15 Photos of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary with kidsVisiting a jail wasn’t at the top of my list during our travels to Philadelphia with kids but when our friends suggested that we check out the Eastern State Penitentiary, I agreed. Why? Because that’s how you have a successful group trip with multiple families. It’s about give and take. I’ll also admit that it wasn’t a hard sell since I was intrigued but wasn’t fully sure how the 4 and 6 year old would take it. Having visited the Eastern State Penitentiary with 4 kids under the age of 7, let me tell you that the kids learned a lesson or two and definitely wasn’t intimidated by the space.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Its sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone. The prison is currently a U.S. National Historic Landmark which is open to the public as a museum. What I found interesting was that this penitentiary refined the revolutionary system of separate incarceration which emphasized reform rather than punishment.

Eastern state jail with kids

During our October visit we spent 2 hours roaming through the eerie hallways, walking into jail cells and listening to the narration on our headsets. The kids were relatively quiet as they explored the various rooms and were most interested in spotting the toilet bowls. Below are a few pictures to help you imagine what it’s like there now and what it felt like to be there in the early 1830s.


Every Halloween Frank and Carson – Eastern State’s resident gargoyles who weigh in at 300 pounds each – ascended to the top of the 40-foot front facade of the prison to usher in the official beginning of the Terror Behind the Walls season.

Cell accommodations were advanced for their time, including a faucet with running water over a flush toilet, as well as curved pipes along part of one wall which served as central heating during the winter months where hot water would be run through the pipes to keep the cells reasonably heated. Toilets were remotely flushed twice a week by the guards of the cellblock.

Kids were given a scavenger hunt booklet which kept them occupied. At the end of the tour they received a sticker for completing the book (okay they didn’t really complete it but they got a sticker anyway!)


Al Capone served 8 months in this cell and received some generous privileges not typically granted to inmates, including fine furniture, oriental rugs, oil paintings and a fancy radio. He liked to listen to waltzes in his cell.


A free audio guide, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi, takes you through the prison and provides the historical information along with additional stops for subjects like escapes, riots, sports and sexuality. We took the tour at our own pace, stopping for a rest here and there.


Restored cell


Not surprisingly many movies have been filmed here including Twelve Monkeys, Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen and Return to Paradise


We weren’t surprised to discover that paranormal activity has been detected in the prison and even felt a cold chill as we walked into one section.


Inmates were allowed 2 30 minute exercise breaks and nothing else.


Inmates spent 23 hours each day in their cells.

We took the opportunity to show the kids where bad people get banished to and talked about good and bad.

Eastern state jail with kids