What To Do: Tired of lockdown? Go visit a prison

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Eastern State Penitentiary

With COVID-19 still in full throttle attack mode, one of the last places you want to be is a prison.

Actually, under any circumstances, one of the last places you want to be is a prison.

But there are exceptions – such as Alcatraz Island and Eastern State Penitentiary.

Alcatraz Island was a federal prison from 1934 until 1963. Since 1972, it has been a National Park as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Among those who served time at the maximum-security facility were the notorious gangster Al “Scarface” Capone and murderer Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud. No inmate ever successfully escaped The Rock, as the prison was nicknamed.

On Monday, August 17, Alcatraz Island will reopen however interiors of facilities will remain closed.

Visiting the historic site is a fun way to spend a day – but not very practical for local residents.

It would take a long drive, a very long train ride, a brutally long bus ride or a health challenging airplane ride followed by short boat ride to reach the park which is located in San Francisco Bay.

A much better option is a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary (2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, www.easternstate.org) which reopened to the public on August 14. In its first phase of reopening, the venue will be offer hours Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

All tickets must be purchased online in advance. No tickets will be available at the door. In order to maintain 25% capacity and allow for physical distancing, visitors will select a 30-minute entry window.

Staff and visitors (ages 2+) will be required to wear a face mask over their nose and mouth at all times. If you do not have your own mask, you can purchase a fabric mask when you buy your ticket online.

Hand sanitizer will be available, and visitors will be asked to sanitize their hands before entering the site. Physical distancing will be required in any queues and throughout the site. Markers will be present to help ensure that groups of visitors remain 6 feet apart at all times.

When possible, doors will be propped open to increase ventilation of enclosed areas. Cleaning, particularly of high-touch areas, will be increased. Plexiglass shields will be installed in admissions and at any other points of contact.

Visitors will follow a linear, one-way path through the site. Areas of the penitentiary accessible along this path include the main audio tour route (Cellblocks 1 and 4, central surveillance hub), the baseball field (including The Big Graph), Prisons Today, Cellblock 15 (Death Row), and Cellblocks 2, 10, and 9.

Printed maps will not be available. You may take a photo of a map displayed in front of the penitentiary or view a digital map, which will be made available on our website. All audio guides will be thoroughly sanitized between uses. Disposable earbuds will be distributed, or feel free to bring your own.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers.

Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners.

A common link between Alcatraz and Eastern State is “Scarface.”

Eastern State Penitentiary’s vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious lawbreakers, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone.

Alphonse “Scarface” Capone got his first taste of prison life in Philadelphia.

Capone stopped in Philadelphia while traveling from Atlantic City back to his home in Chicago in May 1929. He was arrested outside a movie theater for carrying a concealed, unlicensed .38 caliber revolver. The Philadelphia courts were tough.

They handed Capone the maximum sentence — one year in prison. Capone served seven months of that sentence in this cell.

But while the Philadelphia courts tried to make an example of Chicago’s famous bootlegger, the officials at Eastern State Penitentiary were very nice to Al Capone.

Philadelphia newspapers noted that Capone’s cell contained fine furniture, beautiful rugs, tasteful paintings, and a fancy radio. He liked to listen to waltzes in his cell.

Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $11 for students and children ages 7-12. (Not recommended for children under the age of seven.)

On August 15, it’s time for “WWII Victory Day on the Battleship.”

Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial

The event, which will run from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., is being hosted by Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial (62 Battleship Place,
Camden, New Jersey, www.battleshipnewjersey.org).

To commemorate the end of World War II, the Battleship New Jersey will be celebrating with a bang and featuring the arrival of a WWII Japanese plane.

The museum will use the ship’s air defenses against an attack of a Japanese Zero replica plane. The Navy’s intelligence indicates that the Zero will attack at noon on August 15, so visitors are invited to come out and watch the Battleship’s 5in and 40mm guns defend the ship.

NEW JERSEY (BB-62) was decommissioned for the fourth and final time on February 8, 1991 in Long Beach, California and later towed to Bremerton, Washington where she resided until heading home to New Jersey. The Battleship New Jersey opened as a Museum and Memorial in October 2001.
The museum will be giving special tours all day long. All WWII activities can be experienced with the purchase of a Fire Power self-guided tour of the Battleship. Tour tickets are $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children (ages 5-11), veterans and seniors (62 and older).


