Archive for the ‘Cool Stuff to do’ Category

Terror Behind the Walls

One innovative use of the prison is a Halloween event called Terror Behind the Walls”, a scare fest filled with ghouls, gore and gallons of blood. It is easily the best haunted scare place my wife I have ever been to. Understand that we do not give such praise lightly. For my wife and I, Halloween is the bomb, it’s the shit, it is the best holiday of the whole year. I love decorating the house, I loved going to haunted scary places, I love Halloween parties. if we had to do it over again, we wouldn’t have gotten married 10/22 we would’ve waited till 10/31 and had a Halloween wedding. We even discuss redoing our vows and doing it on Halloween. But what’s the point? Spending that money for something we already did? Screw that, I’d rather put the cash towards a house. But I digress….

We both worked at a haunted greenhouse for several years and we had a ball. My wife was a guide and I played a variety of roles through the years, the best of which as eye-gore, the brother Igor, and I had my one eye covered with blood and gore and makeup, I was truly disgusting. One of my best shticks ever was when I tucked this small rubber rat, maybe 2 inches long but with a 4 inch tail, inside my cheek along with a small amount of fake blood. I would come out at the guests and babble away and eventually one of them would notice the tail sticking out of my mouth, and I would say “Where are my manners? You look hungry… I’ve already eaten but perhaps there’s something I could bring up for you,…” then I start making these horrible disgusting retching sounds. I’d slowly regurgitate the rat and offer it to the guests, often the blood would just flow from my mouth, sometimes drip down my chin, it was very disgusting I must say. I got THE BEST reactions from people, sometimes I’d chase them around offering them some dinner.

The place we used to work at is under new management and sadly it sucketh. I think a lot of haunted scare type places suck for a variety of reasons. Too much talking is usually the biggest reason. If you have q group you can scare and then intimidate and work off of, then the talking works, but if the crowd isn’t buying it, it’s like watching them die a slow death as they go thru their tired routines. I think most guests nowadays aren’t buying the doctor’s lab, the mad scientists kitchen or dining room, and even reanimating Frankenstein is old. And chasing them out the final room with Jason/Freddy/Leatherface is sooooo predictable. It’s been done to death. Talking rooms are just so predictable it’s boring.

The only way to really get people is with shocks and unexpected surprises. Innovative use of darkness, fog, noises, hidden panels, smoke, mirrors, robe lights and so forth. TBTW at ESP does this with more intensity then any place I’ve ever been. For a jaded scarefan like us to give this place enthusiastic thumbs up is saying something. (yeah I sound egotistical when I say that, but it really takes a lot to scare us or impress us and they did both). TBTW at ESP also has professional makeup jobs and incredibly good prosthetics and costumes. You can tell this isn’t done by teenagers in a trailer fighting over makeup supplies (ahhh the memories of scrounging to find a virgin piece of stipple…) The attention to detail shows, and really elevates it to the next level.

When you go to TBTW at ESP you should make reservations because otherwise the lines get long, however having a reservation at 7PM does not mean you go into the event at that time. There is a line outside, you then enter the walls of the prison, you give up your ticket, and then you have a choice. You can wait in the (potentially) long, or pay $5 more (per person mind you) and go to the front of the line. Unless the line is obscenely log, don’t take the fast pass. We had to wait 45 minutes or so but they run TV on an endless loop which features information about the prison, as well as clips from the MTV show fear which did an episode here. This, along with the prison spotlights and the actors running around scaring the crap out of the waiting customers.

I must say that one reason why I enjoyed myself so much has nothing to do with TBTW, it has to do with the company I kept. My wife’s girlfriends boyfriend Mimmo (rhymes with Nemo the fish)  is such a scardey cat that we were pissing in our pants, alternately from being scared to laughing our asses off at him. There were times he was cowering behind the women, and other times we had to shove him down the corridor because he would not move forward. My wife had bruised wrists like Michael Jackson’s after he got arrested in Santa Barbara… At one point a ghoul started bothering him, then came to bother me, and I kept pointing back to Mimmo, and of course that made him nearly shit his pants. It’s always fun when you go with someone who is genuinely terrified.
What awaits you inside the walls? I won’t bother to describe what you’ll find inside as a) it should be obvious, b) I couldn’t possibly describe it that well it happens so fast, and  c) why would I want to ruin it for you? I will say that they make extremely good use of fog, 3-D, hiding places, and sound… If you don’t believe me and my egotistic attitude, then ask Hauntfreaks.com who just rated it the best haunted attraction in the PA/NJ/DE area.

It turns out that the same guy who helped design Universal Studios Haunted attractions and Madison Scare Garden (both of which we’ve attended and thought highly of) was involved in the design of this place. From what I read, TPTW has been around for 6 years but initially wasn’t much more then a guide telling ghost stories. Not very chilling. With the recent redesign, they’ve established themselves as the place to go to get scared at Halloween.

MTV Filmed a segment of Fear here. Numerous documentaries about the prison have been filmed here as well as ones on ghosts. Here are hauntfreak.com’s final words on the subject: With proceeds going to such a worthy cause (the preservation of an amazing piece of architectural history), it is a bonus that we just can’t resist. Neither can we. Do yourself a favor. Make reservations, and get here during daylight to tour the prison, then  go eat dinner and come back to get scared. It’s a day well spent.

Read about the history of the prison here

Read about the tour of Eastern State Prison here

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A tour of Eastern State Prison

I had heard about this prison and its tour through the Terror Behind the Walls Halloween website. I had suggested to my friends that we visit TBTW after visiting Skillman since we’d be down that way, and when we got kicked out early, my wife’s girlfriend said we should take the prison tour. I initially resisted, hoping to visit Ancora and a few weird virtuals, but the others won out, and in retrospect I’m glad they did.

The tours are self guided, using the same kind of audio set & headphones you get if you visit Ellis island. You walk around and certain spots are marked by a number, which corresponds to a certain track on the audio. They claim the tour takes 45 minutes but to be honest I could’ve spent twice that long if we hadn’t arrived with only an hour till the prison closed. The tour is narrated by Steve Buscemi who found ESP while checking locations for a movie he was looking to make. At the time he visited the prison was not in any shape to be toured, and he took interest in the prison and the effort to restore and preserve it.

You enter the massive gates of the prison, and then walk thru some narrow tunnels to a cashier who gives you the audio tour headsets. You then enter the prison yard and begin a slow tour of many of the wings and facilities. Among highlights you see the cell where Al Capone stayed, death row, and cell of bank robber Willie Sutton.  You see the cells themselves, along the way  hearing interviews with guards, prisoners and administrators, describing the way life was in the prison.

When you finally exit the rear of the main building you exit into a exercise yard where inmates played baseball and football. Among the more interesting facts is that when player hit home runs out of the prison often the residents outside would throw the balls back in. Little did the guards know that often these baseballs were plants stuffed with drugs or weapons!

As you walk through the hallways, peer into the cells, and listen to the stories it is impossible to come out of there without being affected by the stories that are told. Even though I took the tour with friends, the tour made me feel as if Steve was talking to me personally and singularly. As I walked the halls my wife and friends seemed to be irrelevant, as I was engrossed by the tales of solitary confinement, the mental illness, the disease, and the fears of both the prisoners and the guards. I felt quite alone myself.
Unfortunately the tour ended early since we arrived so late. We were unable to spend much time in death row, or to linger over an art project about the cruelty of the death penalty being used on children. There are more art projects planned, and the prison often hosts special events. This is without a doubt one of the most visually interesting places you can visit, and one of the oldest buildings you will likely ever get a chance to tour. it is well worth the trip, just make sure to give yourself at least 2 hours to fully appreciate the facilities. Afterwards there is a small museum area with items from the prison including the lock and key for the original front gate which still works 180 years later!

The prison is located at Fairmount Ave & 22nd Ave in Philadelphia and is open from April 1 until just after Thanksgiving. Private tours can be scheduled at any time, even during the winter. For information call 215 236-5111 x12. One of the more fascinating things I read was that the prison was a popular tourist attraction, even when it was open. Supposedly was as popular as Niagara Falls or the Capitol Building. Between 1862 and 1872 over 100,000 people visited the prison.

