Eastern State Penitentiary is reinventing the annual Halloween event


After a pandemic hiatus last year, Eastern State Penitentiary is bringing back its haunted appeal for Halloween. Instead of the aggressively terrifying Terror Behind the Walls, which has proven to be a popular hit after more than two decades, the festive seasonal event has turned into Halloween Nights, a mix of horror and more relaxed experiences.

Halloween Nights, starting Friday, offer 15 different experiences, from the freaky “gotcha” horror thrills that fans of ESP have come to expect, as well as beer gardens, historical tours, performance art, and immersive walk-in environments that are more spooky than spooky . It opens this Friday, September 24th and runs until November 13th.

In contrast to Terror Behind the Walls, which immediately transports all visitors into disturbing theater environments in the historic stone prison, Halloween Nights gives visitors the opportunity to choose what they want to experience.

“We started a 10 acre Halloween festival,” said Brett Bertolino, ESP Vice President and Director of Operations. “We really want to get you from the outside world and kidnap you into our Halloween world.”

Halloween nights at the Eastern State Penitentiary. (Kimberly Zahler / WHYY)

Even if visitors opt for the friendlier, gentler experiences set up across the prison grounds, Halloween Nights doesn’t skimp on the spooky. All visitors enter the prison through a nocturnal swamp: through the creative use of laser light, fog machines and sound, the room creates a remarkably effective feeling of wading chest-deep through still water.

Visitors enter a black-light, daylight funhouse with a winding path that encounters oversized spiders, severed clown heads, and a shaky floor. That experience leads straight to Take Thirteen, a series of rooms that seem trapped in time like a centuries-old Hollywood studio.

Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary features fifteen attractions, including Delirium, a funhouse in a parallel neon universe. (Kimberly Zahler / WHYY)

“It’s a stroll through a 1920s movie set where you see characters still going through the moves and doing all these commercials and TV shows,” Bertolino said.

After these experiences, visitors enter one of ESP’s cell blocks, which is set up as a bar. Visitors have the option to walk in any direction they want: one hallway leads to spooky experiences, another leads to immersive environments, another leads outside to explore the prison grounds and discover other attractions around almost every corner, including an area for Toasting s’mores while listening to ghost stories.


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