Winterthur (5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, Delaware, http://www.winterthur.org/) has opened its gates to the public and reservations are required.

Outdoor areas and the first-floor galleries are open. The Winterthur Store is open. Some in-person programs are available including guided garden walks and garden tram tours.

Guided Garden Walks — “Exploring History and Horticulture in the Garden” – are being held at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays in August. 

These outdoor walking tours are led by staff members who share their insight and expertise about the history and horticulture of the Winterthur Garden and estate.

Wednesday walks will explore the history of the Winterthur estate and leave from the Brown Horticultural Learning Center. Saturday walks will focus on the beauty and design of the garden and depart from the Visitor Center Patio. Each walk will last about one hour and is included with admission.

To ensure a safe experience and comply with reopening regulations mandated by the state of Delaware, tour capacity will be limited and advance registration is required. Visitors and staff must wear face coverings and maintain a social distance of six feet apart during the walk. To provide a touchless admission process, reservations must be made by calling 800.448.3883.

The schedule for August includes:

August 15: Guide’s Choice with Guide Jeni Jackson

August 19: Friends in the Garden: H. F. du Pont and Marian Coffin with Senior Curator of Education Debbie Harper

August 22: Guide’s Choice with Audience Engagement Manager Jennie Brown
August 26: Entertaining at Winterthur with Estate Historian Jeff Groff

August 29: Explore the Meadow with Assistant Curator of Education Eileen Scheck.

The Winterthur Garden Tram Tours (seasonal and weather permitting) will  take place on Fridays and Sundays in August and September with departures at 10 and 11 a.m. and noon. 

This 25-minute narrated open-air tram tour explores the beauty and history of the 60-acre naturalistic garden. Tram Tours depart from the Visitor Center and are included with admission.

To ensure a safe experience and comply with reopening regulations mandated by the state of Delaware, tram tour capacity will be limited and advance registration is required. Visitors and staff must wear face coverings and maintain a social distance of six feet apart. To provide a touchless admission process, reservations must be made by calling 800.448.3883.

Each tour time is limited to eight people at one time. All participants will wear appropriate masks and maintain a social distance of six feet from all other participants and the tour guide.

Almost 60 years ago, collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont (1880–1969) opened his childhood home, Winterthur, to the public. Today, Winterthur (pronounced “winter-tour”) is the premier museum of American decorative arts, with an unparalleled collection of nearly 90,000 objects made or used in America between about 1640 and 1860. The collection is displayed in the magnificent 175-room house, much as it was when the du Pont family lived here, as well as in permanent and changing exhibition galleries.

Winterthur is set amidst a 1,000-acre preserve of rolling meadows and woodlands. Designed by du Pont, its 60-acre naturalistic garden is among America’s best, with magnificent specimen plantings and massed displays of color. Graduate programs and a preeminent research library make Winterthur an important center for the study of American art and culture.

Enchanted Woods is open, but several of the features are closed to play. The second-floor galleries and museum will remain closed for now.

Timed tickets will be available for two-hour intervals, beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. daily. Tickets are $20 for adults, $6 for children (2-11), and $18 for seniors (62) and students (with valid ID).

Just a short drive northwest of Winterthur and two very popular Brandywine Valley attractions – the Brandywine River Museum of Art and Longwood Gardens.

The Brandywine River Museum of Art

The Brandywine River Museum of Art (1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford, www.brandywine.org) has been open to the public since July.

To ensure the safety, security and quality of the visitor experience, the Brandywine is implementing a variety of new procedures including face mask requirements, timed ticketing and capacity limits. Advance reservations are highly recommended.

Special exhibitions will include “Votes for Women: A Visual History,” and “Witness to History: Selma Photography of Stephen Somerstein.”

“Votes for Women: A Visual History” includes drawings, illustrations, and posters from museums, historical societies, and private collections that visualize the complex political messages conveyed by suffragists. Also included are historic photographs of marches and rallies, including the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington D.C. Examples of the costumes, clothing, sashes and other emblems of women’s activism worn by suffragists enliven the presentation, drawing comparisons between the representations and realities of women’s struggle to win the vote.

