Every year before Halloween, spooky season officially kicks off in Philadelphia with the opening of Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary.
The annual event has become a staple in the City of Brotherly Love, and it offers way more than just a haunted house experience.
“We’re thrilled to bring visitors another year of festive fun,” says Erin Davis, Director of Halloween Nights, in a statement. “It takes months of thoughtful planning to ensure that every season of Halloween Nights is bigger and better than the last.”
Davis continued: “In addition to revamping attractions, we are always making small improvements that have a big impact on the visitor experience. This year, we’re adding more scare zones and photo opportunities, enhancing our characters and sets, and increasing the number of performers throughout the festival. From the moment visitors step through Eastern State’s imposing front gate, they will feel truly immersed in the completely unique world of Halloween Nights.”
Halloween Nights in 2023 will ultimately feature three new reimagined experiences, on top of all of the fan favorites coming back from last year. A huge part of the activation is the haunted houses—five to be exact—plus historic tours, museum experiences and seasonal activations in the form of a s’mores lounge, themed bars and performances.
When inside of the ESP, those brave enough to participate can make their way through the Big Top Terror, Nightmares, The Crypt, Machine Shop and Delirium. With Big Top, which was new last year, Philadelphians will find themselves behind the scenes at a sinister carnival, and for Nightmares, also new last year, the scares come in the form of sleep paralysis demons and The Sandman.
The Crypt brings visitors into the lair of an ancient vampire clan, the Machine Shop opts to bring visitors on a one-way path to encounter menacing shop workers eager for you to join their crew, and lastly, Delirium features Medusa and her minions taking Philadelphians on a mind-altering trip through a murky neon jungle where nothing is quite as it seems.
However, as a release states, Halloween Nights has also expanded several scare zones throughout the festival for the 2023 season, including a courtyard in the northwest corner of the Penitentiary complex that now allows two paths for visitors to choose from with scary, or less scary as choices. Those who are a bit more daring on the other hand can “opt in” for a more intense experience (this option was brought back last year for the first time since 2019. )
With the opt-in portion, Philadelphians will don a glow necklace, and anyone wearing one may be grabbed, sent into hidden passageways, and even temporarily separated from their group. All you have to do is pick one up at the “Glowzebo” at the entrance of Halloween Nights.
And with all of the excitement, some people might be ready for a drink.
The Bizarre Bar features some off-the-clock performers from the Big Top, while also sporting carnival-themed food and drinks. At The Bloodline Lounge on the other hand, guests can indulge in vampire-themed food and drinks in this darkly styled watering hole.
There’s also the Fair Chance Beer Garden, and it features interactive/educational programs, Detroit-styled pizza from Down North, beer from Triple Bottom Brewery and soft drinks. The Beer Garden is also there to do some good as they invite those who oblige to participate in hands-on activities that invite conversation and reflection on Eastern State’s history and legacy of criminal justice reform. Fair Chance also offers living-wage jobs for people who may otherwise be excluded from the mainstream economy—such as those who have been incarcerated or who have experienced homelessness.
Another staple at Halloween Nights is the Speakeasy at Al Capone’s Cell, which is available for VIP ticket holders. The experience takes place in the thick of where the famous mobster resided at ESP, and it offers Philadelphians the chance to mingle with interesting characters while enjoying some libations (the first of which is complimentary.)
Other attractions include the return of the S’mores and Lore Lounge where live storytellers, inspired by summer camp counselors, will share a new slate of traditional ghost stories as visitors roast s’mores around the fire.
There are also two new updated additions to this year’s festivities.
For one, the outdoor courtyard formerly known as Gargoyle Gardens has been re-themed to Pumpkin Plaza, featuring new props and photo opportunities inspired by traditional Halloween imagery like pumpkins, hay bales, and skeletons, the release states. While there, visitors can also find French toast bites from Lokal Artisan Foods along with some other themed treats.
The Boogie Monsters also call the Plaza home, and they’ll be there to perform in costume multiple times throughout the night. There’s also the popular and immersive walk-through, Kaleidiscope Hall, which is back for another year for visitors to explore.
On the educational side of the offerings, visitors can also check out the “The Voices of Eastern State Highlights Audio Tour” —featuring a 20-minute, abbreviated version of their audio tour with actor Steve Buschemi narrating, plus the voices of people who were incarcerated or worked at Eastern State—or some of the award-winning the museum exhibits located on the grounds.
Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary is open select nights from Sept. 22 through Nov. 11. Ticket prices start at $39 and vary by night. Timed tickets are on sale now at HalloweenNights.org