Eastern State Penitentiary 2012 Season Features Interactive Experiences, Groundbreaking Artist Installations, and Popular Special Events

May 09, 2012, 07:05 ET from Eastern State Penitentiary

PHILADELPHIA, May 9, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Eastern State Penitentiary's 2012 season features an ambitious set of programming ranging from interactive history experiences, to stained glass window installations, to a weekend commemorating some of the prison's most famous escapes. 

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20120509/PH03279 )

An overview of the 2012 season follows:

Hands-On History:

Hands-On History features a series of short demonstrations throughout the penitentiary complex, each lasting five minutes or less.  An expert Eastern State tour guide leads each activity, although visitors do the bulk of the physical activities themselves.  There are three new stops this year as well as numerous returning favorites:

New Stops for 2012:

  • The Ruins of Death Row takes visitors into the collapsing exercise yards of Cellblock 15, Eastern State's Death Row.
  • The Operating Room lets visitors step inside the long-abandoned surgical space, part of the prison's once state-of-the-art hospital.
  • Families at Eastern State explores the strange, unexpected, and often heartfelt relationships that existed between family members at Eastern State.

Returning Stops:

  • Opening the Massive Front Gate
  • Exploring the Underground Punishment Cells
  • Witnessing Inmate Art in the Catholic Chaplain's Office
  • Unlocking and Opening a Cell
  • Leaving Their Mark
  • Basketball Court and Exercise

Artist Installations:

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site welcomes new artists to its growing artist installation program and continues to feature many of the visitors' favorite installations.  Artists are chosen for their ability to address Eastern State's primary themes – including issues of crime and justice, architectural history, and the site's fascinating past – with a memorable, thought-provoking approach. The 2012 season features four new and seven returning artist installations:

New Installations:

  • Lisa Bateman:  Next Year
    The front pages of New Year's Day newspapers provide a timeline of the prison and of the realities, hopes, and dreams unavailable to the incarcerated.
  • Tyler Held:  Identity Control
    Reflecting on the idea that a man is "too easily reduced to an object" when institutionalized, the artist uses a car as a metaphor for relinquished individuality.
  • Ryan Legassicke: States of Security / Security States
    Full-scale silhouettes of barriers around the world encourage thinking about the use of walls and fences as a means of protection, security, and separation.
  • Judith Schaechter: The Battle of Carnival and Lent
    Seventeen stained glass windows inspired by Eastern State address in a "non-religious way the psychological border territory between 'spiritual aspiration' and human suffering."

Returning Installations:

  • Greg Cowper:  Specimen
  • William Cromar:  GTMO
  • Jordan Griska:  Separate System
  • Susan Hagen:  Recollection Tableaux
  • Alexa Hoyer:  I Always Wanted to Go to Paris, France
  • Michelle Handelman:  Beware the Lily Law
  • Karen Schmidt:  Cozy

Upcoming Events:

Alumni Reunion - Saturday, May 12, 1:30 p.m.

Each year, former inmates, corrections officers, and administrative workers return to the abandoned cellblocks of Eastern State to share their stories and to answer questions from the public. This year, the panel is expanded to include former teachers, neighbors, and the grandson of a deputy warden who was born and raised at Eastern State Penitentiary for four years.  Many of Eastern State's former inmates and staff enjoy returning to the cellblocks to remember old times. This year, over 20 alumni will gather with the public for an informal roundtable discussion about daily life at the penitentiary, which has been closed for more than 40 years. Previous discussions have addressed work details, recreation, and race relations within the 183-year-old penitentiary complex.

Prison Break Weekend - Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10

Designed to commemorate some of Eastern State's most famous escapes, Prison Break Weekend will feature interactive and educational family-friendly activities all weekend long. Two actors, one portraying Clarence Klinedinst and one portraying bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton, give their conflicting accounts of who designed the 1945 tunnel, how it was built, and why the escapees got caught.  Visitors can meet the inmates, hear how their accounts vary, and vote on who they think is telling the truth.

Visitors can also experience one of the ways inmates learned to find meaning, friendship and recreation as a means to "escape" by trying their hand at Bocce Ball, a traditional Italian recreation practiced by aging inmates at Eastern State throughout the 20th century.  The original courts were built at the base of Eastern State's massive wall, and after a full restoration, will be open for the first time as part of Prison Break Weekend. 

Bastille Day - Saturday, July 14, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Bastille Day has become one of Philadelphia's most popular summertime events as Eastern State Penitentiary teams up with Philadelphia cabaret act The Bearded Ladies and local businesses for a playful reenactment of the Storming of the Bastille.  Dozens of French revolutionaries, armed with muskets and cannon, singing "La Marseillaise," will storm the grim walls of "the Bastille," (Eastern State Penitentiary, which has an historic connection to the French Bastille), capture Marie Antoinette, and ignoring her mocking cries of "Let them eat Tastykake," drag her to a real, functioning guillotine, built for the occasion and 2,000 Tastykakes fly from the prison's towers.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

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.

Tours today include the cellblocks, solitary punishment cells, Al Capone's Cell, and Death Row. A critically acclaimed series of artist installations is free with admission. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for students and children ages 7-12 (not recommended for children under the age of seven). The penitentiary is open every day, year round. April through November, admission includes "The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi.  For more information and schedules, please call (215) 236-3300 or visit www.EasternState.org.

SOURCE Eastern State Penitentiary