Touring the Eastern State Penitentiary #VisitPhilly

Touring The Eastern State Penitentiary

The first time I had ever heard of the Eastern State Penitentiary was on an episode of Ghost Adventures a few years ago. I’m a life-long Boston girl who had never been to Philadelphia before, so I really didn’t know anything about Philly other than the fact that Rocky ran up some stairs there. But over the past few years I have seen a few other ghost hunting type shows that were filmed there, so when I knew that I was going to be spending a few days in Philly last month, the ESP was on my short list of places to go see.

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Each year approximately 60 paranormal investigation teams explore the site, capturing extensive evidence of ghosts within the penitentiary walls. There were never any executions carried out at Eastern State, but over the years, the prison was home to its fair share of murders. In addition to many inmates that were killed there, at least two guards were murdered as well. Hundreds of others prisoners died from disease and/or old age. Admittedly, I really, really wanted to have a paranormal experience there the day I visited. Sadly, I didn’t, but touring the grounds was by far the highlight of my two days in Philadelphia.

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The Eastern State Penitentiary was operational from 1829 until 1971. Today it stands in ruin. As you walk through the facility, you’ll see nothing but crumbling cell-blocks and empty guard towers.

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When it opened in 1829, the prison was designed to hold 253 prisoners, each occupying a solitary cell for their entire sentence. Eastern State’s revolutionary system of incarceration, called the “Pennsylvania system”encouraged separate confinement that was intended as a form of rehabilitation, not just punishment. It was thought that if the inmates had time to reflect on their crimes, they would feel remorse and change. As it turns out, it just ended up driving many of the prisoners insane.

Convicts spent 23 hours a day locked in isolation cells. The other hour, the prisoners spent outdoors, alone, with leather bags over their heads. Guards wore socks over their shoes to hear any attempts to communicate between cells.

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The solitary confinement system eventually collapsed due to overcrowding problems at the prison and today the Eastern State Penitentiary operates as a museum and historic site, open year-round. Visitors are allowed to walk into several specially marked solitary confinement cells, but most of them remain off limits and filled with original rubble and debris from years of neglect.

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When we first entered the Eastern State Penitentiary, we were given the option to take “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour (included with admission). The four of us all decided to take our mp3 players and headsets and let Steve Buscemi, the audio tour narrator guide us through the penitentiary complex and tell us about the prison’s history.

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One of Eastern State’s most notable inmates was Al Capone. Chicago’s most famous mob boss spent eight months at Eastern State in 1929-1930. His stay at Eastern State was actually his first prison sentence and he was arrested for carrying a concealed, deadly weapon. His time in Eastern State was spent in relative luxury. His cell on the Park Avenue Block had fine furniture, oriental rugs, and a cabinet radio.

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Eastern State Penitentiary is open every day 10 am to 5 pm (last entry 4 pm).

Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students and kids (7-12). The tour is not recommended for children under the age of seven (some of the audio tour stops contain adult content, but don’t worry, they are marked so you will know when they come up).

The boys were also given a scavenger hunt so that they could search for things throughout the prison complex as they walked around. There were quite a few things for the kids to find, so they lost interest after about 10 things.

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Eastern State Penitentiary is open rain or shine, and the building does not have climate control. We were there on a 90 degree day and believe me, we felt it. If you plan on visiting, dress for the weather – it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Oh, and be sure to wear appropriate footwear.

The Eastern State Penitentiary is located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, PA 19130!

**Disclosure: My family and I received complimentary admission to tour the Eastern State Penitentiary, but I would have gladly paid because it was such an amazing experience. All opinions expressed here are strictly my own and were not influenced in any way.

About Taylor Nikaci

94 comments

  1. Planet of the Apels

    That would be so interesting. I’d love a tour like that. So freaky, yet neat.

  2. toughcookiemommy

    This must have been such a creepy experience. Imagine what you would have heard if those walls could talk and tell the stories of past inmates…

  3. Bri

    In my mind I would love to go do something like this, but in reality I don’t think I can take it. The scenery reminds me of too many scary movies and I am not a fan of horror.

  4. Dawn McAlexander

    I am not a horror movie fan either. I have heard of this place, though, mainly through my husband. He is obsessed with haunted places. This is supposedly one of the most haunted places in the world.

