Eastern State was viewed as a progressive reform in that it eliminated many of the excesses of physical punishment practiced at the time. Despite this, it was widely believed to have caused significant mental illness among its prisoners due to solitary confinement.
When Charles Dickens visited Philadelphia, the prison was one of two landmarks he wanted to see.
The facility has been kept as a "preserved ruin," meaning that no significant attempts have been made for renovations or upkeep. Guests are asked to sign a liability waiver due to some minor safety concerns.
The film Twelve Monkeys used it as the setting for a mental hospital. The Sci Fi Channel's Ghost Hunters and MTV's Fear both explored the supernatural at Eastern State.
Eastern State is the home of several special events every year. The most popular is the Halloween season's Terror Behind the Walls, where sections of the prison are turned into "Haunted Houses". A celebration is also held every July 14 in honor of Bastille Day.