TERROR BEHIND THE WALLS (Eastern State Penitentiary): Philadelphia’s top halloween attraction

The Experiment in ESP’s TERROR BEHIND THE WALLS (Photo credit: Andrew Garn)

The Experiment in ESP’s TERROR BEHIND THE WALLS (Photo credit: Andrew Garn)

One of Philadelphia’s most popular seasonal events is Eastern State Penitentiary’s Halloween offering of TERROR BEHIND THE WALLS. Set within the labyrinth of crumbling cellblocks and overgrown courtyards in the abandoned prison (in operation from 1829-1971), the theatrical production, now in its 22nd year, ranks among the top haunted-house attractions in the US. With mysterious paranormal visions reported since the 1940s, the preserved ruins of the historic site provide the perfect setting for a dramatic fright night filled with ghostly apparitions, scary special effects, and eerie enactments by a “Scream Team” of over 200 local performers. If you think you won’t be scared, think again.

The hair-raising spectacle begins the moment you approach the castellar walls, with monumental smoke-breathing gargoyles overlooking the entrance. Inside the eleven-acre venue, six attractions are staged in different sections of the decayed building–Lock Down, Machine Shop, Detritus, The Experiment, Infirmary, and Night Watch. New this year is the bloody Machine Shop, set in an area of the prison never before open to visitors and requiring a walk through the former death row. Among the most electrifying of the immersive scenes is The Experiment, with state-of-the-art 3-D illusions in glowing black-light colors.

A gargoyle overlooks the entrance to Eastern State Penitentiary’s TERROR BEHIND THE WALLS (Photo credit: Krystle Marcellus)

A gargoyle overlooks the entrance to Eastern State Penitentiary’s TERROR BEHIND THE WALLS (Photo credit: Krystle Marcellus)

Visitors have the option to watch the proceedings or to participate in them (a Day-Glo necklace indicates your consent to full interaction with the prison’s creepy denizens–to be touched, grabbed, and even separated from your companions), but be forewarned that this is not for the faint of heart; you will be surprised, startled, and, at times, frightened out of your wits! Parts of the show are in total darkness, with disorienting strobe lights and fog effects throughout, and the pavements are sometimes uneven, so if you go, be sure to wear sensible shoes (and yes, I do recognize the irony of ME saying THAT). You can also opt for one of the VIP Experiences, available for a higher ticket price. Either way, it’s a wild walk through the past, in the spine-tingling presence of the living dead. AAAAAAAH!!! [2027 Fairmount Ave.] September 19-November 8, 2014; http://www.easternstate.org.

 

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.