Categorized | Family, Kids, Living, People

Terror Behind the Walls: Eastern State Penitentiary Haunted Houses

By AML Publisher
Photos Courtesy of Laura Kicey

Terror Behind the Walls was ranked the No. 1 Haunted House in America by AOL City Guide.

Terror Behind the Walls was ranked the No. 1 Haunted House in America by AOL City Guide.

Nathan Edmondson has never seen any strange activity in his last year as the Theatrical Director for Eastern State Penitentiary’s very popular Halloween adventure, Terror Behind The Walls. But, he does admit that the place gives him the creeps. “Part of my job at the end of the night is that I walk by myself through all the sections to brief the actors and congratulate them. Then, it’s my job to close the rooms down. Pretty much anywhere I walk, even with all the lights on, I get full body chills. Let’s just say it is a very, creepy place,” explained Edmondson.

As early as the 1940s, officers and inmates reported mysterious visions and eerie experiences in the ancient prison. With the growing interest in paranormal investigation, Eastern State Penitentiary may now be the most carefully studied building in the United States. Dozens of teams visit to explore the site each year. The historic site’s website, www.EasternState.org/ghosts, features extensive television, video, and website links that document real paranormal investigations inside the 179-year old prison.

The historic site’s website, www.EasternState.org/ghosts, features extensive television, video, and website links that document real paranormal investigations inside the 179-year old prison.

The historic site’s website, www.EasternState.org/ghosts, features extensive television, video, and website links that document real paranormal investigations inside the 179-year old prison.

The thousands of visitors to ESP this Halloween season will be experiencing a little bit more than a case of the heebie jeebies when they tour the five different ‘zones’ or haunted houses that Terror offers thanks to Edmondson. The 29-year-old graduate of Oberlin College and active Philly thespian joined Terror in 2002 as an attraction manager. Last fall, he undertook a newly created position, training the over 100 actors who staff the event’s unique attractions.

Edmondson explained that each year, the team reinvents one of the houses or ‘zones’ to keep the thousands of enthusiastic thrill seekers coming back. This year, the new zone is called ‘Infirmary.’ A hospital themed haunted attraction, ‘Infirmary’ invites visitors to explore a prison’s long-abandoned medical wing. “It’s a ‘medical facility,’ it is a really neat historic section of ESP. It’s hard to figure out where the prison stops and the zone begins. And, it’s very creepy, there are a few surprises in the infirmary that of course I do not want to give away,” said Edmondson.

All proceeds from Terror Behind the Walls benefit the preservation of Eastern State Penitentiary, a National Historic Landmark.

All proceeds from Terror Behind the Walls benefit the preservation of Eastern State Penitentiary, a National Historic Landmark.

An extraordinary theatrical production, Terror features animatronic props, digital sound effects, and Hollywood-quality costumes and makeup. It takes an elite team of 14 makeup artists three hours to prepare the cast of 150 performers for the full evening experience at ESP. “Predominantly, the audience’s favorite is the zone called ‘Experiment’ because it’s the 3-D Section so it is very visually stimulating, very colorful. Each zone offers something completely unique. In contrast, there are times during the experience where the visitors can hear things and look down a hallway and there is no one there. That can sometimes be more unsettling of an experience than people jumping out and surprising you and making you scream. So, I think what sets us apart from all the other haunted houses across the region is this incredible atmosphere with have with ESP (within which we do our show) that really cannot be found anywhere else,” said Edmondson.

Terror Behind the Wall Attractions

Guests will experience a total of five haunted houses during Terror Behind the Walls, all included in one admission price.

Weekends are becoming increasingly popular, and crowded, as Halloween nears. Theatrical director Nathan Edmonds encourages attendees to make online reservations or call ahead for their visit.

Weekends are becoming increasingly popular, and crowded, as Halloween nears. Theatrical director Nathan Edmonds encourages attendees to make online reservations or call ahead for their visit.

Intake

Intake sets the mood for Terror Behind the Walls, as unearthly and mutated prison guards direct visitors straight into the prison yard. The route winds through chain link fences, under guard towers, and past the long abandoned prison bus left on the property. This attraction features custom-built animatronic props, high tech effects, and large props from Transformers 2, which filmed scenes at Eastern State Penitentiary in 2008.

Lock Down

Visitors enter the looming façade of Cellblock 12, a three-story wing constructed in 1911, which is said to be one of the most haunted locations inside the prison. The inmates take over the cells as the chaotic scene fills with fog, sound, lighting effects, and arcing electrical currents from three oversized Tesla Coils. The second floor affords a spectacular and eerie view down the long-abandoned cellblock corridor, and the exit is lined with groups of zombie inmates, all standing very, very still. Some visitors choose to leave Terror Behind the Walls after Lock Down. It’s that intimidating.

Infirmary – New for 2009

Infirmary, a hospital themed haunted attraction, invites visitors to explore a prison’s long-abandoned medical wing. Startling surprises await, as visitors encounter the empty operating rooms, recovery wards, sterilization chambers, and, of course, the morgue. A giant walk-through sterilization chamber is sure to induce vertigo for even the strongest stomachs and minds.

Located inside the massive castle-like walls of Eastern State Penitentiary at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, Terror Behind the Walls, presented by Lukoil, runs on select evenings from September 18 through November 7.

Located inside the massive castle-like walls of Eastern State Penitentiary at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, Terror Behind the Walls, presented by Lukoil, runs on select evenings from September 18 through November 7.

The Experiment

The bold, dramatic illusions of The Experiment jump to life when viewed through a pair of chromadepth 3-D glasses. The effects are stunning, as flat walls appear to have shape, and actors blend seamlessly into the background. The Experiment is consistently voted the favorite attraction among visitors to Terror Behind the Walls.

Night Watch

This may be the world’s only haunted attraction lit only by flashlight! Guests are left alone to feel their way out of the back hallways of the penitentiary, the flashlights in their hands cutting a slim beam through the fog. Visitors may sense creatures prowling in the dark, but can’t always see them in time. Not for the faint of heart. (Flashlights provided).

Ticket sales for Terror Behind the Walls, which runs through November 7th, are available at the penitentiary box office or online at www.EasternState.org/tickets. Tickets will also be available at the door on each evening of the event subject to availability. Reservations are highly recommended. Tickets are $10 for kids (ages 7-12) on family nights, $20 for adults on weeknights, $25 on Friday and Sunday nights, and $30 on Saturday nights. Group rates are available by calling (215) 236-2986 or emailing boxoffice@easternstate.org. For more information, the public should visit the penitentiary’s website at www.TerrorBehindtheWalls.com or call (888) 763-NITE.

All proceeds from Terror Behind the Walls benefit the preservation of Eastern State Penitentiary, a National Historic Landmark. The haunted attraction does not affect operation of the historic site, which remains open for daytime tours seven days a week, year round. For information on daytime historic tours, the public should visit www.EasternState.org or call (215) 236-3300.

Laura Kicey is a photographer and artist based just outside of Philadelphia, PA. Her work has been shown in a number of galleries regionally, and has appeared in numerous publications internationally. Laura can generally be found lurking in dark alleys and other places she likely should not be. For more of her work, visit her website at: laurakicey.com. Laura’s email is: lk@laurakicey.com.

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. jennie Says:

    Very impressive- glad you are doing so well professionally! Stuff looks GREAT! Hope you are loving the city life!

  2. TAYTAY Says:

    NOW THAT IS SCARY

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