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ESP Launches Expanded Virtual Programming

Historic site engages audiences online during temporary closure due to COVID-19

April 26, 2020

Philadelphia, PA (April 24, 2020) – Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has introduced a slate of new online content including virtual historic tours, livestreamed discussions, and several weekly video series. These program additions bring the mission of Eastern State Penitentiary online while the historic site is temporarily closed due to COVID-19.

“Our work has never been more important. Our team has developed multiple platforms to engage the public with issues that are literally life and death for people living and working in prisons,” said Sean Kelley, senior vice president. “We’ve made room for playful content, too, and some more traditional historical programming. Connection is really important right now, whether it be over important issues or just breaking isolation online with something interesting or fun.”

Since the site temporarily closed on March 13, Eastern State Penitentiary has seen engagement across its social media platforms increase by 33 percent. In addition to an online walkthrough tour and “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi, Eastern State Penitentiary has introduced the following content:

Prisons and the Pandemic
In twice-weekly videos, released every Tuesday and Friday, Eastern State Penitentiary Tour Guide Marney Penn shares the latest news about COVID-19 and its effect on the criminal justice system.

The Searchlight Series
Eastern State’s discussion series exploring topics in current corrections has moved from monthly to weekly, with a new livestreamed conversation taking place on Facebook every Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. Conversations will focus on timely topics like the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated youth.

Live Online Hospital Tours
Tour Program Supervisor Matt Murphy leads a virtual tour of the penitentiary’s hospital block, livestreamed on Facebook every Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. Each week explores a different theme. Past subjects have included tuberculosis, mental illness, and surgery.

Hidden Lives Illuminated
Eastern State revisits its August 2019 project Hidden Lives Illuminated. Every Thursday, Programming Specialist Damon McCool introduces one of 20 animated films created by incarcerated filmmakers and invites viewers to share their thoughts with the filmmakers via a downloadable postcard.

Download and print new Eastern State inspired coloring sheets every week. Then, share the finished product using the hashtag #ESPinColor. Online programs are subject to change.

For the latest information, 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.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is open for tours seven days a week, year-round. Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; Hands-On History interactive experiences; history exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.

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


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Your favorite museums are still open online! Connect and learn about criminal justice reform, past and present, with @EasternState. Check out their website for info on how to #VisitFromHome


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner