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Exhibits

  • Prisons Today

    The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, by far, with 2.2 million citizens in prison or jail. This phenomenon has generally been driven by changes in laws, policing, and sentencing, not by changes in behavior. The results have disproportionately impacted poor and disenfranchised communities (mostly communities of color). In contrast, these historic changes remain nearly invisible to many Americans.  Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceratio...



  • Al Capone's Cell

    Alphonse “Scarface” Capone got his first taste of prison life in Philadelphia.  He stopped in Philadelphia while traveling from Atlantic City back to his home in Chicago in May, 1929. He was arrested outside a movie theater for carrying a concealed, unlicensed .38 caliber revolver. The Philadelphia courts were tough. They handed Capone the maximum sentence: one year in prison.  Capone served eight months of that sentence in this cell. But while the Philadelphia courts tried to...



  • The Big Graph

    The United States imprisons 2.2 million citizens, the highest incarceration rate in the world, by far, and yet has no national prison museum. Now, Eastern State Penitentiary is introducing public dialogue around issues of crime, justice, and the changing face of our criminal justice system.  The Big Graph This 16-foot tall, 3,500-pound plate steel sculpture illustrates three sets of statistics, depending on the viewer’s position. From the south, The Big Graph illustrates the unprecedent...



  • Jewish Life at Eastern State

    Eastern State’s synagogue was almost certainly the first built in an American prison. Completed around 1924 and used continuously until the Penitentiary closed in 1971, the space had fallen into near total ruin after the penitentiary’s abandonment. The synagogue marks the first truly restored space in the penitentiary, faithfully returned to its appearance in 1959, with dark wooden benches surrounding the room, a beautiful ark, Reader’s Table, ornate plaster Star of David, and an eternal fla...



  • Murals of the Catholic Chaplain's Office

    Warden Michael Cassidy built these impressive spaces for his offices in the 1880s. Later wardens moved their offices back to the Administration Building, a safer location isolated from the inmates.  This space became the offices of the prison’s religious staff: the Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic chaplains. Inmate Lester Smith painted 23 murals on these walls in 1955 and used the signature “Paul Martin” to honor his two favorite saints. Smith was a self-taught artist who had converte...



2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner