Halloween Nights Festival to make a spooky return to Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary’s Halloween Nights Festival, featuring 5 haunted attractions, kicks off on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The beginning of the fall season in Philadelphia is marked by the annual opening of Halloween attractions at the historic Eastern State Penitentiary. Some may relish foliage and pumpkins, but many treasure Frank and Carson, the giant gargoyles that have been a hallmark of the festivities at ESP for the past 16 years.

In 2021, Terror Behind the Walls became the Halloween Nights Festival. The new format offers more than frights in haunted houses, offering historic tours, live entertainment, and local food and libations. The new Halloween Tribute shop will sell items such as black cat t-shirts and rubber snakes, and two new scary attractions mine the human psyche for fright.

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Eastern State Penitentiary’s Halloween Nights Festival features professional Hollywood special effects, makeup, and props. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Eastern State Penitentiary’s Halloween Nights Festival features professional Hollywood special effects, makeup, and props. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Big Top Terror” taps into the collective fear of circus performers with painted faces, while “Nightmares” will attempt to conjure all that haunts the human subconscious.

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One of the clowns at Eastern State Penitentiary's ''Big Top Terror'' attraction poses menacingly. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
One of the clowns at Eastern State Penitentiary's ''Big Top Terror'' attraction poses menacingly. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Returning in 2022, is the option to opt-in to the scenes. At admission, the very brave can choose to wear a glow stick that indicates consent to be touched, taken, and separated from their friends and family, to the festival’s 200 performers.

One of Eastern State Penitentiary’s 200 performers cackled for the cameras at the Halloween Nights Festival preview on Sept. 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
One of Eastern State Penitentiary’s 200 performers cackled for the cameras at the Halloween Nights Festival preview on Sept. 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Sales from admission to the Halloween Nights festival are critical to yearly operations and restoration at the penitentiary, which offers year-round daytime tours and exhibits that examine the effects of mass incarceration in society. With the addition of historic tours to the annual Halloween festivities and the Fair Chance Beer Garden, which employs people who have experienced incarceration or homeless, aim to integrate the mission of the penitentiary into its blockbuster Halloween events.

Eastern State Penitentiary’s Halloween Nights Festival features professional Hollywood special effects, makeup, and props. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Eastern State Penitentiary’s Halloween Nights Festival features professional Hollywood special effects, makeup, and props. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Halloween Nights Festival begins on Friday, Sept.23, and continues on selected nights through Nov. 12, 2022.

A vampire from Eastern State Penitentiary’s haunted attraction, The Crypt, revealed her bloody fangs at the preview of the Halloween Nights Festival, on September 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
A vampire from Eastern State Penitentiary’s haunted attraction, The Crypt, revealed her bloody fangs at the preview of the Halloween Nights Festival, on September 20, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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