Presenting an inclusive historical narrative, the exhibition recognizes the efforts of women of color and their community networks, which have been largely overlooked, giving the false impression that women of color were absent from the struggle for voting rights. As a way to recognize these marginalized communities, the Brandywine commissioned a diverse group of women artists to create a mural of illustrated portraits featuring some of the women whose role in winning voting rights has been historically minimized because of their race or ethnicity.

“Witness to History: Selma Photography of Stephen Somerstein” presents 55 of the photographs taken by Somerstein on March 25, 1965, accompanied by his commentary of the day’s events. It is guest curated by Farrah Spott and on view at the Brandywine River Museum of Art as a companion to the exhibition.

The historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, civil rights march concerned one issue—the right to vote. Two thousand marchers set out on March 21 along Route 80, known as the “Jefferson Davis Highway.” After two failed attempts to complete the march, President Johnson dispatched federal and state troops to guard the demonstrators along the way to the state capitol, 54 miles away. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their number had grown to 25,000.

Hearing of the events, 24-year-old student photographer Stephen Somerstein jumped on a bus in New York city and headed to Alabama. He arrived on March 25, in time for the final march to the state capitol. With five cameras around his neck and only 15 rolls of film, Somerstein seemed to be everywhere at once documenting this pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. He captured photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent activists such as Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, John Lewis, and Joan Baez. Somerstein also took poignant portraits of his fellow demonstrators, as well as the anonymous bystanders who had gathered along route to observe the civil action in progress.

Virtual lectures, gallery talks, performances, family programs and a summer art camp for kids will continue to be offered online for the foreseeable future as part of the “Brandywine at Home” initiative.

There will also be a special tribute to Betsy James Wyeth, who passed away in April 2020 — a memorial display of 20 Andrew Wyeth works featuring his wife. All works are from the Andrew and Betsy Wyeth Collection, including quite a few that have never been exhibited before.

Following guidelines set by the CDC and WHO, the Brandywine will be implementing a variety of safety protocols including:

Requirement of face masks that cover both the mouth and nose for all staff and visitors (over the age of two)

Capacity limits in the Museum galleries to enforce social distancing

Timed ticketing to limit the number of visitors in the building

Online ticket purchasing in advance of visit

Temperature checks for staff at the beginning of each shift

Enhanced cleaning routines and hand sanitizer stations throughout the Museum.

Collecting information in case of need for contact tracing

One-way entry for stairs and no more than one family at a time in elevators

Temporary closure of artist studio properties; no guided tours will be offered at this time

Admission to the museum is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors (65+) and $6 for students with ID and children ages 6-18

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens (Route 1, Kennett Square, longwoodgardens.org) which is one of the area’s premier attractions is open to the public again.

Longwood’s website posted this message –

Our Space … Your Place

Summer is here. And at Longwood, there’s room to roam. To relax. To play. To explore. There’s room for fantastic fountains and for family fun. Room to stroll under towering trees and room to savor the season’s beauty. Room to wander. Room to wonder. Room for you.

Just as our Gardens are a place of pleasure and respite, they are also a place of wellness and safety. Please honor the new visiting guidelines we’ve created in accordance with state and local regulations. It takes all of us to make our Gardens a world apart.

We will continue to make updates to our visiting guidelines. We appreciate your ongoing understanding.

When visiting, please remember to:
—Wear a mask
—Make room for one another
—Practice good hygiene
—Mind the green dots
—Follow one-way paths.

Another Longwood website page posted this:

We kept our promise to you. We’re welcoming you back to a place of beauty, a place of resilience, a place that has been so lovingly sustained … for all of our yesterdays, our todays, and our tomorrows.

Our beloved plants and trees have been waiting patiently to show off their beauty, give you a place of respite, and demonstrate the power of resilience. Upon reopening, our visiting experience will be different. We are committed to maintaining our culture of safety and well-being for all. Therefore, we have instituted new visiting guidelines in accordance with state and local regulations to help provide a safer and enjoyable experience while enjoying the beauty of our Gardens.

These new regulations touch many aspects of visiting our Gardens, including operating days and hours, Member reservations and ticket availability, personal protective equipment when visiting, arrival practices, mobility rentals, available restrooms, open garden spaces and pathways, and more. Conditions in our Gardens will continue to evolve, as will visiting guidelines, and we look forward to offering additional experiences as soon as we are able.

