Circa 2008, I was a pale and gangly tween who loved her qwerty keyboard cellphone and Rihanna’s Disturbia probably more than life itself. During that golden era existed three absolute truths that could not be disputed: 1) School dances were always awkward, 2) sparkly fruity lip gloss definitely counted as makeup, and 3) halloween meant only one thing: a sleepover with my friends filled with nutella and horror movie binging.

Though I’ve thankfully outgrown skorts since then, my fascination with conceptions of horror in popular culture and media certainly hasn’t. I don’t have sleepovers with my middle school friends anymore, but sometimes I do love to tap into that years-old vein that makes me watch a good horror movie—and a not–so–good one— every so often.

Last weekend, my friend Nina and I decided to take a trip to Eastern State Penitentiary for the Student Sunday discount, and even for an off day it was packed. It actually looked like the line at Disneyland—albeit a more sardonic version.

As we arrived, we were taken aback by the beauty of the building. In the middle of Philadelphia lay Gothic style prison—complete with iron portcullis and an eighty–foot bell tower. Yet even with the central rotunda and the high windows, you couldn’t forget where you were: in the middle of a prison which has housed some of the most dangerous and controversial criminals in U.S. history. Al Capone himself had spent 8 months there, in a luxury cell complete with a cabinet radio, fine furniture and an oriental rug. In other words, his jail cell was probably nicer than my room at Penn.

The prison runs you through a variety of scary ambiences and experiences; a garden full of weird six-feet tall animal-headed humanoids, prisoners with axes at a workshop, snarling criminals in cells, doctors who forcibly tell you to smile and a rave medusa (you’ll have to see what I mean for yourself).

Our personal favorite was the Quarantine—one of the newer attractions that incorporates 4D glasses for maximum terror effects as you make your way through the labyrinth. Overall, though, ESP does an incredible job at providing both an artistic and entertaining experience that covers all sorts of phobias and things that go bump in the night—from clowns to insane criminals to the plain and simple unknown and supernatural. October may be almost over, but you should take advantage of this historical and haunting experience while you still can.


If you don’t like scary stuff: 

Check out the prison during the day. They have an year round museum that features lots of information on the prison’s history and architecture.

If you want to up the terror factor in Terror Behind the Walls: 

You can opt to allow the actors in the prison to be allowed to touch you, separate you from the group, and even take you into a cell with them. Not for the faint-hearted.

If you want the student discount:

Prices fluctuate depending on the demand and can go as high as $39. On Sundays, however, students get half off, meaning you can purchase tickets for as cheaply as $14


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