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New Exhibit At Eastern State Penitentiary Displays Historic Treasures Public Rarely Sees

Prison Warden Herbert Smith (R) with an inmate from 1939. (credit: Eastern State Penitentiary)

Prison Warden Herbert Smith (R) with an inmate from 1939. (credit: Eastern State Penitentiary)

John McDevitt John McDevitt
John McDevitt has been a reporter and editor at KYW Newsradio 1060...
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By John McDevitt

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “Sin and Salvation” — that’s the name of an eleven day pop-up museum that opened Saturday inside the walls of Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount.

The artifacts that rarely go on display tell part of the story of the inmates that were once housed there.

Things like handcuffs, shanks, a 1906 mug shot book, a death ledger from the 1930s and a bible from the 1960s are some of the items in the cases of the exhibit.

There are also photographs — two showing inmates performing in radio Christmas concert broadcast in 1939. A KYW Newsradio microphone is visible in each of them.

Prisoners performing at the concert in 1939 (credit: Eastern State Penitentiary)

Prisoners performing at the concert in 1939 (credit: Eastern State Penitentiary)

“It looks like KYW was coming in every year around Christmas time for a few years in the 1930s and 40s and then they would broadcast the inmates singing or playing instruments and they would raise money for the Prisoners Family Welfare Association,” said Erica Harman, the senior specialist for collections and administration at Eastern State Penitentiary. “The money was used to support the children of inmates.”

Eastern State Penitentiary was an active prison for 142 years until it was closed in 1971. Tours started up in the early 1990s.

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