Visiting an Abandoned State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

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?

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. 

State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
Eastern State Penitentiary pictures State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

Did anyone escape the Eastern State Penitentiary?

State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

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. 

Eastern State Penitentiary pictures State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
Eastern State Penitentiary pictures State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

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 pictures State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

Eastern State Penitentiary in pictures

State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

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  1. Incredible pictures! So creepy! I don’t know if I’m brave enough to do this (I’m a whimp!) So thanks for sharing ha #FTB

  2. This place looks like a seriously spooky, but very interesting place to visit. Love the reconstruction of Al Capone’s cell. The hanging photos are so sad though. Great photography throughout.

  3. My goodness! What a great post. Reading the title I thought oh no, I could never go there, but this is interesting with a lot of history. The way you took the pictures add to the creepiness and mystery!

  4. I have only spent a few hours in Philly (day trip from NY) and honestly didn’t get a great feel from the city. We didn’t make it to the penitentiary though which looks like such a confronting place for a visit. I love an audio tour and we did the one in Alcatraz as well.

  5. I haven’t been to Philly yet, but this would definitely be an interesting place to visit! I would love to learn about the escape attempts. Why did the prison close?

  6. Never been here. But these kind of old ruins, particularly the one that do have a lot of history as well , always attract me. I would love to visit this

  7. Whoa! This is so interesting! I loved Al Capone’s cell…what a beauty! And that barber shop…gave me the chills.

  8. These are so stunning photos! Really give me the chills. I see how that is hard to put into words, put your pictures do a really good job… Plus, this is such an uncommon thing to do! Nice one, really!

    • Thanks for such a lovely comment Christina! Calum takes the photographs and I love them too 🙂

  9. Wow I am not sure I would be daring enough to visit this place – it looks so spooky. Although it would be so interesting to learn the history and to actually see this place. Al Capone’s cell looks interesting, I can’t believe he was allowed to have such luxuries!

  10. There seems to be so much history behind this place…I am not sure if I have it in me to visit it…a little scared! Wow…Al Capone’s cell sure looks like a hotel room..he seemed to have had a comfortable time when none of the others did!

  11. I’ve been to Philly but haven’t visited this site yet! Your perfectly captured the eeriness of the place — i especially like the one with the electric chair. I’m sure it will be interesting to take a trip there next time!

    • Thanks Sarah! Calum takes all the photographs and I agree (although slightly biased) they are perfect 🙂

  12. Wow, I never knew this existed. The photos are a bit creepy, but I think my teenagers would love a visit!

  13. What an incredible place, very moving. Seems like it is still inhabited by ghosts! Your photos are beautiful and gives a great sense of the atmosphere. thanks for sharing this discovery!

    • Thanks so much Christine!

  14. So interesting. My dad actually performed there as a child when the prison was still functioning. I plan on taking him back to visit this summer.

    • Oh really?! How interesting, hope he enjoys his visit 🙂

  15. I live near Philly, and I love taking friends and family there when they’re visiting. It’s so interesting! And I loved hearing about the escape attempts. 🙂 What were some of the highlights of your trip here?

    • Hey Naomi,
      Yeah I loved Philly and this prison was fascinating! I loved the Rocky steps too! 🙂

  16. So creepy but at the same time so interesting! I really would like to visit it. So much history in your photos. Thanks for sharing a really interesting post.

  17. Your pictures are amazing, I love it when places are left to their own spooky history and not renovated

  18. This place looks seriously spooky, I love it!! Haha if I ever make it to ant area near by I am definitely going to plan to make a visit here!

  19. Actually love visiting old jails. There’s usually so much history that goes with it, especially why they aren’t used any longer.

  20. Awesome photos!!!! I loved reading about this. It’s definitely the most interesting looking of all the prisons/gaols I’ve ever visited.

  21. it looks impressive and you took amazing shot inside the jail! I love this idea to visit Old and abandoned jails around 😀 I read from google more about Leo Callahan, more details about why he wasn’t recaptured! Incredible story… thanks for sharing it

  22. Philadelphia, the home of Boyz II men nd some creep old prison. Excellent photos though and really enjoyed your post.

  23. I agree with some of your other comments, interesting and creepy at the same time. Still, part of history. Al Capone’s cell I’m sure looked a little different than the other prisoners at that time. You took great photos!

  24. I would be wayyy too scared to ever do this. But I have to say, your photography is STUNNING. I mean just fantastic. It totally captivated me and makes me want to go – despite being super afraid! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you so much, Calum is the photographer and is so happy to read comments like this 🙂 It really is an incredible place to visit 🙂

  25. I grew up right outside of Philadelphia, and I’ve visited the Penitentiary more times than I can count (or remember). But I’ve never seen it quite as breathtakingly spooky and creepy as your photos! These are some seriously gorgeous photos! This building has some really cool history; it always makes me happy to see people visiting Philly and loving it!

  26. sooo eerie but fascinating! I would be terrified to do this but at the same time would love to do it!

  27. This looks so scary! I would love to visit this abandoned place and experience it first-hand.

  28. […] To say this place is creepy and scary is to say nothing. The long empty corridors and bare walls with pictures of prisoners give you chills. And Steve Buscemi’s voice on the audio guide doesn’t help either. To feel the atmosphere of the penitentiary check out the amazing pictures here. […]

  29. This place looks really interesting! I love abandoned places, although you would think they’d tidy the place up. Especially as thy’re charging $14 for entry!

    • It is a really interesting place to visit! I think leaving it in its abandoned state is part of the magic 🙂 Plus, it makes for great photos!

  30. Not a weird thing to enjoy at all! I love old, abandoned relics and buildings with history…so much to imagine what went on in them.

    I want to vist Chernobyl sometime!

  31. Woah this is really cool but also really eerie! I’ve never been anywhere abandoned before but this makes me want to eek!

    • Thanks Claire, it is a great place to visit, I would definitely recommend it!

  32. Places like this are so creepy, but incredibly fascinating! I visited an old prison in Ohio, where they did the filming for Shawshank Redemption, and it was so cool. I didn’t let myself read any ghost stories until after my visit though 😛

    • oh that sounds awesome, will have to put that prison on my bucket list!

  33. I know absolutely nothing about this place, didn’t know that Al Capone was imprisoned here. Your photography is really impressive, well done.

  34. I visited an old penitentiary in Ohio last year and it was so cool. There’s just something so interesting and eerie about these places that make me want to visit.

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