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Party at the Pen

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia held its 5th annual masquerade party, Party at the Pen. I’ve never been to such a party, and I waited too long to find a mask. The local party supply store had one style left, the red and black sequined Firebird. I could have ordered something online sooner, but since I wear glasses, I needed to be sure that whatever I chose could be comfortably worn over plastic frames. The Firebird fit the bill, or beak, as it were.


Luckily, I had clothes in my closet to match the mask. A red shirt intended for the holidays paired well with black dress pants and loafers. The neckline was adorned with pearls and clear stones. I added pearl jewelry and my trusty black Vera Bradley wristlet, and I was set.

Before the event we ate at Urban Saloon, located across from the prison. I was famished, so I enjoyed a chicken tender appetizer accompanied by tater tots. Any place that has tater tots on the menu is a place for me. I had a tasty burger I created myself with swiss cheese, raw onions, and barbecue sauce. I declined more delicious tots in favor of a salad, and I didn’t regret my decision. It was one of the best salads I’ve tasted. I would definitely visit Urban Saloon again. In fact, I look forward to a return trip.

At 9:00 p.m. it was time to head over to the prison. At the entrance, each person was given a small flashlight to help them navigate the dark areas of the facility.

We were greeted by an assortment of characters when we entered the prison. A clown on stilts held an inflatable net to catch balls thrown by guests. While I failed miserably, my friend got one in and got a drink for her trouble.


My husband and friend played a game of Slushin’ Roulette while I looked on taking pictures. I’ve toured the prison before, but being in it at night was a real treat, and there were great photo opportunities.


We saw two cells open to reveal black light scenes, one a mermaid, the other a man in a hazmat suit. They were neat, but we weren’t sure what they had to do with anything.

Another show that was described as explosive occurred near the Speakeasy. The skit culminated in bubbles, something to do with cleaning for the queen. The only reaction from the audience was the sound of silence.

I thought the DJ was great. I’m not into dance music, but he played many songs that I knew back from my nights spent dancing at the now shuttered Coastline in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He played a mix that appealed to all ages, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. I even brought my two left feet to the dance floor, which was the room from which the cell blocks ran. Eastern State is modeled after a wheel and spoke architecture, the center of the wheel was our dance floor, and the spokes were the cell blocks.


We enjoyed this event, but we’re not sure we would return. The tickets were pricey at $85.00 per person, plus an additional parking fee. I was offered one butlered hors d’oeuvre, a piece of chicken that was average. There was also a dessert table (loved the cinnamon candy) and a mashed potato bar, which was the greatest thing ever. Other than dancing and a lounge singer, there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. Sure, the booze was included, but if you don’t drink or are a one and done type, it wasn’t worth it. I would like to see a price point for non-drinkers, but I’m not sure how that would work. The event was basically a dance party held inside the prison, which was unique, but not necessarily repeatable. Still, the proceeds go toward the upkeep of the prison, which is why we attended. If you’ve never taken a daytime tour, it’s well worth it. I love Eastern State, and encourage everyone to visit. Give the masquerade a chance if you’ve never been.

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