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Terror behind the walls: A look into a haunted prison

Christine Illes
Associate Photo Editor

Are you looking for a good scare this Halloween season but have been to Field of Screams one too many times?

Eastern State is known to be genuinely haunted and has been featured on shows ‘Ghost Hunters’ and ‘Ghost Adventures.’
Eastern State is known to be genuinely haunted and has been featured on shows ‘Ghost Hunters’ and ‘Ghost Adventures.’

Look no further than Eastern State Penitentiary’s haunted house attraction, Terror Behind the Walls, which opened for its twenty-third year this past weekend.

Located in Philadelphia, this place is more than just a Halloween attraction. Operating from 1829 to 1971 and standing in semi-ruins today, Eastern State used to be the most notorious prison around, known for its lavish castle-like architecture and infamous criminals, such as bank robber Willie Sutton, and Al Capone.

Known to be genuinely haunted, it has been featured (many times) on paranormal television shows such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures.

By day, the 11-acre prison is used as a museum. A $14 admission fee includes an audio tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi, interactive historical exhibits (which includes Al Capone’s cell!) and art installations.

Eastern State Penitentiary was in operation from 1829 to 1971 and gained a reputation for its lavish castle-style architecture.
Eastern State Penitentiary was in operation from 1829 to 1971 and gained a reputation for its lavish castle-style architecture.

At night, the prison turns into a colossal haunted attraction. Regarded as one of the scariest attractions in the country, Terror Behind the Walls knows how to truly scare its audiences. This year, Terror Behind the Walls offers six different attractions, Lock Down, Detritus, Infirmary, The Experiment, Night Watch, and the Machine Shop, new for the 2014 season.

Many are unsure of what to expect when visiting Terror Behind the Walls, especially if they have never been to a haunted attraction before. As you wait in line there are strange guards around who are there to keep an eye on everyone. When you enter, you are able to decide on how intense of an experience you want, just by wearing a red glow stick.

If you do not wear the glow stick, the actors cannot touch you. However, if you do wear the glow stick, actors may decide to grab you, take you away from your group and bring you to hidden passageways, and even incorporate you into the show.

Terror Behind the Walls offer six different attractions that allow for the visitor to decide just how intense of an experience they’d like.
Terror Behind the Walls offer six different attractions that allow for the visitor to decide just how intense of an experience they’d like.

Each attraction has something different to offer, taking you into different areas of the prison. Be prepared for many strobe lights and fog. Lock Down takes place inside of Cellblock 12, known to be one of the most haunted areas of the prison. During Lock Down, there are a handful of prisoners rioting and popping out from every corner. What can easily give you the chills are the extremely loud noises, as you will have no idea where they were coming from.

The second attraction is the new Machine Shop (also extremely loud), a gruesome scene with bloody tools and dismembered body parts strewn everywhere. Detritus incorporates the prison’s greenhouse (which includes a man with a chainsaw and moving trees), and an original 1800’s cellblock. Infirmary takes a disturbing look on prison medical treatment, filled with corpses, body ligaments, creepy nurses, and a dentist who is not afraid to throw audience members onto his chair.

The Experiment is a 3-D funhouse, which is the result of a “gas spill.” This attraction feels psychedelic, full of colors and heads popping out of walls. Night Watch was the closing attraction and definitely the scariest, as you are almost in complete darkness. The hallways are narrow, making you feel very claustrophobic. The best part of this attraction? Terrifying characters literally coming out of the walls towards you.

The overall experience is capable of being very frightening. It can be difficult to tell the difference between prop and actor due to the incredible effects and make-up. The trip to Philadelphia is well worth the experience. Another recommendation is to take the day tour beforehand, as you can learn about the prisons’ history.

The sooner you take the trip, the better! Tickets are cheap now, and the price will just go up the closer it gets to Halloween! If you are interested in Terror Behind the Walls and want to see what it is all about, visit www.easternstate.org/Halloween.