  5. yumeating

    I think going in the day would be completely interesting. Just to see the things that are still there and the size of the cells. Just hearing the history and having a sense of what the criminals lived with after they were caught. Going in the evening, for me, would be a hoot. I have a great desire to learn more about the unknown and things that go bump in the night.

  6. Amanda Ripsam

    visiting a state Penitentiary would be a fun experience your books look like they had a blast. I would have fun I don’t think Bella would have done well. I can see her not wanting to step food in this place too scare for her she startles easy but boy would hubby and step kids and I like to visit a place like this.

  7. Rorybore

    well this brings back memories. *awkward laugh*
    to clarify.. I WORKED in a prison, I was a not a “guest.” LOL
    and I don’t blame the boys for stopping at 10; I never found cell searches to be especially fun either.
    but what was amazing, was the prison I worked at was very old too: 1835!! and it could hold over 500 inmates – including some women back in those early years. the architecture is beautiful – for a prison, and it was built on the water so the views amazing. well, from outside the walls. LOL . it was known as one of the best well run prisons in the world. It’s closed now, but once upon a time it was the Who’s Who of some of the most Infamous Prisoners in Canadian history. the worst of the worst were here… fun times! yeah, no.

  8. irishred13

    I went ghost hunting with a friend on her college campus. Haunted places can be a lot of fun!

  9. Ai Sakura

    Woah it certainly has the creepy feel!! Looks like something out of American Horror Story!Ai @ Sakura Haruka

  10. Lois Alter Mark

    It looks like a fascinating tour. Definitely creepy but fascinating!

  11. Theresa

    I would LOVE to visit here! So full of wickedly twisted history! I’m sure the boys thought it was pretty fascinating to tour the place!

  12. Mykidsguide

    I would love to visit a place like this. It’s so full of mysteries!

  13. ascendingbutterfly

    I have visited Philly before but hadn’t heard of Eastern State Penitentiary, I will have to check it out the next time I am there. Thanks for the warning on the climate control thing I wouldn’t have known, I’m not a fan of heat and humidity so I will plan my visit accordingly!Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly

  14. boulderlocavore

    So many thoughts… This is both bone-chilling and fascinating. Based on the photos it looks a bit scary to walk through, as in is it safe? I’m sure if people are allowed in they know the building won’t collapse, right? LOL. The solitary confinement really must have produced some mentally damaged inmates as you said. I wonder what happened to them when they were released or the prison closed? Ug.

  15. April @ Everyday Fitness and Nutrition

    That sounds like a really cool experience with tons of interesting history. I can’t imagine being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day.

  16. Sinziana Romanescu

    This is impressive. I love the photos very much. I like visiting history related places.

  17. Terra Heck

    Wow, looks like an interesting tour! It’s definitely a place I’d visit.

  18. Joanne T Ferguson

    How much fun would this have been! I love any prison history! Thanks for allowing me to visit through your eyes!

  19. Annemarie LeBlanc

    I would be scared to walk those halls! You guys were really brave, specially your boys who seemed to have a good time!

  20. Shirgie Scf

    There’s one like this here in Korea, but I guess the Korean version of this is even scarier. I really like to have a tour like this. It sounds and feels creepy but I like it.

  21. tamaralikecamera

    Very freaky and very interesting. I’d love to do this one day.

  22. Jeanette

    This would be such an interesting tour! I would love to do this! It’s hard to believe how Al Capone lived compared to the rest of the prisoners.

  23. Kiwi

    I am not going to lie…I would of been terrified to go there! I can see how it would be educational and you kids look like they enjoyed it.

  24. Claudia Krusch

    We love watching ghost shows! I’m going to show it to my son and possibly check it out! Thank you for sharing it!

  25. Alyssa C

    That looks like fun, terrifying but fun. I bet my fiance would love to do this.

  26. The Rebel Chick

    Ohhh, sounds a little spooky and fun at the same time! Amazing to see the difference in prisons then and now.

  27. Jennifer

    Oh wow. That is just beyond creepy. I think this would be a fantastic time. In a place like that, I might even see a ghost!

  28. Mistee Dawn

    This looks like a super fun creepy place to visit. I actually do not live far from there! I really need to visit there one day.

