It is amusing to think that many of the forms of entertainment we use today involve scaring ourselves out of our minds. Many of us watch movies like Saw, Halloween, The Exorcist, and Scream because it gives us the thrill of being terrified. Some of us even take the extra step to be petrified at an even higher level.
With many Halloween attractions around the West Chester area, Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the more enticing haunted thrills to visit. Located in Philadelphia, it is open for its 18th Halloween season until Nov. 2. Behind The Walls, the annual haunt at Eastern State, is a five-part walk through the Penitentiary including intake, lock down, thirteen rooms, the experiment, and night watch which are the five attractions offered.
Mutated guards guide tourist into the penitentiary during intake. While walking around in lock down, there is the first glimpse of the cellblocks and where the inmates have taken over. It has been said that it is not uncommon for a visitor to leave after this. In thirteen rooms, you navigate through the back alley areas and catch a glance into the prison morgue. Loud sounds, fog, and often complete darkness definitely heighten the scariness.
The experiment is a three- dimensonal painted room where visitors are given a pair of 3-D glasses to check out the creepy paintings but also receive surprises from zombie inmates that are blending into the background. When entering night watch, vistors are given a small flashlight to guide oneself around the pitch dark hallways of the prison. You can sense people around you, but you can not always see them.
These attractions require over 140 actors who take as long as three hours to get ready before the night starts. Eastern State even hires professional make-up artists to get the full effect.
The haunt really begins just standing outside of Eastern State. The penitentiary itself is enormous, and the tall old stone walls are intimidating. Even while waiting in line to get into the haunt you receive a number of scary surprises.
The penitentiary opened in 1829 and had 142 years of active use. It was shut down in 1971 because it was too expensive for the state to restore. It has imprisoned famous criminals such as Al Capone (1929-1930), and Willie Sutton “Slick Willie” (1942-1946). Since the prison’s closing, a plethora of spooky events have occurred inside its walls. As early as the 1940’s employees and prisoners began reporting these events and this has increased dramatically since then.
It is believed the penitentiary is so haunted because of the physical torture, isolation, and executions that took place inside its walls. Three of the cellblocks inside the prison have been deemed the most haunted: cellblock 12 (which is restricted), where voices have been heard, cellblock six where shadowy figures have appeared, and cellblock four where ghost-like faces have been seen.
Many television shows have filmed inside Eastern State. MTV’s Fear has filmed twice inside, along with The Travel Channel’s Most Haunted Live, Sci-Fi’s Ghost Hunters, Fox’s World’s Scariest Places, and TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters. However, the episode of Sci-Fi’s Ghost Hunters that is played while waiting to get into the haunt has the most controversial ghost footage. The show reveals very apparent evidence of paranormal activity that went on in the penitentiary while filming inside, and there are dozens of Web sites to solely analyze the footage. Many of these clips can be found on Youtube.com.
The penitentiary is not just opened for the haunt; it is open for tours all year round. Overnight tours are offered as well but require a group of at least 20 people. Tours include cellblocks, Al Capone’s Cell, Death Row, and solitary punishment cells.
If you’re looking for a little thrill around Halloween, definitely visit one of America’s most haunted places. Prices vary depending on the day you visit. But definitely bring a friend if you think you can not handle it. You may need them to hold your hand.
Marcelle Bacon is a second- year student majoring in French. She can be reached at MB650800@wcupa.edu.