Heading to Philadelphia? Don’t miss the abandoned State Penitentiary in Philadelphia; known as the worlds first ‘penitentiary’.
Whilst in Philadelphia, we made it a priority to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary – one of the oldest standing penitentiaries in the United States. We are both interested in historical buildings and love anything that looks somewhat abandoned hence our general love for visiting prisons in the US.
What is the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia?
The Eastern State Penitentiary located in Philadelphia, is a former American prison that operated from 1829 to 1971. It is known as the worlds first penitentiary because it refined the separate incarceration system, emphasising reform over punishment.
Visiting the Eastern State Penitentiary gives you a glimpse into the haunting cellblocks and empty guard towers. Like the Alcatraz Tour, there is an audio guide to guide you through the Philadelphia prison. This audio tour is narrated by Steve Buscemi; while scouting a location for a film, Buscemi visited the Philadelphia Eastern State Penitentiary and found the building so interesting that he later provided the majority of the narration for the audio tour that led us around the building.
Eastern State Penitentiary famous inmates
Famous criminals that were held here included bank robber Willie Sutton and James Bruno (Big Joe), who was incarcerated between 1936 and 1948 for the alleged murders in Kelayres Massacre of 1934. Al Capone was also held here but he used his power to have a slightly more luxurious experience than other inmates.
Did anyone escape the Eastern State Penitentiary?
The most famous escapee was William Sutton known as Slick Willie, who, along with 11 other prisoners, dug a tunnel almost 100 feet underground; the tunnel can be seen in cell 68 in cellblock 7.
Why was the Easte State Prison Philadelphia abandoned?
The prison collapsed their solitary confinement system due to overcrowding. In 1913, the penitentiary moved to a congregate prison and officially closed in 1970.
Plan your trip to Easte State Penitentiary
- The Philadelphia penitentiary is located on 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue; not too far from Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- The prison now museum is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 10am to 5pm.
- Tickets must be purchased in advance online and cost $19 for adults and $15 for children.
- The audio tour is around 35 minutes long but allow 1-2 hours to explore the Easter State Penitentiary.
- You can take plenty of pictures and videos in the Eastern State Prison but as always, be respectful and no photoshoots.
- The abandoned prison in Philadelphia is open all year and parts of the tour are outside. The building is also not climate controlled. So, during the summer, bring water and light clothes and bring layers and a jacket if you are visiting in the winter.
- Comfortable shoes – Wear comfortable shoes for this tour; flip-flops, high heels, open-toed shoes and sandals aren’t recommended.
Eastern State Penitentiary in pictures
Things to know before you go to Philadelphia
What to pack
- No matter where we travel to, I always take these trusty hand sanitizer’s and a mini first aid kit.
- We love these toiletry bags (especially great for smaller bathrooms) and choose a laptop bag like this as our hand luggage.
- We keep our devices charged on long travel days with these lightweight battery packs and bring these worldwide travel adaptors on all our trips.
- I still struggle not to overpack so stick to using an expandable suitcase like these, over backpack and always take my trusty luggage scales to avoid being charged at the airport.
- We LOVE this camera for our travel photography.
- For a cheap, easy and compact camera, we use this to vlog and take photographs.
- We use this travel drone (but make sure to check drone laws in your chosen destination first).
- This is our favourite travel Insurance because it covers so many activities and travel situations that could arise on longer trips but also offers year coverage.