Once the most famous prison in the world, Eastern State was initially renowned for its Enlightenment-inspired efforts to reform inmates rather than merely punish them. Eventually, this system was abandoned in favor of solitary confinement and a Death Row block. But the once-genteel penitentiary allowed one of its most notorious inmates, Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone, to keep a private cell with fine antiques and oriental carpets.
When Eastern State’s unique wagon-wheel-shaped building was completed in 1829, it was the most expensive public structure ever built. It was a tourist attraction from the start, and remains so today. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and closed in 1971, the building and its many art installations are consistently being restored and preserved by a variety of architects and artists.
Visitors to this Fairmount area landmark are given headsets with an extensive audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi, but are also encouraged to stick around for short docent-led tours that cover more off-limits parts of the prison. From December to March, special Winter Adventure Tours are given in lieu of regular tour programming, and cover the indoors and outdoors – be sure to wear extra layers to prepare for Philly’s winter cold!