What to Expect at This Year’s Terror Behind the Walls

Photo courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.

Photo courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.

Is the Eastern State Penitentiary haunted? Maybe, but scares were definitely plentiful as the preserved prison kicked off its Halloween-season show, Terror Behind the Walls, over the weekend.

First Thoughts: There is no doubt that this is a very popular event for Philadelphians. Not far into Saturday night the line wrapped around the exterior of the Penitentiary. The actors who greeted visitors amped up the excitement as we waited for our fake blood and pictures before going inside.

What’s New: Two of the six attractions, “Quarantine 4D” and “Break Out!” are new additions to Terror Behind the Walls. “Quarantine 4D” concerns the aftermath of an infection in the prison, leaving visitors to stumble through a hallucinatory path of bizarre sights, altered perception, and colorful creatures. In “Break Out!” inmates scramble to try to escape their prison as you look for your own exit.

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Secret Cinema Presents Outside the Wall, a Prison Film Shot in Eastern State Penitentiary…at Eastern State Penitentiary

Artwork for the original movie poster.

Artwork for the original movie poster.

What could be cooler than watching a locally shot prison (and parole) film from inside the very same prison where it was shot 66 years earlier? How about watching it outside Al Capone’s old cell?

Jay Schwartz, founder of the Secret Cinema — a film series that has made a name for itself by showing only 16mm films — sets up his projector and screen in the historic prison’s hallway directly outside the gangster’s former holding pen. Schwartz likes this spot in the prison the most because “you have the best peripheral vision of prison bars while you’re watching the movie… You definitely have a constant reminder of where you are.” Read more »

Edith Piaf, The Pope and a Human Tastykake Celebrate Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

It’s one of Philly’s most treasured traditions: Thousands storm Eastern State Penitentiary on Bastille Day to reenact the great French Revolution with a cast of characters that run the gamut from folks who were actually there (Hello, Marie Antoinette) to those who had a hand in French and even Philly culture through the ages, like Edith Piaf, a baguette and a Tastykake. It’s organized in part by local performance troupe the Bearded Ladies, the founder of which traditionally dresses up as the Little Sparrow herself, Piaf. There are performances, rally cries, heads saved from guillotines and eventually—the moment everyone waits for—the proclamation to “Let them eat Tastykakes!” that triggers a storm of the local-made treats being hurled over the prison walls into the hands of the hungry, drunk crowd.

As always, the celebration ends with a poignant message. Last year, a statement was made about same-sex marriage in Philadelphia. This year, the performers brought out signs reading things like “#BlackLivesMatter” and “Power to Syria.” HughE Dillon was there this Saturday for the 21st annual event, where he got shots of all the players, including a black Pope. Check them out below:

Eastern State Penitentiary to Fling Over 2,000 Tastykakes From Their Towers

"Edith Piaf," AKA John Jarboe

“Edith Piaf,” AKA John Jarboe

There’s a Marie Antoinette impersonator, a drag queen singing French, and a ton of syntetically-produced cakes that are going to fly through the air. Anytime the Bearded Ladies get involved with an event, things are bound to get a little strange, but, this year, their partnership with the Eastern State Penitentiary Bastille Day Celebration is a whole other level of crazy. Read more »

WATCH: Film Recalls When Eastern State Was a Playground for Fairmount Kids

EasternState_CoryJPopp 6

Philly videographer Cory J. Popp released the latest in his “Uncover Philly” series, which takes a look at and tells the stories behind some of our favorite spots around the city.

In “From Prison to Playground” he goes inside Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP), and recalls the days long before tourists were let in, when a bunch of local kids used it as a place to hang. He talked to Bobby Quinn, one of the leaders of that group in the 1980s, who tells the story with a sense of nostalgia that almost brings tears to his eyes. “It was our playground. It was our city,” he says. “It was our neighborhood inside a neighborhood—a kids neighborhood.”

Then Popp takes you inside the prison, in rarely seen spots that have yet to be opened to tourists. It provides a glimpse of what the facility may have looked like to Quinn and his friends in the ’80s, when the storied prison was kept in a state of preserved ruin. It’s kind of ironic, given that in about a month one of the busiest days at ESP will take place, when hordes flock over to see the annual Bastille Day Celebration (and gorge on Tastykakes). More info here.

Check out “From Prison to Playground” below.

DO THIS: Friday the 13th Zombie Skate at Dilworth Park



Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, but you’re so much more of a, say, Halloween person. Well you’re in luck.

This Friday, Eastern State Penitentiary‘s Terror Behind the Walls is coming out Halloween hibernation to throw a winter event at the ice rink at Dilworth Park.

Organizers invite thrill skaters to lace up and hit the ice with ghouls from Terror Behind the Walls. There will be spooky music playing, prizes and photo opportunities with the monsters.

Fittingly, it takes place on Friday, February 13th, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., at the Rothman Institute Ice Rink at Dilworth Park. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for kids 10 and younger. If you don’t have skates, you can rent a pair for $8. You should also consider some brain-protective head gear.

Extra reading: 10 more anti-Valentine’s Day events in Philly.

Teddy Scare Turned Life-Sized for Terror Behind the Walls

"Edwin the Morose" is available exclusively at Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary.

“Edwin the Morose” is available exclusively at Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary.

For the past nine years, Applehead Factory design studio has released a special product from their Teddy Scares line of terrifyingly adorable teddy bears just for Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary. This year, creators Phill Nannay and University of the Arts alum and faculty member Joe Didomenico have released a limited edition 12-inch version of last year’s best seller especially for the haunted attraction.

Available at Eastern State Penitentiary and online, the cuddly, heartbroken “Edwin Morose” comes with wilted black roses, a key, and his heart in a burlap sack. (Check out the original version here). The cute, off-beat gifts each have their own tragic story of being tossed in the trash and left to wander the Earth looking for a new owner, or in Edwin’s case, his soulmate.

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WATCH: Jenna Bush Hager and Natalie Morales Scared Out of Their Minds at Terror Behind the Walls

Today show gal pals Natalie Morales and former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager recently took a trip to Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind the Walls,” the annual haunted attraction that’s been scaring people shitless for decades.

The whole thing was caught on video and shown on the Today show this morning. The segment starts with a history of Eastern State, which is interesting in its own right, but the real fun starts around the 3-minute mark, when the ladies start meeting the ghouls in “Terror Behind the Walls.” Screams abound! Check out the video above.

For more Philly-centric scares: 

We Want Answers: Sally Elk, CEO, Eastern State Penitentiary

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

For years now, you’ve witnessed the phenomenon of people paying money to be petrified by other people. How do you explain this strange desire? It’s amazing to me. I guess it’s the unknown, it’s going around the dark corner, it’s somebody getting close to you and breathing on your neck and touching your cheek. I don’t know. It’s so crazy. But it’s been good for us.

Have you ever been sued by a visitor? I mean, there must be liability issues. The place is like a haunted torts case. Ummm, sued … We have had injuries. We have a lot of people going through, and it’s at night, so we have had some injuries. But the thing is, we’re classified as an amusement by the state, so the state comes to inspect, and the city also inspects. We’re very aware of safety issues for people going through.

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