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2019 About ESP

Eastern State Penitentiary Daytime Prison Tours

June 24, 2019

Eastern State Penitentiary 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 is a National Historic Landmark with a rich history. Once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, Eastern State 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 once held many of America’s most notorious lawbreakers, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.

Eastern State Penitentiary is open for historic tours every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Last entry is 4:00 p.m.) Standard admission includes the following:

“The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour:
This soundscape mixes dozens of voices – including three former wardens and 25 former guards and prisoners – creating an intimate walking tour of Eastern State’s cellblocks and yards. The main route includes 10 audio stops and lasts about 40 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. Prisons Today received the 2017 Excellence in Exhibitions award from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).

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 features 13 site-specific artist installations for its 2019 season. 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: 
Newly restored in 2019; 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, designed to reflect how it likely appeared when Capone was incarcerated at Eastern State.

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 United States 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.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. When purchasing online, admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students and children ages 7-12. When purchasing at the door, admission is $16, $14, and $12, respectively. (Not recommended for children under the age of seven.) For more information, the public should call (215) 236-3300 or visit


Tweet This!
Extend your trip! Visit @EasternState for a prison tour during the day & then stay for #HiddenLives. Screenings of animated films by currently-incarcerated artists at 7, 8, and 9 pm nightly from August 15 to September 12.


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner