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Philadelphia Halloween: History goes boo!

By Erin Edinger-Turoff, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: October 25, 2014

Sean Kelley thinks roller coasters and haunted houses have a lot in common.

"[They] share the appeal of being something that seems really dangerous, but at the same time you know you're safe," says Kelley, senior vice president and director of public programming at Eastern State Penitentiary. "Haunted houses are like that in that you feel like you're going in somewhere you shouldn't be."

This Halloween, spooky thrills aren't contained within four walls. Festivities throughout Philadelphia cater to the whole family, from date night-worthy scares and beer-boosted tours to kid-friendly excursions. Philadelphia's secret ingredient: a dash of historical horror to flavor the diverse spread of events, catering to the public hunger for fright. Since its colonial beginnings, the city has been stockpiling spooky stories, and they're unearthed in droves this October. As Kelley observes: "Ghost stories and things that are old are almost always together."

This Halloween, your event of choice might just offer a sprinkling of history.

Terror Behind the Walls

Eastern State Penitentiary prides itself on being America's most historic prison, but "Terror Behind the Walls" is anything but a dry lecture on outdated incarceration policies. The prison transforms into a six-part horror extravaganza, including an optional interactive experience for guests at no additional charge.

By donning a "tracking device" - a glow necklace - terror fans notify the actors that they can be touched. Visitors who are "lucky - or unlucky," as Kelley puts it, will be grabbed by a zombie and forced through alternate routes, from tunnels to slides. The six portions of the terror tour are the overgrown labyrinth of Detritus, the pitch-black Night Watch, a prison hospital section Infirmary, Lockdown in the historic Cellblock 12, frightening 3-D illusions of the Experiment, and this year's newly unveiled Machine Shop.

A VIP experience is available through the "Fright and Bite," which enables diners at nearby restaurants to obtain a quick pass to Terror Behind the Walls through a dinner package of varying prices.

Eastern State Penitentiary, 22d Street and Fairmount Avenue, Friday to Sunday, and Tuesday to Nov. 2, 6:30 and 7 p.m. Admission: $19-$39. Information: 215-236-3300, easternstate.org/halloween.

Boo at the Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo's "Boo at the Zoo" brings families together for a significantly less scary but interactive and informational multiday event. Musical groups perform kid-friendly tunes and costume parades take place at noon each day. Costumed guests can watch the decadelong tradition of Beast Feast, which provides pumpkins for animals to both eat and play with. The zoo's four new lion cubs will "add an extra bit of fun," says Laura Houston, the zoo's director of school, public, and youth programs.

Exhibits include the Halloween-themed extinction graveyard, where children learn the historical reasons for animal species' demise - part of the zoo's effort to "help people connect to wildlife and connect to how they can make a difference," Houston says. A Deforestation Free Palm Oil Zone will provide candy created without destruction of habitats. Guests can send companies an e-card encouraging them to take a pledge to protect environments.

The Philadelphia Zoo, 3400 W. Girard Ave., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Adults $20; children 2-11 $18, members and under 2 free.

Information: www.philadelphiazoo.org .

Grim Philly Ghost Ship Terror Cruise

Grim Philly works year-round to bring spooky history to life with walking and boating tours, but they amp up the fright factor this time of year. The adult-themed tours include the Vampires, Sex and Ghost Tour; the Cemetery, Serial Killers, Blood and Beer Tour; an Oktoberfest Halloween Haunted Tavern Tour; and a Ghost Ship Terror Cruise: Pirates and the Jersey Devil, which delivers creepy historical lore by boat.

Joe Wojie, director of Grim Philly and a Rider University history professor, started the cruise along the Delaware River by partnering with Patriot Harbor Lines. With a bar on board, over-21 cruisers can drink to historic legends, including the famed Jersey Devil who terrorized the riverfront and the pirate Blackbeard, who supposedly built a secret tunnel to access a girlfriend's Philadelphia home. Capt. Walt Bohn with Patriot Harbor Lines offers insight into eerily rusting ships like the USS Olympia, which he said have scared visitors with ghost sightings.


Grim Philly, Friday at 5 and 7 p.m.; Saturday and Oct. 31 at 7 and 9 p.m. 599 Market St.

Admission: $9.99-$59.99

Information: 856-829-3100, www.grimphilly.com/tours

Goblins in the Garden

Camden Children's Garden will transform its four-acre waterfront park into a Halloween-themed outdoor adventure, but guest services manager Andrew Adams says the educational component of its mission statement as an "environmental and educational organization" still comes into play. Craft stations and fortune telling will help children learn and participate in the Latin American celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Guests can also get up close and personal and touch some of the visiting creepy crawler creatures.

A crowd favorite is often the Halloween parade through the gardens of the park, Adams says. Kids receive candy from employees wearing costumes that correspond to the sections of Camden Children's Garden, such as the dinosaur and Alice in Wonderland gardens.

Camden Children's Garden, 3 Riverside Drive, Camden Waterfront. Friday and Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Admission: $6, free 2 and under.

Information: 856-365-8733, www.camdenchildrensgarden.org.


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