Eastern State Penitentiary

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 convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone.

Eastern State Penitentiary broke sharply with the prisons of its day, abandoning corporal punishment and ill treatment. This massive new structure, opened in 1829, became one of the most expensive American buildings of its day and soon the most famous prison in the world. The Penitentiary would not simply punish, but move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. The method was a Quaker-inspired system of isolation from other prisoners, with labor. The early system was strict. To prevent distraction, knowledge of the building, and even mild interaction with guards, inmates were hooded whenever they were outside their cells. But the proponents of the system believed strongly that the criminals, exposed, in silence, to thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes, would become genuinely penitent. Thus the new word, penitentiary.

Every day 10 am to 5 pm (last entry 4 pm) Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students and kids (7-12). Not recommended for children under the age of seven.

Tags: prison

Details & Events

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  • Eastern State Penitentiary
  • 2124 Fairmount Ave
  • Philadelphia, PA 19130
  • 215-236-3300
  • Directions
  • Web site

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