It’s hard to imagine a gothic castle-like structure close to campus. But standing at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue is a chilling reminder of times past: Eastern State Penitentiary.
The prison annually draws thousands to its Halloween celebration, “Terror Behind the Walls,” and this year was no exception.
What better setting for the frightful month of October than an 11-acre prison enclosed by 30-foot high stone walls? The dark corridors, designed in 1829 to be intimidating, remain the same almost 200 years later.
The structure has begun to fall apart, its walls crumbling and cell doors rusting, but these effects of age have only aided in making it the perfect attraction for Halloween thrill seekers.
Rattling chains and empty guard towers lurked over visitors awaiting entrance to the prison. Visitors discovered that the prison was once home to Al Capone and that since 1971 it has been abandoned and falling apart.
The poor prison conditions require the City of Philadelphia, owner of the property, to have visitors complete a waiver before entering and to wear hard hats during their visit.
Sponsored by Y-100, Eastern State Penitentiary began its 2000 Halloween Celebration on Oct. 12, and will be running “Terror Behind the Walls” late into Halloween night.
Planners, anxious to see what professional effects designers could do inside the massive corridors, brought in experts from around the country to create the ultimate scary experience for this season.
Eastern State is Philadelphia’s only 3-D haunted attraction.
Stuart Smith, a Michigan-based mural and effects painter, used Chromadepth technology to create the illusions. This year’s exhibit also had more animated illusions and Hollywood-quality laser effects giving life to the silent prison.
Is it scary? Just imagine being inside an abandoned prison in pitch darkness without a guide. The “Scare Staff” goes to great lengths to make you scream. This is an interactive Halloween experience unlike any other.
In 1965, Eastern State was designated a National Historic Landmark by the federal government. If you have interest in learning about the historic site itself make it an all day affair; the Halloween tour makes no effort to explain the prison’s history.
Also, dress for the weather. Some sections are outdoors and the Penitentiary is not heated. Events run regardless of the weather.
Special theme nights will take place on Oct. 26, Oct. 27 and Halloween. Looking for that special someone? Try singles night on Oct. 27. Searching for an excuse to go out in costume? Costume nights will be on Oct. 26 and Halloween night.
Tickets ($15-$20) are available through Ticketmaster, or at the door. The first tour begins at 6:30 p.m. with closing times varying nightly.
All revenue benefits the preservation efforts of the landmark. You can even write off one-half of your ticket cost (excluding Ticketmaster charges) as a donation to charity on your income taxes.
For more information on Terror Behind The Walls and Eastern State Penitentiary, visit www.easternstate.org or call (215) 236-3300.