Should Kids Go to Terror Behind the Walls?

What families can expect from the scare attraction at Eastern State Penitentiary




Terror Behind the Walls at Philly's Eastern State Penitentiary is the area's premier Halloween scare attraction — in fact, People Magazine just named it the number one scariest place in America. Celebrating its 24th anniversary, it's a tricky event for a parenting mag to cover, as the inherent fear factor of touring the once-abandoned, reportedly haunted, tricked-out cells — chockablock with 200+ costumed actors in FX makeup waiting to startle in all sorts of interactive ways throughout six scare zones — can be too much for many adults, much less kids.

In fact, children younger than 7 are not permitted; those 7-18 need a parent-signed waiver to enter; and the penitentiary recommends that kids 7-12 tour the attraction only on Family Sundays until 7:30pm, when saying "Monster, be good" will cause the actors to back off. It's the same show no matter when you go, however, so our intern Allison scoped out what you can expect to find behind the bars. Read on, then decide for yourself whether the intensity is something your kids (or you) can handle.

At the beginning of your fateless tour, you are given the option of having a more one-on-one experience, in which case you will be given a glow stick. If you choose this route, actors might grab you, you might have to crawl through walls, get taken away from your group or even pulled into a prison cell!

Once you’ve chosen your path, you will embark on your journey through the six terrifying attractions: the Experiment, Lock Down, Detritus, Infirmary, Night Watch and Machine Shop. Throughout each attraction you get a real feel of the eeriness that the prison possesses.

The newest attraction, Machine Shop, sends you through a factory-like setting featuring "gruesome industrial scenes" (watch out for your limbs), and the actors might haul you into a cage whether or not you're wearing a glow stick.

Lock Down depicts a prison riot in what's believed to be the prison's most haunted area, complete with fog and electrical effects and a gauntlet of zombie prisoners. In years past, the penitentiary has reported plenty of guests opting out of the rest of the trip after viewing this room.

Detritus directs you through an overgrown penitentiary greenhouse, which leads to — what else? — a zombie-filled cemetery.

Night Watch turns the lights completely off, forcing you to navigate the narrow hallways in the pitch-black. It's purposefully disorienting.

Infirmary, as its name implies, brings to life nightmares about torturous medical experimentation within prison walls. Think shock therapy and a sterilization chamber. Don't be surprised if you find yourself being examined here.

The biggest draw, though, seems to be The Experiment, where you wear 3-D glasses and travel through a creepy funhouse. What really makes this experience stand out from the others is the way the actors blend in with the rest of the 3D setting, giving you the unsettling feeling of not knowing whether you are truly looking at an actor or just an image on the wall.

Has your family braved Terror Behind the Walls? Let us know how you all did by commenting below.

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