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Nightmares come true

Everyone has fears, fears that have the power to overwhelm, incapacitate and enslave people, making the lives of their owners change their ways to avoid them.

For those searching for a fright this Halloween, one would have to look no further than his or her own back yard. Eastern State Penitentiary, located on Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, offers the visceral challenge people desire this holiday season.

In “Terror Behind the Walls,” “inmates” are led through a vividly haunting recreation of the process that actual prisoners might have experienced. Every sense is challenged, and every step is tested as guests progress from room to room.

For the inmates of Eastern State Penitentiary, their imprisonment was their own personal hell with nearly no hope of escape. Now, visitors can experience the fears and nightmares in a prison that sometimes killed its inhabitants and was so dangerous that prison physicians were forced to treat patients through steel bars. In life, their presence terrified citizens for miles around, and in death, their spirits exist to taunt and horrify visitors

Back in its heyday, the penitentiary was a living, breathing organism comprised of cement and stone whose retention rate was nearly perfect; only one inmate was a successful escapee.

Ever since the prison was closed in 1971 due to its dilapidated state, it has been rumored that several of the inmates’ ghosts still reside there. The site has been somewhat of a Mecca for paranormal investigators, including those featured on the television series “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures.” Eastern State’s death row was home to some of the most dangerous criminals in the country, including Al Capone.

The penitentiary’s Halloween show, ranked among the country’s Top Ten Haunted Houses, has grown since 1991 from a small event to one of the country’s best frights today.

Guests make their way through dark and winding corridors, passing by caged inmates whose main goal  is to separate your soul from your body, so that it may join the ranks of the prisoners housed there. Your deepest fears, including those you have yet to realize, are brought to life by the production’s performers.

“I look for the scream,” one grotesque-looking actor with what appeared to be skin peeling away from his face said. “Especially from the people who don’t look like they scare easy, like really big guys with their kids.”   

If “Terror Behind the Walls” is not your speed and it so happens that you are like Capone and would prefer to take the more comfortable route, the day tour is recommended. Give yourself the opportunity to experience the prison without being on the cusp of a heart attack. You will be just as terrified but with sunlight on your side.

At $20, this experience may be a little pricey for the average college student, but student rates are available on certain days. Be sure to check the web site for further details.

For more information, go to www.easternstate.org.

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