Eastern State Penitentiary kicks off new season with art installations, redesign of Capone cell

John McDevitt
May 02, 2019 - 4:19 pm
Eastern State Penitentiary historic site in Fairmount is kicking off its new season with new art installations and a new Al Capone cell exhibit.

John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

Categories: 

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Eastern State Penitentiary historic site in Fairmount is kicking off its new season with new art installations and a new Al Capone cell exhibit. 

There were more than 100 escape attempts at Eastern State Penitentiary when prisoners were housed there. Inspired by that, artist Alexander Rosenberg created an installation inside one of the cells, showing ropes and other visuals that could be used in a prison escape.

"The rope is made out of shredded bed sheets which has been woven together. I was actually instructed by a friend of mine who was incarcerated for a long time. He taught me the technique how people weave ropes, sometimes weave ropes in contemporary prisons to make a line," he said. 

Related: Artistic layers of paint discovered in Capone's cell during preservation efforts

Using traditional rock climbing equipment, Rosenberg then demonstrated his escape skills by climbing the 30 foot stone wall of the penitentiary.

Also new this season is an entirely new Al Capone cell exhibit. A recent discovery of an old article describing the cell mentioned a cell mate.   

The exhibit is in a new cell now with two beds, fine furnishings, a radio cabinet, rugs and paintings. There is even a cigar in an ash tray.

Eastern State Penitentiary historic site in Fairmount is kicking off its new season with new art installations and a new Al Capone cell exhibit.
John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

The rehabilitation work on the cell that formerly housed the exhibit came to a halt a few months ago when colorful and decorative paint schemes were reveled under the plaster.

It was decided that cell should be its own exhibit and the Capone cell display was relocated to a neighboring cell. 

Capone stayed in one of four cells during his stay in 1929 into 1930. It's not known exactly which one. 

"History is always changing, you know, our understanding of the past is constantly evolving and so we do our best and this is our best guess of what it looked like when Al Capone lived here in 1929. But it's always changing and we will probably find something else down the road that will call into question about everything we understand now," said Sean Kelley, the director of public programming and the senior vice president. 

Another art installation is called Airplanes, in which there are dozens of paper airplanes hanging in one cell made by incarcerated people from their personal letters, denied appeals and other paper materials.