September 12, 2022
During the day, Eastern State Penitentiary is intimidating enough, with its 30-foot-high fortress walls and empty guard towers. But at night, especially during the fall, the historic site takes on an even spookier energy.
Halloween Nights at the former prison will return for the 2022 season from Friday, Sept. 23 through Saturday, Nov. 12. The event has three new haunted attractions and for the first time since 2019, brave guests can once again "opt in" for an even scarier experience.
Eastern State had previously hosted its popular Terror Behind the Walls event each year since 1997, a terrifying haunted house that was named one of the scariest in the country. However, it shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was replaced by the more family-friendly Halloween Nights in 2021.
This year's festival includes five haunted houses, live entertainment and themed bars. For those less interested in being spooked, there also will be historic nighttime tours and museum experiences spanning all 10 acres of Eastern State's abandoned cellblocks and yards.
New attractions this season include two haunted houses and an immersive bar:
Nightmares: As the name suggests, this walk-through will bring visitors face-to-face with the creepiest creatures of unsettling dreams.
Big Top Terror: Likely not for those with coulrophobia – or fear of clowns – this haunted house winds through scary carnival grounds packed with menacing characters.
Bizarre Bar: Continuing the carnival-themed adventure of Big Top Terror, the Bizarre Bar allows guests to sit back and relax with drinks and light fare, while fire dancers and knife throwers provide live entertainment. The venue joins three other themed bars offered in partnership with Triple Bottom Brewing Company, a craft brewery that creates living-wage jobs for people who experienced homelessness or incarceration.
The return of the popular "opting in" option allows the most courageous visitors to pick up a glow necklace at the entrance to any of the haunted houses. The necklace will let actors know that it's okay to grab the guests and send them into hidden passageways – separating them from their groups.
"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," Brett Bertolino, vice president and director of operations for Eastern State, said. "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."
Visitors can check out the award-winning Prisons Today exhibit, which explores the root causes of mass incarceration. They also can embark on an audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi and a guided flashlight tour of the penitentiary's historic Cellblock 3, the Hospital Block.
Another less scary aspect is the festival's food and drink offerings. Within the bars and beer gardens, multiple socially-conscious restaurants will be serving concessions.
Down North Pizza, which provides career opportunities to formerly-incarcerated individuals, will offer Detroit-style pizza in the Fair Chance Beer Garden. /Lōˈkal/ Artisan Food Groups, a Black-, woman-owned business that hires youth from underserved communities, will serve French Toast Bites in Gargoyle Gardens and carnival-inspired treats in the Bizarre Bar. The Monkey & Elephant, Philly's first nonprofit coffee shop employing former foster youth, will sell Halloween snacks in The Bloodline Lounge and Gargoyle Gardens.
"We are thrilled to redesign our most compelling exhibits and tours for the Halloween Nights audience," Sean Kelley, senior vice president at Eastern State, said. "The festival format means that our visitors can now choose from an incredible array of experiences, from pure Halloween entertainment to thought-provoking museum experiences, or a combination of both."
Halloween Nights is open on select nights and ticket prices start at $34. Some tickets may be available at the door, but capacity is limited. All proceeds will benefit the preservation and operation of Eastern State Penitentiary.