It’s not exactly how it sounds. No crimes were committed but while on vacation we were able to visit and tour one of the most famous historic prisons in North America. We went to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA.
This was a great and unique experience for one of our family adventures. It’s educational with just a touch of spookiness at a self-guided pace so that you can take as little or as long as you would like. While we were hesitant about adding this adventure to our vacation we are glad we did. This turned out to be one of our favorite and most talked about post-trip places we have visited. We have even considered going back to see the more spooky side during a nighttime Halloween event, Terror Behind the Wall. We can’t wait to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia again soon.
We realize this is not exactly your typical vacation spot.
It’s something we recommend with caution as it may not be appropriate for all ages. As a matter of fact, at the time of this writing children under 7 are not recommended, and possibly not allowed at times. We would take that a step further and say if you have a child that is going to run off or is prone to touching everything, this is a trip that you may want to wait on. Their hours of operation vary depending on the season and other circumstances such as COVID-19, group tours, and their Halloween events. During these times check on availability and age recommendations. I did see on the https://www.easternstate.org/ website they have a virtual tour while they are closed. The cost to visit is $19 pp for adults and $15 pp for children/students. You can always check the website above for more information about the Eastern State Penitentiary. I would still suggest if you have an adventurous side you see this penitentiary in person.
There are several rough spots in the walls and exposed rusty metal.
If you stick to where you are supposed to be, and don’t go exploring too much off the paths, you will be fine for most families, with mature children, or older children. Please be cautious!
The tour is audio-guided by the amazingly talented and equally strange, Steve Buscemi.
It was a nice bonus, and I couldn’t think of a better character to guide us through the Eastern State Historic Penitentiary. The tour is self-guided, with a few different ways to go but has a recommended order we would suggest following at least for the beginning of the tour. Once you get to an identified area you will have a number you push into the audio device you are carrying, this will play that corresponding information about that item. The actual tour itself will guide you to specific numbers and give you the direction you need to go to get to the next stop. It’s a fairly large area and you want to pay attention as you can get mixed up fairly easily. The good news is all the spots eventually lead back to the middle of the exit.
This prison was once one of the most expensive prisons, now standing in ruin and disrepair, it serves now as a historic site, much like an old fort from the civil war would. This was amazing to tour, but no one is going to be using it to keep prisoners in ever again. This prison is famous for some of the most notorious criminals, most famously Al Capone aka Scarface, as well as Willie Sutton, and James Bruno just to name a few.
“When Eastern State opened more than 180 years ago, it changed the world. 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. The building itself was an architectural wonder; it had running water and central heat before the White House, and attracted visitors from around the globe”https://www.easternstate.org/research/history-eastern-state
The prison is made up of several wings, with some rooms you can go in. They show many of the different stages the prison went through and several pictures of the conditions in the prison. The penitentiary is scattered and decorated with old decrepit furniture and rusty beds while some rooms are done up and renovated to be more like they would have been during the actual inmates’ stay. It gives off an eerie feeling as you visit each room.
The experience for the kids was enlightening. It was great to see them paying close attention to the information as they absorbed the many plights of the facility. In addition, they were fascinated to hear about the juvenile inmates, women, and even an actual dog that was housed there. Hearing them talk about and imagining living your whole life like this was just the impact we were looking for. It’s hard sometimes for them to appreciate anything that isn’t colorful like a theme park, or flashy like a video game. This eerie, historic prison is something right out of a horror film, and rumors of its hauntings are enough to keep the older kids on edge, in a good way. The reaction and experience are much more real than any scripted movie or painting and is impossible to fake its authenticity.