Eastern State Penitentiary Lays Off Staff, Cuts ‘Terror Behind the Walls'

Visitors arrive at "Terror Behind the Walls" haunted house on October 24, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison turned museum in Philadelphia, has announced layoffs of about 40% of its staff and suspension of its popular Halloween fundraiser this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The organization’s president and CEO, Sally Elk, called the move an “absolute last resort” that followed months of financial losses and uncertainty ahead.

Eastern State Penitentiary, designated a National Historic Landmark by the federal government in 1965, said it planned to reopen for historic tours in mid-July but expected its two largest audience segments — tourists and school groups — to be greatly diminished for the rest of the year and beyond.

The organization said preparations for the annual “Terror Behind the Walls” Halloween fundraiser, which draws huge crowds to the Fairmount neighborhood each year, had been going on for months, but modifying the event to comply with anticipated COVID-19 guidelines proved too difficult and financially risky. Instead, smaller-scale evening tours “more closely aligned with our mission” are planned, said Sean Kelley, senior vice president.

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