastern State.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are some of their stories.

There are many ways to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy next weekend in Philadelphia. The roundup for this year’s activities include attending a free performance by The Philadelphia Orchestra, viewing murals painted by city students, and listening to readings of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” here at Eastern State.

Tribute to Hanley Rubinsohn

Posted: January 09, 2014

Just a few days after Irwin Schmuckler passed away, Eastern State lost another “alumn” and friend, Hanley Rubinsohn. Hanley’s first experience with Eastern State was as a child visiting the penitentiary with his father, who was a surgeon here. In the video, he recalls being present for a conversation his father had with Eastern’s most notorious inmate, Al Capone.

Let It Snow!

Posted: January 03, 2014

One of my favorite times of a year at Eastern State is the the season in which this hauntingly beautiful structure is covered in white. I don’t know about you, but when I walk the corridors and cellblocks of Eastern State, I feel at peace. Maybe it’s the beauty of those barrel vaulted ceilings or the shimmering of the locally quarried, glimmering Wissahickon schist that shines through those massive and intimidating stone walls. Now add the winter season to the mix- the cellblocks are a bit darker, much colder, and the atmosphere is stark but stunning.

Tribute to Irwin Schmuckler

Posted: January 02, 2014

Irwin "Irv" Schmuckler, who was a teacher at Eastern State Penitentiary from 1964-1969, passed away recently. Irv remained active at Eastern State Penitentiary, attending reunions and sharing his stories with staff until the end of his life. He will be missed and remembered.

Please enjoy this video where you can watch Irv describe his most poignant memory of teaching inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary and what that work meant to him.

This interview was funded all or in part by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Holiday Traditions

Posted: December 09, 2013

Eastern State Penitentiary has a long tradition of altruism. It seems surprising that prisoners, making a few cents an hour, would be able and willing to help others less fortunate than themselves. It is difficult to even imagine many circumstances less fortunate than being locked away from friends and family during this festive season. But the inmates at Eastern State often looked past their situations and found ways to make a difference in the world beyond the walls.

#GivingTuesday

Posted: December 02, 2013

Two years ago, I found a shank at Eastern State Penitentiary! I still can’t get over it. Thinking back on that discovery, one thing that strikes me is how remarkably clean and well preserved the shank was. Just being wedged under a table, out of the rain, snow, and light, was enough to protect it and keep it looking new for about forty years.

Folklore Friday Finds

Posted: November 15, 2013

Every other Friday, we do some myth busting around the penitentiary. Through a project called “Folklore Friday,” my colleague Lauren and I dismantle a myth surrounding the prison’s history or shed new light on an under-explored topic. We present our research to the site staff: tour guides and Visitor Services staff. These research finds help enhance our tour program and our visitors’ experience. The more we know about the site, the better our tours are.

This Just In: A Woman Escaped From ESP!

Posted: October 29, 2013

Lauren Zalut, Associate Director for Tour Development and Evaluation, made a really exciting discovery today in the historic record. She found evidence that a woman escaped from Eastern State in 1840!

On October 5 and 6, we displayed more than 40 color and black & white photographs that members of Eastern State Penitentiary entered in the annual photo contest.

This year’s guest judge was local photographer and professor Stuart Rome who has exhibited in museums and galleries across the country, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We also asked our visitors on site to vote for their favorites. Take a look at all of the winning images below.

Thank you to everyone who entered the contest, and congratulations to our 2013 winners!

Last week marked the official launch of a new teen program spearheaded by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance called STAMP – Students at Museums in Philly. Students who enroll in the program receive the STAMP pass, a card that they can present to get free out-of-school-time admission to some of the city’s top museums and cultural venues – including Eastern State Penitentiary!

Back to School: Haunt School, That Is

Posted: September 11, 2013

Each year, on the day after Labor Day, we start training for Terror Behind the Walls, our haunted attraction fundraiser. This year was no exception. Last week more than 250 employees and contractors descended on the penitentiary for what we call “All Haunt Orientation.” Much like on the first day of school, the air was filled with excitement and anticipation… and perhaps a few nervous butterflies.

The Swim Pony production of “The Ballad of Joe Hill” got me wondering about the history of political prisoners at Eastern State Penitentiary. Were any political prisoners held here? And what is a political crime, anyway? With the understanding that a political prisoner is someone incarcerated for her or his outspoken opposition to the government, I delved into the historic record and came up mostly empty-handed.