Eastern State Penitentiary has launched a family-friendly offering for spring break

A former Philly penitentiary, now a museum, is presenting a spring break exhibit highlighting sports and recreation behind bars.

Visitors look at an exhibit on the wall at the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.

Visitors at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site learn about sports and recreation behind bars. (Courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site)

From Philly and the Pa. suburbs to South Jersey and Delaware, what would you like WHYY News to cover? Let us know!

When it was built more than 180 years ago, Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary was heralded as the world’s first true penitentiary.

Starting Saturday, the historic site is offering a weeklong spring break exhibit to attract families with children of all ages.

Damon McCool, the Eastern State Penitentiary senior specialist of research and public programming, said the exhibit focuses on the rich and captivating history of sports and recreation behind bars.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“We’ll have sports-themed scavenger hunts, sports-themed tours and panel discussions about boxing and chess in prison,” he said.

There will also be a special pop-up museum highlighting the vibrant culture of sports at the prison.

“Visitors will have the opportunity to see original copies of the ‘Umpire’ and the ‘Eastern Echo,’ which were magazines that were written and published by incarcerated people at Eastern State,” said McCool. “The exhibit will also feature hand-made table-top games that were crafted by Eastern State prisoners, including a chess board and chess pieces, as well as a hand-made cribbage board.”

Kerry Sautner, president and CEO of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, said the new spring break offering fits with the non-profit organization’s mission of teaching visitors about the history of liberty and incarceration in the U.S. and Philadelphia through the lens of criminal justice reform.

“This place is an amazing place that teaches all about the history of incarceration in America, but it also looks at the entire justice system and a real strong focus on criminal justice reform,” Sautner said. “Our team of educators are absolutely amazing, and they know how to engage every age group in an appropriate way, so everyone feels welcome.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

When the prison opened in 1829, the idea was to give incarcerated people a chance to do penance, re-discover their inner light, and become productive members of society, she said. The maximum-security prison held as many as 1,800 inmates at a time, including murderers, thieves and even some white-collar criminals. Notorious gangster Al Capone was an inmate, as well as famed bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton.

It closed in 1971 and for years was abandoned, but then it reopened to the public in 1994 as a museum experience.

McCool said the spring break pop-up museum features pictures of incarcerated people playing football and basketball, and a photo of a race car built by incarcerated people that finished 8th place in the 1932 Indianapolis 500 race.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, Pa., 19130. It is open every day except Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Admission is $21 for adults, for children 7 to 12 it’s $17, and kids 6 and younger are free.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal