Set inside the massive castle-like walls of the 185 year old Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, the setting for Terror Behind the Walls is creepy in itself. Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a lost world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Terror Behind the Walls, America’s largest haunted house, is located inside the massive castle-like walls of the penitentiary. This extraordinary theatrical production, consistently ranked among the top haunted attractions in the nation, runs on select evenings from September 19 through November 8, 2014.
Engraving of Eastern State Penitentiary. Built up on a hill on the site of a cherry orchard about a mile and a half outside 19th Century Philadelphia, Eastern State Penitentiary was known as Cherry Hill. [Image: George Lehman, 1833. Lithograph by Childs and Inman]
Engraving of Eastern State Penitentiary. This hand-colored etching and engraving shows Eastern State Penitentiary's massive façade in the early 1830s. When the Penitentiary opened in 1829, it was surrounded by farmland and sat almost a mile and half from the 19th century city. But the city quickly grew up around the prison. Today, Eastern State Penitentiary sits in Center City Philadelphia, five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. [C. Burton, 1831]
Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 as the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. This gothic structure, perfect as a haunted Halloween attraction, with soaring 30-foot high fortress walls, is intimidating enough during the day. At night, the cellblocks fall into darkness, and the building becomes truly terrifying, especially at Halloween.
Night Watch (one of five separate attractions at Eastern State Penitentiary's Terror Behind the Walls) is the world's first Halloween haunted attraction that visitors explore with flashlights -the ultimate Halloween experience!
Terror Behind the Walls has grown from a single-night event in 1991 to a 31-night event with shows selling out far in advance. More than half of the visitors who attended in 2013 traveled to Philadelphia for the event, with tickets sold to visitors in 50 states and 26 foreign countries, making Terror Behind the Walls a national and international destination for thrill-seekers and Halloween lovers.
Photographer: Jeff Fusco
An extraordinary theatrical production, Terror Behind the Walls features Hollywood-quality sets, custom-designed props, animatronics, and digital sound effects, all taking place within the walls of the prison. It takes an elite team of 14 makeup artists almost three hours to prepare the cast of more than 200 Halloween performers each evening. Terror Behind the Wall begins with a critical decision for visitors: should they explore the prison and watch the action, or should they mark themselves to truly interact with the denizens of the cellblocks? Those who opt in for true interactivity may be grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways, removed from their group, and even occasionally incorporated into the show. They will deal with the consequences of their decision through six long attractions.
After an extremely popular first year, Eastern State Penitentiary’s “After Dark VIP Tour” returns for 2011. This ultimate Halloween experience begins with an hour-long, guided flashlight walking tour of this National Historic Landmark. Highlights include the cellblocks, Death Row, Al Capone’s cell, and the underground punishment cells below Cellblock 14. Following the tour, guests will be escorted to the front of the Terror Behind the Walls’ lines. Visitors can remember their evening with a souvenir photo, taken inside the penitentiary, and a special Terror Behind the Walls LED flashlight (included in admission).
When Eastern State Penitentiary was completed in 1836, it was known for its radial floor plan and central surveillance. All seven original cellblocks could be seen by a single overseer or guard from the Central Rotunda. However, when Cellblocks 8 and 9 were added in 1877, mirrors had to be installed in the hallway to allow guards to see down these new blocks from the center.
Many people believe that Eastern State Penitentiary is haunted. As early as the 1940s, officers and inmates reported mysterious visions and eerie experiences in the ancient prison. With the growing interest in paranormal investigations, Eastern State Penitentiary may now be the most carefully studied building in the United States. Nearly 60 paranormal teams visit to explore the site in a typical year. The historic site’s website features extensive television, video, and website links that document real paranormal investigations inside the 182-year old prison.
Six-foot tall, 300 pound gargoyles named “Frank and Carson” sit atop the 30-foot façade tower of Eastern State Penitentiary during Terror Behind the Walls, Eastern State’s massive Halloween haunted house. The gargoyle couple was designed and constructed specifically for Eastern State Penitentiary by Creative Visions in St. Louis, and the design has never been duplicated.
The penitentiary has been featured on The Travel Channel’s Most Haunted Live, Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places, TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters, The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge, and MTV’s FEAR. Footage captured on SyFy’s Ghost Hunters may be the most controversial ghost sighting of the past 10 years. During the filming of Paranormal Challenge this year, Zak Bagans called Eastern State Penitentiary “one of the most haunted places in the world.”
Meals on Wheels. Eastern State Penitentiary was the worldís first true "Penitentiary." In order to encourage penitence - or true regret - in the hearts of criminals, inmates would spend their entire sentence in solitary confinement. Meals were delivered to the inmates and they ate in their cells. Food carts ran on tracks along the catwalks in the two story cellblocks.
The Six Attractions:
Terror Behind the Walls, the ultimate Halloween experience, consists of several haunted attractions that create a seamless experience for visitors. For 2014, Terror Behind the Walls unveils the most interactive attraction in the history of the event – Machine Shop. Hidden deep inside the cellblocks is a long-forgotten machine shop. Evil pervades this space – an evil with one mind but with many bodies. Will visitors survive, or will they become just another cog in the machine? This one-of-a-kind attraction features intense startles, immersive one-on-one experiences, and gruesome industrial scenes. It takes the highly interactive Terror Behind the Walls experience to new heights.
All sections are included in one admission price:
The Gauntlet –
The experience begins with a disorienting maze, as visitors are ushered through numerous distractions and startles. This massive outdoor puzzle is full of surprises at every turn. As visitors try to find their own way out, they’ll find unexpected obstacles, objects and very unfriendly creatures blocking their way to freedom.
Lock Down – Visitors enter the looming façade of Cellblock 12, which is said to be one of the most haunted locations inside the prison. The inmates take over as the chaotic scene is filled with fog, sound, lighting effects, and arcing electrical currents from three oversized Tesla Coils. Guests are led to the second floor for a spectacular and eerie view down the long-abandoned cellblock corridor, and finally through groups of zombie inmates, all standing very, very still. . . . Some visitors choose to leave the show after Lock Down. It’s that intimidating.
Infirmary takes the fear of hospitals to a whole new level as this abandoned prison hospital is explored. Visitors will discover the world of medical treatments including psychotherapy, hydrotherapy, and medical experiments gone wrong. The attraction features a giant custom sterilization chamber that is sure to create a vertigo-inducing surprise for even the strongest stomachs and minds.
The Experiment –
Visitors put on a pair of state-of-the-art chromadepth 3-D glasses and enter The Experiment. The illusions are stunning, as flat walls appear to have depth, and actors blend seamlessly into the background. The Experiment is consistently voted the favorite attraction among visitors toTerror Behind the Walls.
Night Watch –
Guests are left alone to find their own way out of the back hallways of the penitentiary, with only their flashlights (provided) cutting a slim beam of light through the fog. Visitors can sense people and other creatures prowling in the dark, but can’t always see them in time.
Break Out! –
Just when visitors think they have found freedom, they find themselves in the middle of a prison break! Inmates surround them using every way imaginable to escape, including barrels, ropes, tunnels, ladders and crates. Visitors must keep an eye out at every corner as an inmate may even be using them to aid in their attempt to gain freedom.