Eastern State Penitentiary22nd & Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130 visit website>
Today we went to the Fairmount neighborhood to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary. Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but today stands in ruin, surrounded by a vibrant neighborhood with new shops and restaurants popping up everyday.
I marketed it as a “castle” to the boys and we were off to explore. First you go in the big doors and then there is a long, narrow hallway to the right that takes you to the ticket counter. Kid’s 6 and under are free and adults are $12 so I think that is an affordable “castle” trip. You climb out of the dungeon ticket counter into the fresh air and signs direct you on where to start. The boys liked wandering the different cell blocks and looking out the windows and looking into the cells. Each cell is a little different. Some cells have trees, roots and vines growing through them. Some cells have old metal bed frames, toilets and deteriorating furniture in them. Some cells have been given to artist who have placed artistic installments in them. The only cell that is intact is Al Capone’s. At the cross roads of cell block 8 & 9 sit his cell with plenty of high school students crowded around it to take a peek. Brings a whole new meaning to the term “man cave.”
Your admission comes with an audio tour which you can follow or you can just wander. If you really want to know about the prison stick to the audio tour because the place does not have a ton of information up around the prison for visitors to read. For me an audio tour really was not in the cards with two toddlers to keep tabs on. That said the penitentiary is actually pretty safe and there really was not a whole lot of trouble they could get into or damage they could do. You can go upstairs to the balcony in cell block 6. The steps are high and short and can be tricky if you are with two kids on your own. Basically you wander from cell block to cell block and see what is left of the prison hospital, lunch room, barber, and religious rooms.
Is the place creepy? Yep. But I did not expect it to also be amazingly beautiful. The wooden cell doors with their aging iron numbers. The spectacular cathedral ceilings that flooded the entire place with light. The gigantic stone block floors that are throughout the entire building. Everything in there is wood, stone, white or patina green. The paint is peeling off the walls and ceilings to the point that it looks like scales of a fish. The most boring part is actually the exercise yard which you can get to out cell block 4. It is a run down baseball diamond but it does have benches for you to sit and take a break or set up an impromptu snack time.
Overall I am glad I went and the boys had a lot of fun. I think I would like to go back when I can do the audio tour by myself. For all 72 of our pictures go to HipsterHenry Flickr.
* I actually think it would be fine to go on a rainy day. The exercise yard is the largest outside space and really it is not that fascinating.
* I went without a stroller. I am always looking for a way to wear the boys out and it looks like running around a prison is now my go to. But if you have a little one that can’t walk or is just starting to walk you may not have an option. There are parts that are not stroller friendly and they are all pretty much in the beginning. To get to the ticket area there are a bunch of little steps and it is really narrow. To get up out of the ticket area there is an intimidating flight of steps. I did see a staff member help a mother up with her stroller and it looks like they do it all the time. Once you hit the cell block it is easy sailing.
* Everything starts to look the same after a while so I totally recommend the audio tour.
* There is a schedule of 5 minutes fact tours throughout the day.
* We did get to open a cell but it was pretty much the same as opening my gym lock. Henry on the other hand thought it was pretty cool.
* You can bring snacks and drinks.
* Do grab lunch atHickory Lane across the street on the corner.
* Parking is FREE and plentiful. I love that.
* If you kids are under 7 you have to sign a waiver.