For example, some of our iconic outdoor garden spaces will require mindful walking in order to maintain safety and social distancing while you enjoy them … but they’re still here and still thriving. Our indoor spaces, including our Conservatory and Peirce-du Pont House will not be available upon our reopening … but they’ll be ready and waiting for when we can once again open their doors.

Upon reopening, we will be keeping our fountains running continuously throughout the day. The fountains will be dancing to the sounds of water and nature, not to music nor to dedicated shows, so you may soak in the splendor at any time while still maintaining social distancing.

While conditions will evolve and guidelines will change, many constants remain. Our appreciation for you. Our gratitude for one another. Our joy in sharing our beauty with you. And our commitment to many, many more beautiful tomorrows. Welcome back to Longwood.

A nice thing about Longwood Gardens is that there are plenty of things to do inside such as its impressive conservatory and indoor gardens as well as outside.

One of the featured outdoor attractions is the fountain performances — 12-minute performances daily at 11:15 a.m.; 1:15, 3:15 and 5:15 p.m. plus a 12-minute performance Fridays and Saturdays at 7:15 p.m., and 5-minute performances at 6:15 and 8:15 p.m.

The Open Air Theatre Fountain Shows featuring 750 jets in changing patterns are presented several times every day. The five-minute shows run daily at 10:15 a.m., and 12:15, 2:15 and 4:15 p.m.

The Illuminated Fountain Performances are 30-minute spectacles in which water in all shapes, sizes, and heights combines with music and infinite colors. The shows are presented Fridays and Saturdays at 9:15 p.m. each night.

Video link for Illuminated Fountain Performances — https://youtu.be/AHsC2YuFerY.

Admission to Longwood Gardens is — Adults, $25; seniors (ages 62 and older) and college students (with valid ID), $22; youth (ages 5-18), $13; children (4 and under), free.

Hagley Museum & Library

Hagley Museum & Library (200 Hagley Creek Road, Wilmington, Delaware, www.hagley.org) has opened the lower property with miles of trails and stunning scenery along the Brandywine.

But things haven’t gone quite as planned.

Violent storms over the last few days have altered the museum’s schedule and prompted this message on its website –

Hagley Closure Alert — Because of extensive storm damage, Hagley is closed through Friday, August 14.

Another message on the site was –

Hagley’s 2020 Fireworks Shows on August 14 – Canceled.

Hagley is canceling its annual fireworks shows in response to COVID-19.

Be sure to save the dates for next year’s shows scheduled for June 11 and 18, 2021.

Located on 235 acres along the banks of the Brandywine, Hagley is the site of the gunpowder works founded by E.I. du Pont in 1802. This example of early American industry features indoor and outdoor exhibitions, including restored mills, a workers community, and the ancestral home and garden of the du Pont family.

One of the site’s highlights is Eleutherian Mills.

High on a bank of the Brandywine River overlooking the original powder mills, E. I. du Pont, founder of the DuPont Company, built his home. For almost a century, the Georgian-style home and surrounding complex of buildings and gardens served as the center of family and business life. Five generations of du Pont family members lived in the house since its completion in 1803, each leaving their mark.

Today you will see it much as it was when the last family member lived there, filled with furnishings and collections of American folk art, alongside treasured family pieces and items brought with the family from France when they left in 1799.

The residence complex, accessible by one of Hagley’s tour buses, is a large, walkable area that includes the barn, the du Pont family home, the “First Office” of the Company, Lammot du Pont’s Workshop, and the E. I. du Pont Garden. Guided tours of the home and first office are given throughout the day. The remainder of the complex is yours to explore at your own pace.

The First Office of the DuPont Company was constructed in 1837 and remained the nerve center for the company for more than fifty years. An early typewriter, ledgers, and telegraph key reflect the business activities that were once housed in this building.

Admission to Hagley is $7 for adults and $5 for children (6 and older).

Another horticultural attraction — PHS Meadowbrook Farm (1633 Washington Lane, Jenkintown, https://phsonline.org/locations/phs-meadowbrook-farm) — just reopened last week.

Meadowbrook Farm

PHS Meadowbrook Farm is a free public garden where visitors can enjoy acres of beautiful, unique plant life against the backdrop of a historic estate. It is a 25-acre property bequeathed to The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 2004 by J. Liddon Pennock, Jr.

Today, visitors enjoy formal and informal gardens, lively expertly led programs and events and a specialized Plant Shop.

