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Programming Overview 2017

Programming Overview 2017

March 27, 2017

Eastern State Penitentiary is open for tours every day, 12 months a year. All daytime programming (“The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, Hands-On History, artist installations, and exhibits) is included in one admission price.


Hours and Information:

Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. (Last entry is 4:00 p.m.) Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Location: 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Contact: For more information, the public can visit or call (215) 236-3300.




At the Door







Students and Kids (7-12)




Tickets are available online at, or at the door subject to availability.

Not recommended for children under the age of seven.


“The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour:
This soundscape mixes dozens of voices – including three former wardens and 25 former guards and inmates – creating an intimate walking tour of Eastern State’s cellblocks and yards. The main route includes 10 audio stops and lasts about 35 minutes. Additional stops provide visitors with more than two hours of content, including Death Row, the solitary exercise yards, the restored synagogue, and Al Capone’s Cell.  Narrated by actor Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire, Fargo, Armageddon).

Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration
The United States 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. This interactive exhibit sheds light on these issues. It elicits personal connections, encourages reflection, supports dialogue, and suggests steps that visitors can take to help shape the evolution of the American criminal justice system moving forward.

Hands-On History:
These short demonstrations take place throughout the penitentiary complex, each lasting about five minutes. An expert Eastern State tour guide leads each activity, although visitors do the bulk of the physical activities themselves. Stops include How to Open a Cell, Opening the Massive Front Gate, Exploring the Underground Punishment Cells, and more.

Artist Installations:
Eastern State Penitentiary welcomes three new artists to its artist installation program and continues to feature many visitor favorites. Artists are chosen for their ability to address Eastern State’s primary themes—including issues of crime and justice, architectural history, and the site’s fascinating past—with a memorable, thought-provoking approach.

Al Capone’s Cell:
Al Capone got his first taste of prison life at Eastern State Penitentiary. 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. He spent eight months of his one-year sentence at Eastern State. Visitors today can see his recreated cell with fine furniture, oriental rugs, and a cabinet radio.

The Big Graph:
This massive, three-dimensional bar graph sculpture illustrates the unprecedented growth in the world’s, and the United States’, incarceration rates since 1970. (The U.S. leads the world, by far, in percentage of citizens behind bars.) The graph also shows the racial breakdown of the American prison population in 1970 and today. Built to the scale of Eastern State’s walls, The Big Graph summarizes four decades of historic change in one striking object.

Alfred W. Fleisher Memorial Synagogue:
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 at Eastern State, faithfully returned to its appearance in 1959. A set of workshops next to the synagogue has been converted into The William Portner Memorial Exhibit on Jewish Life.


Eastern State’s Halloween fundraiser, Terror Behind the Walls, provides major support for preservation projects, exhibits, artist installations, tours, and general operations. Grants from the following funders have also advanced the historic site’s progress and programs:

Recent historic preservation and infrastructure projects were supported in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program - Honorable Governors Tom Wolf and Tom Corbett.

The Cellblock 3 corridor preservation was supported in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Eastern State receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

The Samuel S. Fels Fund, Jack’s Firehouse, and GPEFF Attorneys at Law, LLC provided additional support for the exhibit and its related site preparations.

The Big Graph was funded in part by a grant from The George W. Rentschler Foundation.

Eastern State’s general operations are supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Eastern State is also funded by The Barra Foundation and the Independence Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner