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Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site Announces Temporary Closure

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site Announces Temporary Closure

November 16, 2020

In accordance with new restrictions issued by the City of Philadelphia, and in support of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 through the community, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site will close to the public beginning Tuesday, November 17 through January 1, 2021. The historic site will continue to offer virtual programming during this time, with plans to safely reopen the site in the new year.

In a joint release, leaders from Eastern State Penitentiary, along with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Barnes Foundation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, issued the following statement:

"It is extremely discouraging to close our doors at a moment when, during a normal year, we would be preparing to welcome even more visitors for the holiday season. We understand that it is vitally important to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, visitors, members, and volunteers and we support the efforts of our government and medical professionals in reducing the spread of the virus. As cultural and educational institutions, we take our civic responsibility very seriously, and as we work to defeat the pandemic together, we also firmly believe that our cultural institutions will play a central role in the city’s ultimate recovery. We encourage our community to support our institutions in other ways during the season of giving, so that we can emerge from this period and welcome our visitors in the new year.”

Eastern State Penitentiary will continue to offer digital programming, including virtual tours for schools and other private groups, and virtual member events. The historic site’s Facebook video series Prisons and the Pandemic tracks COVID-19 infection rates and deaths inside correctional facilities and provides quick news summaries from around the nation. Its monthly Searchlight Series, streamed live on Zoom and Facebook, addresses various issues in contemporary corrections, including the COVID-19 crisis in American jails and prisons. The December installment will feature Shuja Moore, creator and executive producer of the docuseries “Walkies,” alongside Sydia Bagley, founder and CEO of Locked Down Love, a community-based program aiding returning citizens. More information can be found at

For the latest information about virtual programming and 2021 reopening plans, the public should visit

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. Eastern State’s Returning Citizens Tour Guide Project, which hires people who were formerly incarcerated to lead tours, 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


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner