Eastern State Penitentiary's 2013 Season Gives Visitors a Glimpse of "Life in Prison"

Historic site launches new season with a rare look at prison artifacts, inmate dining, escape attempts, and contemporary corrections

Feb 27, 2013, 10:15 ET from Eastern State Penitentiary

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site kicks off its 2013 tour season on March 15 with new events, tours, and exhibits that give visitors a better look at the inmate experience at this long-abandoned prison. Pop-Up Museum! puts rarely-seen prison artifacts on display for the first time; new Hands-On History tours explore inmate dining and escape attempts; and artist installation Visions of the Free World explores the underground culture of prison portraiture.

New Event: Pop-Up Museum!, March 23 through April 1
New for 2013, Eastern State Penitentiary presents its first annual Pop-Up Museum! A mugshot book, inmate-written magazines, and even shanks (homemade weapons) will be exhibited in the historic site's conference room for ten days only. Visitors often see photographs of these treasures, but the building's lack of museum-quality climate control makes exhibiting the objects impossible… until now. Pop-Up Museum! takes place March 23 through April 1 and is included in standard admission to the historic site.

New Hands-On History Tours: Soup Alley and Tunnel Escape
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site literally hands visitors the keys to the cellblocks with Hands-On History interactive experiences. These quick demonstrations take place throughout the day, all across the penitentiary complex, led by an expert tour guide. The stops include Opening the Massive Front Gate, How to Open a Cell, Learn to Play Bocce, Exploring the Underground Punishment Cells, and more. Hands-On History is included in standard admission to the historic site.

Added to the program for 2013, visitors can enter "Soup Alley" and travel down the same long, eerie hallway that inmates once used to get from Eastern State's central hub to the dining halls. Hundreds of inmates lined up every day along the serving windows, which give "Soup Alley" its playful name. Visitors will learn how the serving of food changed when this area was created in the 1920s, and will find out what kinds of food inmates at Eastern State ate in the mess halls. This space has never been open to the public, and has rarely been entered even by historic site staff.

Also new for 2013 is a Hands-On History stop focusing on an elaborate tunnel escape at the penitentiary. In 1945 a dozen inmates crawled into a hole in a corner cell, through an inmate-dug tunnel 12 feet underground, and 15 feet up onto the prison's terrace, only to be met by prison officials on the other side. Though infamous bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton claimed ownership of the tunnel, it's likelier that stonemason Clarence Klinedinst dug the tunnel from his corner cell. Visitors to Eastern State can gather the facts and decide for themselves.

New Artist Installation:  Visions of the Free World by David Adler
In 2013 there will be eight artist installations on view during all public hours, including new installation Visions of the Free World by David Adler. Nearly all prison visitation rooms in the U.S. feature photo backdrops, painted by the inmates themselves, to be used in inmate portraits. The portraits are in most cases sent to family and friends in "the free world." The backdrops, typically painted either on canvas or cinderblock walls, often portray beaches, waterfalls, rainbows, city skylines, and other expansive landscapes. What do these aesthetic choices say about inmates' portrayals of their experiences in prison? What messages are they sending to those on the outside? How are those messages received? What do portrait privileges say about prison officials' attitudes toward incarceration? Adler's Visions of the Free World explores these issues with real visitation room backdrops projected onto Eastern State Penitentiary's cell walls.

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 $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students and children ages 7-12. (Not recommended for children under the age of seven.) The penitentiary is open every day, year round. March 15 through November 30, 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