Historic site back up and running with expanded offerings, new hours, and continued health and safety measures following months-long closure due to COVID-19
February 10, 2021
Philadelphia, PA (February 15, 2021) – Following a temporary closure that began with a City mandate in November 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (ESPHS) will reopen to the public on Friday, March 12. Admission will include expanded offerings such as the prison synagogue and Cellblock 11. Operating on a new schedule, the historic site will be open for tours Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ESPHS will continue to maintain rigorous health and safety protocols, including reduced capacity, required use of masks, physical distancing, and increased cleaning and sanitization.
“We are thrilled to welcome visitors and members back to the penitentiary for meaningful and, most importantly, safe experiences on site,” said President and CEO Sally Elk. “We hope that Eastern State’s engaging programming and awe-inspiring architecture will provide the much-needed space to escape, and also to reflect on important issues.”
Visitors will tour the historic site using a modified version of “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, the organization’s signature program. The audio tour, which is narrated by actor Steve Buscemi and features the voices of former prisoners and correctional staff, will guide visitors through the penitentiary complex, including 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.
Visitors can also access additional spaces that were previously closed, including Cellblock 11, which houses several site-specific artist installations, and the prison’s synagogue and accompanying exhibit on Jewish life. These expanded offerings, included with admission, will be available to visitors for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.
“It’s wonderful not just to welcome the public back into the building, but to open up spaces that visitors haven’t seen in a full year,” said Senior Vice President Sean Kelley. “I’m especially excited to reopen our synagogue in time for Passover. We believe it’s the first synagogue built in an American prison, and many of our visitors—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—find it a deeply moving space.”
Continued safety measures will be in place for the site’s March reopening. 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. Plexiglass shields will separate visitors from staff at points of contact, 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. Hours of operation and health safety guidelines are subject to change. For the latest information, the public should visit www.EasternState.org/safety.
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 www.EasternState.org.