Some former prisons are becoming popular tourist attractions, says the New York Times. One is Philadelphia’s 1829-era Eastern State Penitentiary. Almost 150,000 tourists passed through its forbidding gates last year – into a dark hallway, through a gift shop that has a subterranean feel and down dusty corridors lined by crumbling walls. They go through cellblocks; gaze at the mess halls, hospital and prison chapel; climb into a guard tower; and pace in the exercise yard. They peer into the cells of death row. Eastern State is one of three dozen prisons and jails now collectively drawing millions of visitors each year around the country.
From Maui to Louisiana, crowds tread dark passages. Prisons proudly display cells once inhabited by famous criminals. Some show off gallows or an electric chair. There is a proposal to open a museum at Sing Sing in Ossining, N.Y. So far, plans have been stymied by the cost and by doubts in some quarters about the wisdom of opening the grounds of a working maximum security prison. In a handful of prisons, guests are paying to stay over – though in much-improved quarters. In Boston, the 1851 Charles Street Prison on Beacon Hill has been remodeled into a hotel, the Liberty, to open this summer with vestiges of jail cells in the lobby and bars on several of the windows. Abroad, ex-prisons that are now hotels can be found in Amsterdam, Istanbul, and Oxford, England. The Times traces the trend to the 1971 National Park Service opening of the decaying remains of Alcatraz, the notorious maximum-security prison in San Francisco Bay. It was opened for five years, on the assumption interest would peter out. It soon became one of the biggest tourist attractions in Northern California and has remained open.