Skip to main content

Philadelphia Haunted House Ranked Best in Nation


The Phillies aren’t the only No. 1 team in Philadelphia this fall! AOL City Guide has ranked Terror Behind the Walls as the No. 1 Haunted House in America. Terror Behind the Walls attracts more than 100, 000 visitors annually, employs 150 costumed actors, and occupies a 179-year-old abandoned prison. It is considered the largest and most popular Halloween attraction in the nation.

The Pumpkin Champagne Toast today has been arranged to celebrate the announcement; costumed actors and event staff  gathering at the base of the penitentiary’s rusting guard tower for champagne, served from real pumpkins, and other surprises and then, following the toast, members of the press have been invited to tour behind the scenes in the haunted attraction. The event’s makeup artists will do live demonstrations in the new, state-of-the-art makeup and wardrobe facilities. (The makeup artists will transform members of the press themselves into zombies, by prior request!) High-definition B-Roll video of visitors touring Terror Behind the Walls is also available by request.

Ranking the Event …
Terror Behind the Walls has been consistently ranked as one of the top haunted attractions in the nation. Previous recognitions include:
   — 6th Best Haunted House in the United States – Hauntworld Magazine
  — "The scariest haunted house in America." – Rachael Ray Show (2007)
  — "One of America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions" – Travel Channel
  — Reader’s Pick Award – Seventeen Magazine (2006)
  — Best Haunted Attraction – The Scare Factor! (2005)
  — Best Professional Haunted House – (2003)

Terror Behind the Walls, which had previously been ranked No. 5 by AOL, is now the only haunted attraction from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware to earn the No. 1 spot on a national list of top haunted houses in America.

"To be chosen by AOL City Guide as the number one haunted attraction in the country is the pinnacle achievement for a haunted attraction, " said Timothy Gavinski, President of the International Association of Haunted Attractions ( "The AOL list represents the best of the best and this top honor is rightly deserved by Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls."

The event runs September 19 to November 2, 2008. Ticketing information for the event is available from the penitentiary’s website. Tickets for Terror Behind the Walls are also available by phone at 888-763-NITE.

The Story Behind Terror Behind the Walls
The first Halloween at Eastern State Penitentiary took place in 1991. The National Historic Landmark, closed to the public since 1971, opened its doors to visitors who were able to tour the site at night. The historic site re-branded the event "Terror Behind the Walls" in 1997, and introduced a revolutionary timed ticketing system. That ticketing system continues to be the model for large-scale haunted attractions around the country.

Today’s theatrical production includes animatronic props, digital sound effects, and Hollywood-quality costumes and makeup. The event organizers have constructed brand new costume and makeup facilities for 2008, converting old workshops off Cellblock 1 into state-of-the-art makeup bays, costume design and storage areas, and actor dressing rooms. It takes an elite team of 140 actors almost three hours of costuming and makeup to get the cast ready each evening.

But the event’s design never distracts from the building itself, which is widely reported to be haunted. Eastern State Penitentiary is an 11-acre abandoned prison. It stands today in ruin, a lost world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. This gothic structure, with stark towers and soaring fortress walls, is eerie enough during the day. At night, the cellblocks fall into darkness, and the building becomes truly terrifying.

All proceeds from Terror Behind the Walls benefit the preservation of Eastern State Penitentiary, a National Historic Landmark. The haunted attraction does not affect operation of the historic site, which remains open for daytime tours seven days a week, year round.

Real Ghost Sightings
There have been numerous reported ghost sightings at Eastern State Penitentiary. The historic site’s website,   features extensive television, video, and website links that purport to document real paranormal activity inside the 179-year old prison.

The penitentiary has been featured on The Travel Channel’s Most Haunted Live, Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places, TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters, and MTV’s FEAR. Footage captured on the second tier of Cellblock 12 by paranormal investigators during filming of Sci-Fi Channel’s Ghost Hunters is said to be the most controversial ghost sighting of the past 10 years. There are dozens of websites devoted to analyzing the footage. Eastern State Penitentiary is also featured in many books about the paranormal, including Ghost Stories of Pennsylvania, Ghostly Tales from America’s Jails and Philadelphia Ghost Stories.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, Eastern State Penitentiary was the world’s first true "penitentiary, " a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone.

Tours today include the cellblocks, solitary punishment cells, Al Capone’s Cell, and Death Row. A critically-acclaimed series of artists’ installations is free with admission. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


More from this author

Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Find out how to update