Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site kicks off its 2012 season by opening two dramatic new spaces, presenting four new artist installations, and launching a Searchlight Series to discuss current correctional issues.
The Ruins of Death Row takes visitors into the collapsing exercise yards of Cellblock 15, Eastern State’s Death Row. The starkly modern cellblock was the last to be added to Eastern State Penitentiary and held some of Pennsylvania’s most violent, aggressive criminals. Death Row’s dedicated exercise yard has high walls and its own small guard tower. The yards today are among the most ruinous spaces at Eastern State.
The Operating Room takes visitors into the long-abandoned surgical space, part of the prison’s once state-of-the-art hospital. Completed in 1910, the sterile Operating Room in Cellblock 3 provided a vastly improved surgical environment over the earlier space used – an inmate’s individual cell. The Operating Room, converted from two single cells and three exercise yards, was part of a larger renovation to turn the entire cellblock into a complete hospital. There were more than 100 surgeries a year performed in this operating room by 1920. Al Capone had his tonsils removed there in September 1929. By the 1950s and 60s, Eastern State’s medical wing was a sophisticated prison hospital, with inmates from other facilities being transferred to the penitentiary for treatment of challenging medical conditions. Today, the space is in a profound state of ruin, but the massive surgical light still hangs in the middle of the room.
Families at Eastern State explores the strange, unexpected, and often heartfelt relationships that existed between family members at Eastern State during its 142-year history. Wardens, guards, and their families set up residence in different parts of the penitentiary. Visitors can step into the ground floor of one of Eastern State’s corner guard towers, discovering evidence of a former residence. Unique personal stories are revealed about a group of brothers who served more than 150 years combined at Eastern State, a warden’s daughter’s wedding inside the cellblocks, and women who gave birth inside the prison’s walls.
The Searchlight Series Eastern State Penitentiary will be partnering with local organizations to present a four-part discussion series relating to crime and contemporary correctional issues. Each discussion in the Searchlight Series will focus on a different contemporary issue and will feature guest speakers from both Eastern State and other organizations. The discussions will be open to the public for a fee of $5.00 and free for members of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.
The 2012 season also features four new and seven returning artist installations: