Welcome to October, the spoooookiest time of the year! What better way to celebrate the very best season by creeping yourself out – historically! – at Eastern State Penitentiary?
Yes, yes, Magali already wrote about Terror Behind the Walls’s yearly spectacle of dudes in zombie makeup chasing you through the cells. But I argue that even if you miss such fun when the scarefest ends on November 10th, you could still check out the daily tours offered by Eastern State to get your fright buzz on.
Eastern State was in operation as a prison from 1829 to 1971 and is now a National Historic Landmark open to public tours, which include a peek into the former cell of famous gangster Al Capone. It’s not actually haunted, but the building’s Gothic-style architecture and well-maintained state of decrepitude (yes, that is what I mean) assign a sufficiently creepy feeling to visitors and passers-by.
The word “penitentiary” comes from “penitence” – an appropriate moniker, as this was the first jail to employ solitary confinement as a method of rehabilitation, which I imagine would make anyone pretty sorry pretty fast. Eastern State was also revolutionary for its radial design in which a person could stand at the exact center of the building and look down each of the eight halls.
Maybe visiting an old prison isn’t your idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but it should be. The guided tours teach you the nuanced history of the place, but you’re also welcome to explore on your own and engage in exhibits like the restored Jewish Life memorial room and TowerCam! where you can pretend to be a tower guard monitoring your motley wards. Plus, Eastern State hosts several art installations throughout the prison to get you thinking about the concept of incarceration. My favorite is Alexa Hoyer’s “I always wanted to go to Paris, France,” a series of video montages of Hollywood’s depiction of prison life.
Eastern State is open every day from 10am to 5pm. I recommend leaving at least an hour for wandering, as the places covers 11 acres and has a seemingly infinite amount of nooks to peep into. It’s located at 22nd and Fairmount in the Fairmount neighborhood. You can take the Southbound or Route 16 to Fairmount and walk a few blocks west. Student tickets are $8, but with your elite PEX Pass status you get in for half-price! Being Temple Made has its perks.