A series of outdoor “Garden Rooms” form the PHS Garden at Meadowbrook Farm. Formal gardens, a large display garden, pollinator garden, cutting garden, xeric garden, cacti and succulent garden, rain garden, rock garden, and woodland path offer changing interest April through September-October.

The farm is welcoming visitors by reservation only.

Two timed openings will be offered on Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m. A limit of 30 guests per time slot will be permitted to enter the gardens.

Meadowbrook Farm’s 2020 COVID-19 Safety Guidelines are –

  1. Wear a Mask Masks must be worn at all times while visiting PHS Meadowbrook Farm, its gardens, and The Plant Shop. Exceptions: children under eight (8) years of age, guests with medical conditions, and pets. 2. Social Distancing Stay safe, and please keep a distance of six (6) feet apart when walking around the gardens and visiting The Plant Shop. 3. Make a Reservation Timed reservations are required to visit PHS Meadowbrook Farm. Thirty (30) persons are permitted to visit the gardens per timed session to help us ensure that all visitors can safely be socially distant. 4. Checking In All visitors will be asked to certify that they and their guests are not currently suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. All guests must be wearing a mask; if you do not have a mask, one will be provided to you, and it must be worn throughout your timed visit. 5. Plant Shop Only six (6) people are permitted in The Plant Shop at one time. When shopping, all visitors must keep six (6) feet apart. 6. One Way Visitors will be guided on a one-way path through the gardens, helping us to ensure all visitors can maintain a safe social distance at all times. 7. Lounging Picnic areas are closed at this time. Guests cannot sit or lounge anywhere on the PHS Meadowbrook Farm premises. Guests may not pack food to consume while visiting. 8. Refreshments Meadowbrook does not offer public drinking fountains or sell refreshments. Please consider packing a water bottle for your visit. You may not pack food to eat while visiting. 9. Public Restrooms Public restrooms are open. Only two (2) persons are permitted in a restroom at one time.

A new drive-in movie theater has just opened a few miles west of Valley Forge National Historic Park at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks.

The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks (100 Station Avenue, Oaks, https://cinemadriveins.com/Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks) has partnered with entertainment company Kilburn Live to bring “Cinema Pop-ups” to the Expo Center Fairgrounds.

Tickets are available for $25 per car and each show begins at 9 p.m. With car spaces at least eight feet apart, guests will have plenty of space to social distance.

The schedule for this weekend features “Gremlins” on August 14, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” on August 15 and “Happy Feet” on August 16.

LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Philadelphia (500 West Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, https://philadelphia.legolanddiscoverycenter.com) has opened its doors to the public again.

Kids will have the opportunity to build, create and play at LEGOLAND® Discovery Center – an attraction featuring more than two million LEGO® bricks.

Children and adults will have an awesome experience in the safe, child-friendly and, most importantly, fun environment. The experience is designed for children ages 3-10 years but also can provide LEGO-tastic fun for the whole family.

Ticket prices start at $15.


The “Biergarten” has returned for the summer of 2020 at Cannstatter Volksfest Verein (5130 Academy Road, Philadelphia, www.cannstatter.org).

The German traditional event will be open every Friday (until the end of October) and Saturday night (until the end of August). Cannstatter has the largest outdoor Biergarten in Northeast Philadelphia and is open every Friday and Saturday from 5-10 p.m.

Tasty German food and drink will be available for purchase and live German music will be featured each night. Weather permitting, this is an outside event. Pets and outside food and drinks are prohibited and there is no cover charge.

There will be live entertainment from 7:30-9:30 p.m. in Cannstatter’s picnic grove featuring some of the best local bands and musicians.

Food and drink offerings are “The Famous CVV Wings – Hot, Mild and Naked,” Chicken Tenders, Hamburger/Cheeseburger/Veggie-burger, Bratwurst, Hot Sausage, Mozzarella Sticks, Onion Rings, French Fries, Cheese Fries, German Pretzels and other weekly specials.

There will be a large selection of German and domestic beers on tap as well as mixed drinks, wine and bottled beer.

The line-up of live music acts for the remainder of August is: 14, Slick Rhodes; 15, The Shanty’s; 21, Stealing From Thieves; 22, Pawnshop Roses; 28, Warehouse Winos; and 29, Celtic Connection.

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