Nighttime tours of the penitentiary debut this fall, replacing annual tradition Terror Behind the Walls for 2020
August 24, 2020
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site announces Night Tours, a self-guided experience featuring an audio tour, exhibits, and large-scale projections throughout the historic prison complex. Night Tours will be available for a limited time only, running select nights from September 18 through November 15, 2020. Tickets will go on sale to the public September 8.
The event will replace the historic site’s annual haunted attraction fundraiser, Terror Behind the Walls, for 2020. The popular Halloween tradition was suspended for the year due to social distancing requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although it was difficult to cancel what would have been our 30th season of Terror Behind the Walls, we are excited to offer smaller-scale evening tours that showcase the building in a new light,” said Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President. “At night, the cellblocks fall into darkness and the penitentiary takes on a different energy—its imposing architecture emphasized by dramatic lighting. Listening to the real voices of men and women who lived and worked here, watching silent movies from the prison projected onto the massive walls of the prison yard, is an eerie and evocative experience. We have never offered anything like this.”
Night Tours visitors will explore the historic site using a modified version of “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, which is narrated by actor Steve Buscemi and features the voices of former prisoners and correctional staff. The one-way route will include popular points of interest such as Al Capone’s cell, Death Row, and the award-winning exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration.
Night Tours will also feature two large-scale video projections on the interior of the penitentiary’s 30-foot-high perimeter walls. A silent film shot at Eastern State Penitentiary in 1929, with flickering images of prisoners in the mess halls and officers patrolling the corridors, will play in the Cellblock 3 courtyard. In the Cellblock 7 courtyard, 20 animated short films that were created by incarcerated artists for Eastern State’s 2019 project Hidden Lives Illuminated will also be on view.
The lighting design for Night Tours will highlight the prison’s iconic, gothic architecture. Searchlights will sweep from the guard towers over the cellblocks and yards, just as they did when Eastern State was an active correctional facility.
The historic site’s existing COVID-19 safety measures will be in effect for Night Tours. Staff and visitors ages two and older will be required to wear masks. Visitors must keep six feet of distance from others at all times. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the site, and visitors will be asked to sanitize their hands upon entry. To minimize person-to-person interaction, plexiglass barriers will separate visitors from staff, and cash will not be accepted. Cleaning, particularly of high-touch surfaces, will be increased.
Timed tickets must be purchased online in advance at www.EasternState.org/NightTours. Tickets go on sale September 8, 2020. Prices start at $19 and vary by night. Members will be invited to special preview hours on September 17, one night before Night Tours open to the general public.
About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site interprets the legacy of American criminal justice reform, from the nation’s founding through to the present day, within the long-abandoned cellblocks of the nation’s most historic prison.
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 prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held approximately 80,000 men and women during its 142 years of operation, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.
In recent years, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has been awarded the prestigious Excellence in Exhibitions award by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the nation’s highest award in exhibition development and design, for its exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, as well as the Institutional Award for Special Achievement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and the Trustee Emeritus Award for Stewardship from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Returning Citizens Tour Guide Project, which hires people who were formerly incarcerated to lead tours of the historic site, has won the EdCom Award for Innovation in Museum Education by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and has been featured internationally by such networks as the BBC and others.
For more information, visit www.EasternState.org.