I absolutely hate haunted attractions. I have an active imagination… I can’t even watch CSI and Law & Order type shows without wondering what my weird neighbor might be up to over there. Zach, on the other hand, doesn’t scare very easily. He’s been bugging me for years about going to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia for their annual Halloween haunted attraction, Terror Behind the Walls. I’ve yet to concede, but I’m not opposed to touring the facility when it’s not decked out with spooks for Halloween.
This year the Penitentiary celebrates its 20th anniversary, but its history is much older than that. Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 as part of a new prison movement, “confinement in solitude with labor.” The building and its grounds quickly became one of the most expensive and most copied buildings at the time. In fact, it is estimated that over 300 prisons worldwide are based on Eastern State’s wagon wheel (or radial) floor plan.
Eastern State attracted a handful of celebrities in its time. English author Charles Dickens visited the facility in 1842 and later wrote, “The System is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement, and I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong…” Famous inmates include bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone. The prison closed its doors in 1970 and sat in decline for many years until a group of people set out to preserve the National Historic Landmark. The first limited group tours started in 1988; historic tours on a daily basis began in 1994.
The Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls is considered America’s largest haunted attraction and I’m inclined to believe that. The haunted house runs through Nov. 12 so if your Halloween weekend is littered with costume parties and parades, you have plenty of time.
This year, they’ve introduced two more spooky exhibits inside the Penitentiary, bumping the number of frightful exhibits to six. Prices range from $20 to $30 per person, depending on when you go.
If you go:
Eastern State Penitentiary – Terror Behind the Walls
22nd and Fairmount Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19130