Terror Behind the Walls in Philadelphia

October 3, 2013 3:43:48 AM PDT
There are dozens of haunted houses from coast to coast, and people love them this time of year.

Which is the biggest?

Its Terror Behind the walls at Fairmount's Eastern State Penitentiary, now open for its 22nd straight year. The idea of putting scary actors in a legendary prison dates back to 1991...three years before the prison was opened for history tours.

Profits from "Terror" pay almost two-thirds of the site's operating expenses year-round. That includes maintenance costs...substantial for 23 buildings on an eleven-acre site that dates back to 1829.

Put simply, old buildings don't remain standing by themselves. Maintenance is constant and not cheap. But thanks in large part to "Terror", the old prison where so much of America's corrections history was written remains available for casual visits and all sorts of educational programs.

Whether you come for the history or a good scare is up to you, and this year, you have more choices than ever before.

When you enter the nightly "Terror" program, you declare the scare level you want. Do nothing and you get the average treatment from the 250 actors staffing six separate zones. Say "monster be good" as you approach and they'll back down...some. But if you wear the orange neckband you'll be offered on the way in, the actors will target you.

The night-time tours are intended for people age 13 and up. Whether the program is too scary for younger children is left up to parents, but no one under age seven will be admitted in any case. Most performers in "Terror" do other forms of acting, but this is unique.

Performing on a stage or before a camera is one kind of challenge. With this, the actors are constantly being asked to "read" each guest and tailor their performance to individuals, one at a time. Some laugh.

A few are so scared they can ask and be escorted out. But most find their chosen scare level just right, and many come back more than once per season.

Another option is to take the daytime tour explaining the prison's history, break for dinner at one of Fairmount's restaurants nearby, and then come back for the Terror experience.

Menus at neighborhood establishments range from pizza and sandwiches to full-course gourmet.

For complete information including admission prices and the schedule, access Terror Behind the Walls.

For information about the prison itself and daytime history tours, go to the Eastern State Penitentiary.

You may also phone 215-236-3300.


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