When the Eastern State Penitentiary operated as a prison from 1829 to 1971, the historic building housed 75,000 inmates—including the notorious gangster Al Capone. Although the harrowing estate is no longer an active prison, there is still a lot of activity happening behind the walls, including one of the largest haunted houses in the country, Halloween Nights.
What was once Terror Behind the Walls was reimagined in 2021 to this new activation, and with the update also came a festival environment that spans live performances, festive food, themed bars, storytelling and roaming characters.
Halloween Nights is currently in full swing, and it will run on select nights (with timed ticket options) until Nov. 12. And in 2022, there are three new attractions to look forward to. In total, those who head to Eastern State will be able to check out five different haunted houses, seasonal activations —in the form of a speakeasy, s’mores lounge and more—plus historic tours and museum experiences, occupying all ten acres of Eastern State Penitentiary’s abandoned cellblocks and yards.
When inside of the walls, 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 is new this year, Philadelphians will find themselves behind the scenes at a sinister carnival, and for Nightmares, also new in 2022, the scares come in the form of sleep paralysis demons and The Sandman.
Back for this go-around, 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.
Halloween Nights will also bring back the popular option to “opt in” for a more intense experience for the first time since 2019. As a release states, if they choose, visitors can pick up a glow necklace at the entrance to any haunted house. Anyone wearing a glow necklace may be grabbed, sent into hidden passageways, and even temporarily separated from their group.
“Opting in has been a fan favorite and a rite of passage for many of our visitors, so we’re thrilled to bring that experience back this year,” says Brett Bertolino, vice president and director of operations in a statement. “Opting in allows our visitors to customize their experience and amp up the scare factor. But don’t worry, if you need a breather between haunted houses or prefer a less scary experience, Halloween Nights includes plenty of opportunities to enjoy live entertainment or explore our historic tours and exhibits.”
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 located in the ESP’s baseball field, 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.
Back for another year for something a little different is also The Speakeasy in Al Capone’s cell. For VIP ticket holders, while in this prohibition-styled cocktail lounge, guests can play a round of chess or grab a drink, settle in, and prepare to be serenaded by the Penitentiary’s “undead” lounge singers.
Other experiences will also be placed throughout the venue, including the Gargoyle Gardens featuring the Skeleton Crew, who will be performing dances with the backdrop of hay bales, pumpkins, and other classic Halloween scenery. There’s also the S’mores and Lore lounge, where Tuck-ins (inside-out s’mores) will be available to roast by the fire. Lastly, there’s the popular immersive walk-through, Kaleidiscope Hall back for another year.
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—an After Dark CB3 Tour (a guide-led flashlight tour) and the museum exhibits located on the grounds.
As the release states, revenue from Halloween Nights continues to support critical projects, including preservation of the National Historic Landmark, new exhibits, and programs such as their Preservation Trades Center, which creates pathways into the building trades for people historically excluded or underrepresented in those fields.
“We are enormously proud of Halloween Nights,” says Senior Vice President Sean Kelley. “It remains one of the premier Halloween events in the nation, and now plants the seeds for deeper conversations for tens of thousands of people every fall. Happy Halloween!”
Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary is open select nights now through Nov. 12. Ticket prices start at $34 and vary by night. Tickets are on sale now at HalloweenNights.org.