ABOVE PHOTO: Cell block inside the Eastern State Penitentiary (Photo: Elena Bouvier, 1998)
While rumors persist year-round of real ghosts and goblins inhabiting some of Philadelphia’s most historic sites, Halloween definitely dials up the spooky factor in the City of Brotherly Love. Families with little kids can find gentle thrills at the Philadelphia Zoo’s Boo at the Zoo and Morris Arboretum’s Scarecrow Walk, while thrill-seeking teens can get their kicks at the acclaimed “Terror Behind the Walls” at Eastern State Penitentiary.
Here are 10 ways to get spooked in Philly this Halloween season:
Take a candlelit walking tour of America’s most historic square mile with Ghost Tours of Philadelphia and discover haunted spots throughout Society Hill, Independence Mall and Washington Square. Along the way, you’ll hear chilling tales of Benedict Arnold and Founding Fathers. (5th St. & Chestnut St.; nightly at 7:30pm) Visit: ghosttours.com/philadelphia.
Inspired by paintings by a local artist, the Straw Maze: Bales of Cornwall at Woodmere Art Museum is part sculpture, part maze and part climbing apparatus for kids. On Saturdays, a visit also includes craft activities. (9201 Germantown Ave., weekends, early September end Oct). Visit: woodmereartmuseum.org.
Is your teen looking for serious thrills? Just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Eastern State Penitentiary once held notorious criminals like Al Capone and is now home to Terror Behind the Walls, a spooky haunted house AOL has called the “Best Haunted House in America.” (2027 Fairmount Ave.; select nights, mid-Sept. to end Oct.) Visit: easternstate.org/halloween.
Throughout October, Franklin Square hosts lots of kid-friendly special Halloween happenings. You can play a round of Spooky Mini Golf complete with fog, lights, and music; pick a pumpkin from the Pumpkin Patch, then decorate it to take home; kids ages 10 and under can pick up goodies along the Trick-or-Treat Trail and then take a spin on the Lightning Bolt Express. (6th St. & Race St.; select days, Oct.) Visit: historicphiladelphia.org.
At the 9th annual Scarecrow Walk at the Morris Arboretum, families can stroll along the Oak Allée to see up to 30 scarecrows dressed up as heroes and villains. At the end, you can vote for your favorite. (100 E Northwestern Ave.; early to mid-Oct.) Visit: morrisarboretum.org.
The month of October is a great time to find Halloween fun in historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, from a murder mystery play to a Soul Crawl walking tour. (3822 Ridge Ave.) Visit: laurelhillcemetery.org.
Want to learn about the dancing statue of Ben Franklin at Library Hall or an elusive escaped convict from Eastern State Penitentiary? The Spirits of 76 Ghost Tour stops at more than 20 scary sites in some of Philadelphia’s most historic neighborhoods. (325 Chestnut St.; nightly at 7:30pm) Visit: spiritsof76.com.
Lions and tigers and pumpkins—oh my! Wear your costumes to the annual Boo at the Zoo, which takes place over two weekends at the Philadelphia Zoo. Kids can participate in scarecrow scavenger hunts, enjoy storytelling and musical performances, and go trick or treating while visiting their favorite animals. (3400 W. Girard Ave.; select dates in Oct.) Visit philadelphiazoo.org/Explore/Upcoming-Events/Boo-at-the-Zoo
On the Saturday before Halloween, head to the Headhouse District for the annual Pumpkin Fall Fest. Kids of all ages can enjoy hay rides, art projects, music, circus performances and pumpkin decorating. Local restaurants and pubs serve up fall fare and spirits of the season. (2nd Street between Pine & Lombard Sts.) Visit: southstreet.com.
Anytime of year, the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is a gory place, with its endless displays of skulls, skeletons and medical anomalies. (19 S. 22nd St.) Visit: muttermuseum.org.