Historic site back up and running after months-long closure due to COVID-19
July 22, 2020
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (ESPHS) will reopen to the public on August 14, following a member preview on August 7. In the site’s first phase of reopening, hours of operation will be Friday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Additionally, ESPHS has implemented new safety guidelines, including required use of masks, physical distancing, and increased cleaning and sanitization.
“Our staff has done a wonderful job of engaging people online these past few months, but we can’t wait to welcome visitors and members back to the penitentiary,” said President and CEO Sally Elk. “Nothing compares to seeing the massive stone building and exploring the imposing cellblocks in person. Of course, the health and safety of our staff and visitors remains our top priority, and we’ve implemented several measures to ensure a safe and comfortable experience on site.”
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 on a one-way path through the penitentiary complex. The modified route will include 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 watch the 20 animated short films that were created by incarcerated artists for ESPHS’s 2019 project Hidden Lives Illuminated. It will be the first time that these films will be screened on site since public screenings on the penitentiary’s façade were completed last summer.
“This is a great time to visit Eastern State Penitentiary,” added Sean Kelley, senior vice president, director of interpretation. “Eastern State is one of the most popular attractions in the region in the summer months, but with reduced capacity this year, visitors will have a far more intimate experience. It makes it easier to imagine what life was like for the men and women incarcerated here.”
New safety guidelines will be in place for the site’s August 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. To minimize person-to-person interaction, plexiglass shields have been installed at admissions and other points of contact, and cash will not be accepted. Cleaning, particularly of high-touch surfaces, will be increased. Group tours, guide-led tours, and in-person events are not available at this time.
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.