Under normal circumstances, a national historic landmark doesn’t sound all that scary. However, if that landmark happens to be a 179-year-old abandoned prison, odds are that a walk through its hallways will spook even the most unwavering of people.
In the spirit of Halloween, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia has resurrected its haunted house program, Terror Behind the Walls (TBTW), which runs from the end of September through the first few days of November.
Program director Sean Kelley is in charge of marketing, tours and events like TBTW.
“TBTW is one of the largest and most ambitious haunted houses in the United States,” Kelley said. “It features live actors, special effects and the natural eerieness of Eastern State Penitentiary itself.”
Rated one of the top six haunted houses in America by The Travel Channel, this elaborate show is composed of five attractions: 13 Rooms, Lock Down, Night Watch, Intake and a new 3-D act called The Experiment.
TBTW is not for the faint-hearted. In Night Watch, participants are armed with only a flashlight as they make their way down the pitch-black halls of the penitentiary. Lock Down tours the prison’s cellblock, showing off the insane inmates and chilling visitors to the bone.
It is true the attractions may be frightening, but it is all in good fun. And although the actors do jump out at unsuspecting guests, there is no touching or grabbing allowed.
If TBTW seems a bit too extreme for those who are easily scared, Eastern State Penitentiary also runs daytime tours of the historic prison. Accompanied by a narration from actor Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs), guests can wander the penitentiary’s 11-acre complex.
“The tour highlights include Al Capone’s cell, the solitary exercise yards and death row,” Kelley said.
Kelley thinks it is the building’s history that makes the grounds so creepy.
“Eastern State Penitentiary has been abandoned since the early 1970s, and it’s in a state of severe ruin,” he said. “Visitors really feel like they’re discovering the place for the first time when they walk in, and, of course, the building’s dark history naturally makes people think of the supernatural.”
So go ahead, have a terror-ific Halloween.
Catch the haunted house, rain or shine, for the last three nights, tonight from 7-11 p.m. ($25 tickets), tomorrow night from 7 p.m. to midnight ($30 tickets) or Sunday from 7-11 p.m. ($25 tickets). For more information, visit www.easternstate.org.