Wandering between the walls

The Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls is one of Philadelphia’s most notoriously scary attractions. The Temple News takes you on a walk through the chilling prison.

The Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls is one of Philadelphia’s most notoriously scary attractions. The Temple News takes you on a walk through the chilling prison.

Courtesy easternstate.org Guards like these try to intimidate visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary.

Anything can be scary if you psych yourself out enough. The Eastern State Penitentiary is no exception. Its Halloween attraction, “Terror Behind the Walls,” takes visitors through five haunted attractions and scares the living spook out of you.

I suggest you bring a friend.

The night I went to the Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls, Saturday, Sept. 26, I brought my roommate Julia. It was raining, and we were cold and wet as we hopped off the Girard Trolley at Corinthian Street. Huddled under one flimsy black umbrella, we used the GPS on Julia’s phone to guide us.

Eventually, we bagged the GPS and followed the penitentiary’s lights, which illuminated the night’s sky in the distance. As we approached the massive, gray eerie building, we held each other’s hands tightly.
After showing our tickets, signing our lives away in a waiver we didn’t read and having our pictures taken in front of a brick wall, we thought this was the end. The photos were the last we’d have taken, we said to each other. We were really psyching ourselves out. Still, we huddled into the line that took us through the daunting unknown.

We had a good group with us. Well, we had two good groups in front of and behind us, and since we were a duo, we went through the attractions with them. We were split up and led through two separate sides of the penitentiary to hear a pale, bloody prison warden spit out the rules and regulations of the Halloween haunting.

Julia and I still held hands tight as we made our way into the first attraction, labeled “Intake.” But before we could enter, a warden asked the group if we were scared for our lives. I yelled, “Yes,” which was a big mistake. He blocked us in, just the two of us alone with his deadly look, cold eyes and hoarse voice. He was inches away from my fear-stricken face as he told us we would “be lucky to get out alive,” before he let us pass. We held onto each other as we booked it out of there, screaming and crying.

We ran out into the prison yard and up a ramp that led us past the prison bus that was left abandoned years ago. There were chain link fences surrounding us as we looked up at the guard towers, leaving ourselves completely off-guard as a mutilated prisoner hissed in our faces.

Next we were sentenced to “Lock Down,” the second attraction. We entered the three-story ominous façade of Cellblock 12. The fog clouded my vision as I reached for Julia’s shoulders, fighting to squeeze my eyes shut to block the horror. Prisoners reached through the cellblocks, grasping for life and moaning in agony. Haunted sounds and shaky lighting filled the room as I ran past the abandoned cellblock corridor lined with ghostly inmates. I looked over my shoulder at every turn, completely freaked out that I was the last person in the crowd, with the whole dark and dreary prison corridors lingering behind me, waiting for me to be left alone.

After we escaped, we walked across ramps taking us to the newest attraction at Terror Behind the Walls, “the Infirmary.”

The Infirmary is the prison’s long-forsaken medical wing, full of derelict inmates screaming and startling visitors as they walk through the operating rooms, recovery wards, sterilization chambers and the morgue. Behind every turn was a surprise; some rooms had insane patients who tried to dismember me, and other rooms were completely empty of anything but the smell. One room had a tub, gurgling with stale water and filled my nose with a dirty musk. Past the morgue, in the last room, a prisoner sang a happy song, but it was anything but cheerful.

After the Infirmary, we were given 3-D glasses. Neon paint splattered walls camouflaged the prisoners in “the Experiment,” making it the scariest room yet. I kept my eyes open and alert and clung to Julia with locked arms as we whimpered and screamed our way past shapes that bumped us and doors that opened to reveal a prisoner scaring the living hell out of us. I have never been so excited to return a pair of 3-D glasses.

For the last attraction, “Night Watch,” we were given tiny flashlights that barely worked. We walked through the fog out of the back hallways of the penitentiary. I looked behind me and prepared myself for every corner, but no zombie prisoners jumped out to spook me, making it all the more scary. There were no other lights except for those flashlights.

After leaving the penitentiary, we walked out into the prison yard which was full of stands selling funnel cakes, chicken fingers and soft pretzels. It was weird to see those things as I still heard the screams and scary sounds from the prison just behind me. We just wanted to get the heck out of there.

Walking off the prison grounds and back to Girard Street, it was still raining, cold and dark as ever. I remember wishing we still had those barely operational flashlights.

Melanie Menkevich can be reached at melanie.menkevich@temple.edu.

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