Come Halloween, historic Eastern State Penitentiary will not be hosting Terror Behind the Walls, its wildly popular haunt-o-rama that has succumbed to the coronavirus this year.
Instead, the crumbling prison will mount Night Tours, a timed, self-guided visit featuring an audio tour, exhibits, a lighting design with sweeping searchlights, and large-scale projections in the historic prison’s courtyards. It will run on select nights Sept. 18 to Nov. 15.
Terror Behind the Walls, a key fund-raiser for the prison, has been suspended because of the demands of social distancing during the pandemic. Eastern State hopes it will eventually return.
In addition to the narrated audio tour, Night Tours will feature two large-scale video projections on the interior of the penitentiary’s 30-foot-high perimeter walls. A silent film shot at Eastern State Penitentiary in 1929, with flickering images of prisoners in the mess halls and officers patrolling the corridors, will play in the Cellblock 3 courtyard. In the Cellblock 7 courtyard, 20 animated short films that were created by incarcerated artists for Eastern State’s 2019 project “Hidden Lives Illuminated” will be on view.
“At night, the cellblocks fall into darkness and the penitentiary takes on a different energy — its imposing architecture emphasized by dramatic lighting,” Sean Kelley, Eastern State’s senior vice president, said in a statement. “Listening to the real voices of men and women who lived and worked here, watching silent movies from the prison projected onto the massive walls of the prison yard, is an eerie and evocative experience. We have never offered anything like this.”