Eastern State Penitentiary

The Eastern State Penitentiary is a former prison and current US National Historic Landmark that offers some interesting and unusual tours. History comes alive in the building that hosted famous gangster Al Capone, in the form of both daily tours and one of the scariest haunted houses there is. Every Halloween, the US landmark is transformed into a haunted house for a thrilling tour. If you're visiting at another time of year, tours are available every day, where the history, influence, and true stories of this Philadelphia Penitentiary are revealed.

Halloween is a very popular time to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. The experience is called Terror Behind the Walls and guests willfully enter one of the most frightening haunted houses in the country. The setting couldn’t be any creepier, and masters at lighting, sound, and surprises keep the tricks coming. Terror Behind the Walls requires a ticket ranging from $10 to $30, depending on day and time of tour, and go on sale far in advance. If you're planning a trip to Philly in October, don’t miss out on the opportunity to tour one of the best haunted houses around by waiting to book your ticket.

However, not all visits to this Philadelphia Penitentiary need to be so scary. Daytime historic visits showcase the history of the building, its prisoners, and their lifestyle.  An audio tour is available that is narrated by actor Steve Buscemi and exposes visitors to solitary confinement, Al Capone’s cell, and death row. Photography is permitted at Eastern State Penitentiary, though certain rules do apply. Visitors are encouraged to bring a bag lunch, as there is a location to eat, but no food facilities on-site. The prison is open seven days a week, all year long, and tickets are reasonably priced.

Located on Fairmount Avenue, the prison is just five blocks away from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Parking is available on street, or in a nearby parking lot for a small fee. If you're traveling from the city center to this Philadelphia penitentiary, you can also take the bus. During your visit you will learn how this one prison transformed theories about incarceration. When the prison opened in 1829, it was the most expensive and high-tech in the country. A new theory of separate or solitary confinement with an emphasis on rehabilitation gained popularity as a result of the Eastern State Penitentiary. This system became known around the world, and numerous prisons followed the practice begun at this Philadelphia landmark. Solitary confinement and silence were thought to emphasize reformation and penitence rather than punishment, though it is now believed that doing so may have caused prisoners to suffer from mental illness rather than become more spiritual.

While Terror Behind the Walls brings a significant number of visitors to the prison, many of them return for the historical tour. The building itself is so fascinating that it warrants questions on who lived there, what they had done wrong, and if they got out. The first prisoners wore masks to hide their identity from other prisoners whenever they left their cells, keeping anonymity a main priority, and prison rules decreed that no two prisoners could be in the exercise yard or other public place at the same time. Halloween may have earned the building a reputation for being a haunted prison in Philadelphia, but there is much more historical intrigue beyond the building itself. The prison closed its doors in 1971 and was abandoned during the 70s and 80s. After many preservation efforts, the doors opened again in 1994 for historic tours, and the annual Halloween fundraiser began.

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