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Terror Behind The Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary

2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Phone: (215) 236-3300

Tickets: $20-$30

Terror Behind the Walls is the Disney Land of Haunted Attractions.

Eastern State Penitentiary easily makes it into the top 5 creepiest places I’ve ever been. A rich 180-year history of heart-wrenching anguish, sadistic torture, and cold blooded murder has left its mark on the massive stabilized ruin, which was built in 1829. 

“S” and I arrived in Philadelphia at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. A quick ride aboard the “Ghost Bus” and these two little blonde girls were standing before the epically creepy 30-foot walls of Eastern State Penitentiary.

Terror Behind the Walls is very different from other haunted houses I’ve visited. The walk-through-style haunt is made up of six different attractions: The Gauntlet, Lockdown, The Infirmary, The Experiment in 3D, Night Watch, and Break Out. Each attraction has a theme, but they all employ a high-startle low-gore style of scare.   

The attractions follow one right after the other with a short wait in between. ‘The Gauntlet’ and ‘Break Out’ are essentially glorified outdoor lines leading in and out of the penitentiary. The interior locations house the scariest moments. It turns out that the true terror comes not from behind the walls, but from within them. Eleven acres of abandoned historic prison is nothing to scoff at. I got goose bumps just walking through the crumbling hallways and stairwells of the ‘Lock Down’ section, which also boasts a spectacular room depicting death row.

 Another highlight is ‘The Infirmary’ whose crazed staff elicit screams wielding rusty medical equipment. The production values are very high. Fabulous lighting, props, and make-up effects are all on display, but the location itself outshines anything you can bring into it.

Terror Behind the Walls has the potential to be heart-stoppingly scary, but they sacrifice true terror for a more family-friendly environment. Children under the age of 7 are not permitted, which means that 7-year olds are allowed into this haunted house. My personal recommendation is that it’s appropriate for ages 11 and up. Most of the scares are of the startling kind and easily laughed off.

For those looking for something scarier, they have a Terror Behind the Walls VIP Experience which begins with an hour-long flashlight guided tour of the cell blocks, death row, and the underground isolation cells.

For the ultimate thrill seeker? A contest was held in July to win a night alone in the penitentiary. In a place that creepy all you need is darkness, silence, and isolation to completely lose your mind in fear. 

    Final thoughts: The historic penitentiary alone is worth a trip to Pennsylvania. If I could do it all over again I would start with the daytime tour and then follow it up with the VIP Flashlight Guided Tour of death row. Maybe next year… 

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A Connoisseur's Compendium of Haunted House Reviews, Victorian Horror, and All Things Dark and Macabre.