Eastern State Penitentiary rebounding after tough year with return of tours, new beer garden

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The historic Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia will bring back tours and even open a beer garden after a tough year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sean Kelley, the senior vice president of the historic site, said since 1994, every year has been more popular than the year before it, until the pandemic hit.

"It was a miserable, miserable year for all museums, and we were part of that as well," said Kelley.
Action News' data journalism team found more than one-third of museum employees in Philadelphia are no longer working as a result of lost revenue because of the pandemic. The numbers dropped drastically from around 2,000 employees in January 2020 to around 1,000 by September.

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Philly's Comeback: In this report, Katie Katro takes us inside the walls of Eastern State Penitentiary to show how this historic building is working to keep its doors open.

Terror Behind the Walls, a haunted attraction around Halloween hasn't been going on because of the pandemic. Kelley said that attraction had been the financial backbone of Eastern State for 30 years. As a result of that lost revenue, 40% of the staff has been laid off.

"If we ever get back to where we were before the pandemic, it will take years," said Kelley.

During a time of civil unrest this past summer, Kelley said more people have become interested in dialogues surrounding prison reform, whether that's on Eastern State's social media platforms, or during a day trip to the historic site.

"We've had so many successes with our virtual programming that it's going to be a permanent part of what we do here. But I'm also just thrilled to see visitors back in the building experiencing this architecture," said Kelley.
To help make up for lost revenue, the historic site will be implementing night tours as the weather gets warmer, along with a beer garden.

SEE ALSO: 'Terror Behind the Walls' suspended, layoffs at Eastern State Penitentiary due to COVID-19
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The coronavirus pandemic has forced massive layoffs and the suspension of the popular Halloween attraction, Terror Behind the Walls, located at the former Eastern State Penitentiary.

The penitentiary's baseball field will be turned into the Fair Chance Beer Garden. Eastern State has partnered with Triple Bottom Brewing to make the beer garden possible.

"It will give people a place to connect with each others," said Tess Hart, the co-founder and CEO of Triple Bottom Brewing.

Summer Twilight will be extended hours for the penitentiary, running Thursday through Saturday evenings from May 7 through September 4. Since the penitentiary lost staff and couldn't be open for 7 days any more, these extended hours will help financially.

In addition, during the night tours, Mural Arts Philadelphia has co-commissioned with Eastern State for a new, digital artist installation to be projected onto the outside of the penitentiary.

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