Halloween may seem a distant event to many of us, but not for the folks at the Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia’s most famous spooky site.
They are preparing to launch their annual fright fest “Terror Behind the Walls,” an elaborate set of haunted tours through many of the prison’s most notorious venues.
You may be familiar with the prison from the MTV reality show Fear from when it was used as a location during its second season.
It has also appeared in other television programs, like Fox’s The Scariest Places on Earth, and in numerous books.
“Terror Behind the Walls” uses the gruesome history of the prison to its advantage. Many prisoners sentenced to life died within the prison walls.
As the people at the penitentiary will tell you, some of them have never left.
“Terror” is a cut above the rest when it comes to haunted houses. There are simply none that can compare.
“More than half of it is brand new this year,” Eastern State’s Program Director Sean Kelley said.
If previous years are any indication, this year’s special will be one-of-a-kind.
The growth of “Terror Behind the Walls” has been tremendous, especially over the last couple of years, when it really became a major Halloween event.
“Terror Behind the Walls” is no cheap thrill either. It is a genuine production, with some of the most realistic props ever seen.
The work takes months to complete. Planning for the event began in March, and the actual work on the set started in June.
The crew at Eastern doesn’t have to work too hard to scare people. The building itself is enough to send a shiver down your spine.
“You know, when you see [the prison’s] real walls, especially at night,” Kelley said, “it’s real intimidating.”
The audience has grown tremendously, too.
Many of the visitors, especially during October for the “Terror” special, are college students. “I would say about one-third of all our audience is college kids,” Kelley said.
So what is it about Eastern State Penitentiary that attracts so many people, besides the opportunity to tour one of the nation’s most impressive historic landmarks?
The answer: the scare of a lifetime.
And the fear is different for everyone.
“For me, it’s not just one specific ghost,” Kelley said, “it’s the collective experience.”
With all that has gone on in the penitentiary over the years, it has become what believers in ghosts might call a “hot spot” of supernatural activity.
And when you decide to attend the “Terror,” you definately get your money’s worth, in addition to being scared senseless.
After entering the prison, the audience is taken to a prison recreation yard to get the lowdown on the hauntings at Eastern State Penitentiary.
After that, it’s off to four different haunted settings within the prison, including a real cellblock and the famous “Tunnel Escape.”
In all, the four sections of the tour, combined with the elaborate introduction, take about an hour to complete.
This Halloween season, treat yourself to an evening of “Terror Behind the Walls.” You’ll get a great scare, while having a great time.
The special runs Oct. 3 through Nov. 2. Nights and hours vary. Tickets range from $20 on peak nights to $15 for non-peak nights.
Show your Temple ID and get a $2 discount. For details on the schedule, along with an in-depth look at the special, visit https://www.EasternState.org/halloween/index.html.
Ross Bercik can be reached at email@example.com