  29. littlemisscant

    I got goosebumps just looking at those pictures. I’m glad they don’t open that place at night.. way too creepy for my liking!

  30. Dawn

    That is so awesomely unsettling. I would love to tour that prison!

  31. Dogvills

    What an interesting tour. The place looks scary, but I would love to explore that prison.

  32. aimee (@HouseofFaucis)

    Now this is something I’d love to tour. So many stories within these walls.

  33. MomMaven

    How creepy! Not something we would really like to do!

  34. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle

    That is so cool! My family would get such a charge out of this. Maybe we’d see a ghost. You never know!

  35. Sarah Bailey

    Oddly this is something I would love to do – I find old buildings so fascinating. x

  36. Alli

    My family would really get a kick out of this and probably try to scare me to death at the same time. I never realized you could visit that place. Fascinating!

  37. Catherine S

    I bet this was really neat. I have seen this on several shows and I have always wanted to go do the tour.

  38. Sandy KS

    Now that would be a neat place to visit during the day. Any place that claims to be haunted or supernatural things going on, is a place I won’t visit at dusk or after dark. I seen to many horror movies to know better.

  39. Maria

    How cool would that be. I love watching paranormal shows, and would love to spend some time ghost hunting a location such as this. I’m sure it’d be an interesting experience.

  40. Crystal

    The only haunted type place I’ve been to was a Ghost Tour in London. They took us to all the spots the Jack the Ripper victims were found.

  41. Shanéy Maharaj

    Wow! I’m not sure what to say because honestly I want to visit this place too. It would be great to take out professional pictures too.

  42. Crystal (The Imperfect Mom)

    Looks really creepy but fun. Sounds like a great adventure!

  43. Crystal

    Wow, that sounds fun and way creepy at the same time. I’m sure when all of my kids are a little older, they’d love to visit.

  44. Heather

    I have never been. Maybe one day – we’re not to far!

  45. Mimi "MimiCuteLips" Green

    I’m not into ghost at all but this looks like a good time. I would love to ride up and check it out. The history alone has me really interested.

  46. Jennifer Van Huss

    OMG! So creepy! But it looks like tons of fun! I love visiting historical places and learning the true stories that happened there! That is definitely and interesting place to visit!

  47. Wendy

    It definitely looks creepy! And fun but I would not want to go on that tour at night!! Well maybe. I like creepy!

  48. ogilvieronda

    My family would love this! We are huge ghost adventures fans and try and visit as many haunted places as we can as we travel! Great pictures!

  49. Pam

    That does seem like an amazing experience for kids and adults alike. I think it would be fun, especially in the fall. Your boys are so cute.

  50. Amy Desrosiers

    Oh my gosh does this look so effin scary! I saw this on Travel Channel haunts or something like that…CREEPY!

  51. Pam

    I love touring old places like that. I would love to do the paranormal tour, but I’m sure the regular tour is just as exciting.

  52. Emilee

    OH my goodness! I’m such a weenie that would have me on pins and needles! I have friends that are very into stuff like that though. They’d be totally jealous. From a history standpoint, I do have to admit that is really cool!

  53. Penelope

    Ohhh that sounds fun and scary all at the same time. I’d love to know the stories of the people who lived there.

  54. Debbie Denny

    Oh that is such a neat historic place to tour. I have seen pics but I would like to see it.

  55. Debbie L.

    I agree – this looks like a very very interesting place. If only the walls could talk.

  56. Sicorra

    Looks like your boys had fun. As much as ghosts interest me, I am not thinking this is a tour that I would sign up for.

  57. Lady Lilith

    How neat. This looks like such a great experience. The kids must have been thrilled to experience such rich history.

  58. Debbie L.

    this looks like a really interesting tour. I have never toured a prison.

  59. Boho Chic (@TotallyTerris)

    This would be a really cool adventure for the family. We have a “haunted” prison that is open to the public for tours, about 45 minutes from me. The kids love it.

  60. cinnybbs

    That would most certainly be interesting. I don’t know if I’d be excited or slightly creeped out, lol!

  61. Emily

    Wow what an interesting place to visit. I’m not sure if I would be mor einterested or more scared – its neat either way.

  62. Jeanine

    Oh how awesome. A friend of mine loves touring this type of thing. I would be too chicken but how cool. You do the best things!

