World’s first penitentiary home to one of nation’s largest haunted houses

Charlene Sakoda
Odd News
World’s first penitentiary home to one of nation’s largest haunted houses

Since 1991 the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has been the location of Terror Behind the Walls, one of the country’s largest haunted houses. Eastern State Penitentiary began operating in 1829 and once held Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton. It began as the Walnut Street Jail and is considered the world’s first true penitentiary. The huge stone structure was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and was abandoned in 1971. The city purchased the property and has assisted with structural repairs through occasional grants. But the annual haunted house event held within the walls of the penitentiary generates 65% of the annual budget. Staff attempts to cover the rest of Eastern State’s costs through daytime historical tours (originally began through seed money from the haunted house event), fundraisers, donations and government funding. This year the staff is pushing to make up for the losses suffered last year when Hurricane Sandy hit and weather forced Terror to close for the first time, unfortunately on its most profitable weekend.

Terror Behind the Walls has grown from its first year as a one-night event, to seven-week long affair with 200 additional staff. Those brave enough to wander through Terror since it opened on September 20th have had a small have a small amount of comfort knowing that they won’t have any physical contact with the terrorizing actors. But this year the haunted house has added a new interactive element giving visitors the option to wear glow-in-the-dark necklaces to indicate they’re willing to engage with the performers. It could be something as simple as a startling shake or as frightening as being pulled away from the group forced to wander the rest of the house alone. If you’re daring enough, you can visit Terror Behind the Walls through November 9.

More information: WCAU,, Philadelphia Business Journal