How to Do Halloween Right in Philadelphia

One of the country’s best haunted houses, ghostly tours and kid-friendly events to get your fright on.

It’s time to celebrate Halloween in Philadelphia, where there are spooky experiences to be had all month long. From a spine-tingling haunted house set within the walls of an infamous prison to a walking tour that combines ghost stories with bar hopping to a kid-friendly festival at America’s oldest zoo, there’s something to help everyone get into the holiday spirit, Philly style.

Haunted Houses

This month, Eastern State Penitentiary, the country’s most historic prison, transforms into the ever-popular Terror Behind the Walls (2027 Fairmount Ave., 215.236.3300, www.easternstate.org/Halloween), a disturbing haunted house where visitors encounter maniacal doctors, zombie guards, and other creepy characters along a perilous journey.

“Terror Behind the Walls” at Eastern State Penitentiary

On select evenings this month, evil clowns make nightmares come true and undead souls lurk around every turn at Fright Factory (2200 S. Swanson St., 215.334.4678, www.frightfactory.tv), which is set in the eerie basement of an old factory in South Philly. This year marks the first Haunted Circus at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (6452 Greene St., 215.849.1991, www.phillycircus.com/haunted-circus). Visitors can choose the Cellar Path for tame, family-friendly fun or the amped-up Attic Path, which includes a blindfolded section and a supernatural séance.

Ghostly Graveyards

While Philadelphia is alive with culture and excitement, it’s also home to a handful of epic final resting places. Christ Church Burial Ground (5th and Arch streets, www.christchurchphila.org) houses the remains of Colonial America’s most important figures, including five signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Christ Church Burial Ground

Throughout the month, Laurel Hill Cemetery (3822 Ridge Avenue, 215.228.8200, www.thelaurelhillcemetery.org) offers a variety of tours, including Hot Spots and Storied Plots during the day and the after-dark Soul Crawl: Haunted Halloween History.

At Old Pine Cemetery (412 Pine Street, 215.925.8051, www.oldpine.org), where more than 200 Revolutionary War soldiers are among the interred, visitors can spot bullet holes in tombstones that British soldiers used for target practice.

Macabre Museums

Featuring exhibits such as a wall lined with skulls, a plaster cast of conjoined twins, and samples of Albert Einstein’s brain, the Mütter Museum (19 S. 22nd St., 215.560.8564, www.muttermuseum.org) is enough to give visitors the creeps all year long. On October 17, the museum reveals a new exhibit, “Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia,” which delves into the epidemic that killed more than 20,000 Philadelphians in six months.

Mutter Museum

Long before Stephen King and R. L. Stine, Edgar Allan Poe was the country’s premier horror writer, churning out chilling stories like “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Poe lived in Philadelphia from 1838- 1844, and his home (532 N. 7th St., 215.965.2305, www.nps.gov/edal) is now a historic site that’s free and open to the public.

Scary Strolls

After the sun goes down, ghost hunters take a guided walking tour to uncover
the haunted history lurking amidst Old City’s fabled cobblestone streets. On the Spirits of ’76 Tour (leaves from 325 Chestnut St., 215.525.1776, www.spiritsof76.com), visit more than 20 sites, including the “dancing” statue of Benjamin Franklin at Library Hall, locations featured in the classic M. Night Shyamalan thriller “The Sixth Sense,” and Washington Square Park, once the burial ground for poor Philadelphians and victims of yellow fever.

Grim Philly (departs from 1 N. Independence Hall
W., 856.829.3100, www.grimphilly.com) presents its “Spooktacular” programming with tours all about ghosts, witches and cemeteries, plus “haunted” pub crawls.

Old City

Family-Friendly Festivities

For kid-friendly fun that’s more smiles than scares, Halloween in Franklin Square (200 N. 6th St., 215.629.4026, www.historicphiladelphia.org/franklin-square) offers spooky miniature golf and the Lightning Bolt Express Train, as well as Halloween-themed activities like decorating pumpkins.

The last three weekends in October mean Boo at the Zoo at the Philadelphia Zoo (3400 W. Girard St., www.philadelphiazoo.org), which includes a trick-or-treat safari, the not-so-scary Extinction Graveyard, and a hay bale maze.

Boo at the Zoo

And mark your calendar for South Street Fall PumpkinFest on October 26, when Headhouse Plaza comes alive with horse-and-wagon hayrides, face painting, seasonal bites and brews, and more holiday fun. (S. 2nd St. between Pine and South sts., 215.413.3713, www.southstreet.com).

Amy Gordon
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