  63. Allison

    What a cool experience!I have a friend who loves ghost tours and would be all over this!

  64. Beth@FrugalFroggie

    I think it would be so cool to visit. I think I have seen the episodes with this location.

  65. moesly15

    That looked like a really cool place to visit. I’d hat to end up in jail.

  66. Scarlet

    Holy cow. That information is scary but history is so interesting. Reading this post would scare people straight! LOL

  67. lisamc7

    Looks like a neat place, with a side of creepy. I’ve never toured an old penitentiary before but kind of want to now!

  68. casavilorainteriors

    Wow! It kinda looks creepy, but I think I would take that tour just to see how these inmates lived

  69. bcbuilds

    Okay, I love, love, love this. I am all into the creepy and scary and would love to do this. Especially at night, with no light… PSYCH… ha! No, really it looks like a great place to visit

  70. shelahmoss

    That looks like such an interesting place to visit. It’s great that they had a scavenger hunt for the kids to make it more interactive.

  71. vegetarianmamma

    I am such a scaredy cat, I am seriously freaked just with the pictures and my wandering mind LOL Looks like everybody had fun and the admission cost is very reasonable!

  72. Autumn @Mamachallenge

    That sounds like a very interesting place to visit! Looks like it would be a lot of fun to tour!

  73. aordinarylife

    Oh that looks very scary and fun all at the same time. Nice Share.

  74. Wynn chow

    What an interesting place! I should go to visit sometime!

  75. Claudette P. Esterine

    I worked in a penitentiary and thank heavens it looked nothing like this!

  76. @SensiblySara

    That’s a really cool place to visit!! I think it could be creepy – but it would be so interesting to walk through.

  77. Tammy Roy

    Eastern State Penitentiary looks like a great way to spend the day. It would be fun to listen to the tour on your MP3 player.

  78. Elizabeth Lampman

    I have heard of the Eastern State Penitentiary tour before. It sounds so fascinating. I would love to go for the tour.

  79. victoria

    That was interesting . i love ghost hunting, i really love your post i love to read this kind of article mysterious , interesting and based on history of that place and at the same time looks scary

  80. Ann Bacciaglia

    This would be so interesting. I did not know Steve Buscemi did the voice track for the tour. It looks like you had a great day.

  81. Amber Edwards

    That would be such an education tour, but also a little freaky too. It would be fun to take it around Halloween time.

  82. Dawn McAlexander

    My husband used to watch Ghost Hunters on SyFy. I know that they did an episode here. I think it was one of the biggest and best shows that they ever did. It proved that the Eastern State Penitentiary was indeed haunted.

  83. Carol Bryant

    I am from PA and never heard of this but would love to visit!

  84. Shannon P

    We have something like this locally and its such an awesome place to take visitors!

  85. upliftingfam

    This sounds like a cool tour. I have seen something similar to this. It is crazy how they live in such awful conditions. Most prisoners today have it a bit better. I could imagine the suicide rate was super high back during this century.

  86. Paula Schuck

    I would love to go on a tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary. I would be fascinated and scared at the same time.

  87. miss (@thedealmatch)

    i would love to visit the place.. looks fun and amazing!

  88. Elizabeth O.

    Old buildings fascinate and creep me out at the same time. This tour must have been super exciting for the kids. I’d like to see Al Capone’s cell, looks interesting.

  89. miss (@thedealmatch)

    a great place to visit during Halloween season! Sounds fun!

  90. Tanya C. {@Treats by Tanya}

    This tour would be perfect for Halloween! I know it’s a spot my husband always wanted to go at night.

  91. ronleyba (@ronley_ph)

    Creepy and freaky. But this is one heck of an adventure for me.

  92. Sabrina @ Dinner, then Dessert

    I’m fascinated by prisons but I’d be too scared to actually visit one! Looks like you had fun though!

  93. Kam Kay

    What an adventure! Halloween would be prefect time to go visit this spooky place!

  94. Megan Elford

    Ooh, how creepy! I love visiting places like this where the building is left as close to as-is as possible. You can just imagine how desolate and lonely it must have been!

  95. Megan @ A Dash of Megnut

    This is so awesome! Your pictures are amazing and it makes me ALMOST want to go… I’d probably be too scared!

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