Haunted Prison Tours Put Boredom Behind Bars

by  Maryrose Mullen | Oct 16, 2012
Zombie / FOTOKITA/iStock

October is the month for all things that go bump in the night. Stories of vampires and werewolves may have lost some of their bite with the popularity of the Twilight series. The most hair-raising tales are those bearing a kernel of truth: knife-wielding maniacs lurking in the shadows, whose thirst for revenge, and capacity for rage, could not be contained behind mere iron bars.

Prisons and penitentiaries command a presence on their own, but abandoned and deserted facilities crank the fear factor to 11. Just ask the rag-tag zombie-slayers on AMC’s The Walking Dead, who have kicked off their third season by taking hostel in an old prison.  While it might seem like a prime location to stave off a zombie attack, an empty jailhouse is nonetheless creepy. For many brave souls, nothing brings more thrills than peeking into an empty cell, or pressing their fingers to a rusted electric chair.

While haunted houses are a seasonal staple, haunted prison tours offer a twisted turn on an old classic. Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead, located in Crest Hill, Ill., invites visitors to meet its most villainous prisoners face to face. Some of the facility’s more infamous guests include Dr. Vierhoff, a doctor who attempted to “perfect the art of madness,” and an insane posse of clowns, incarcerated for corralling unwitting audience members into their “circus of the dead.” Those who survive their tour of the prison must then navigate the City of the Dead, and hope to get out alive.

Some haunted prisons up the ante by hosting tours in authentic, former detention centers. The Haunted Prison Experience draws guests into the Ohio State Reformatory, which housed prisoners as recently as 1990. The Haunted Prison Experience’s Dead Walk, open through Halloween, employs actors and animatronics to spook its guests, but the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society offers ghost hunts and walks of the facility, for visitors interested in the spot’s paranormal activity.

Eastern State Penitentiary is a 200-year old, castle-like prison in Philadelphia, which was abandoned from 1971 to 1988. The site has hosted a bevy of “celebrity” criminals over the years, including mob boss Al Capone. Guests hungry for a fright may take part in “Terror Behind the Walls,” a haunted tour that guides guests through cellblocks dating back to the 1800s. The facility offers Family Nights on Sundays, as well as daytime tours.

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