Read about the history of the prison here

Read my take on Terror Behind the Walls here (a Halloween attraction held in the confines of ESP)

All the photos here

Jersey’s Bat Hibernaculum

There are nine species of bats that can be found in NJ, six of which stay here year round. Caves are their natural habitat but are become increasingly disturbed by human contact, leaving them unsuitable for them to hibernate in.   Abandoned mines and tunnels are rarely entered by people because of their relative lack of safety, and are now their preferred place to remain during the winter.
The Hibernia Mine in Rockaway Township, Morris County was first used by bats in the 1930s. Thrillseekers and explorers persisted in entering the mine, leading to attempts to seal the mine. Doing so would seal it off from the bats as well, making this an unsuitable solution.

Enter the Bat Gate

In 1994,  the Endangered and Nongame Species Program was able to install a bat gate, which is a specialized gate that keeps people out but lets bats freely enter and exit. The mine is now part of the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Mangement Area, and an estimated 30,000 bats call the mine home. During the months of July & August the bats can be seen at dusk leaving the mine by the thousands. Bat watching has become so popular that watch stands were installed to give people a comfortable place to view from.

There is a geocache here.

Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum

Ripley’s Believe or Not in Atlantic City is one of many located around the world. The building, whose front facade appears to have fallen from the structural supports, is located on the boardwalk next to New York Ave. The building, with its falling front, immediately reminded me of Wonderworks in Orlando, FL. The RBION self guided tour costs 8.95 and can take from 30 to 90 minutes depending on how much you want to linger over the various exhibits.

Robert Ripley was born in 1893 in California, and after his hopes of playing major league baseball were dashed, he became a cartoonist for the SF Chronicle. He drew a cartoon about unusual sports feats, such as the man who walked the fastest backwards, and the man who jumped rope the longest. The title was Champs & Chumps but the editor changed it to Believe It Or Not, and thus an industry was born.

Ripley was obsessed with travel and foreign culture and traveled in the 1920’s thru all seven continents, earning the nickname “the modern Marco Polo”. He ran a syndicated column with cartoons describing the things he saw and encountered. He made 100K a year and the column ran in 300 newspapers worldwide in 17 languages with an estimated readership of 80 million.

In the 1930’s and 40’s Ripley’s tales were told on the radio. the show ran for 14 years until 1948 when he moved to television. The show was a smash hit but the grind of a weekly TV show wore heavily on him and in episode 13 he had a heart attack on air, and died 3 days later. The first museum, called an odditorum was actually an exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The fair featured replicas of strange people and things, bizarre art, shrunken heads from the Amazon, as well as live performers, such as a man who could place an entire baseball in his mouth. Ripley collected shrunken heads, more then 8,000 of them over his lifetime, and many were put on display.

The RBION Museums would eventually include exhibits of science, representations of strange rituals, illusions, videos, pieces from his exotic collection, as well as brain teasers. Every museum is unique, there is no duplication of items in any two RBION museums, but some items will seem familiar regardless. This particular museum is home to the world’s largest tire, a life sized statue of Robert Wadlow the world’s tallest man at 8 foot 11 and 490 lbs, and lots of examples of unusual art, such as a roulette wheel composed of jelly beans, a recreation of a famous bridge composed from toothpicks, as well as a piece of the Berlin Wall. All in all this was familiar territory for anyone who has visited other RBION museums or has watched the show. The tour is a good value for several reasons. 1: the tour is not overpriced, 2: the material is interesting. 3: every RBION museum has unique items.

In addition there are some things here relative to NJ. First is the Jersey Devil, the legendary 13th child of Mrs. Leeds who ran up the chimney and has stalked the people and animals of the Pine Barrens for the last 200 years. Constructed by Tom Jackson out of various animal bones, this represents what the jersey devil might look like. I always thought it would be much taller… Ripley’s also runs an annual weird face contest every November. Now when I say weird I don’t mean ugly or homely, I mean people who twist and contort their faces, or do something weird like bug their eyes really far out. Typically the event is judged by local celebrities & past winners. Registration is not needed, simply show up at the event, held the third Wednesday of each November. They typically get 20 contestants, competing for a top prize of $300, a picture on their wall of fame, as well as tickets to a local show. For details call 609 347-7021

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Jersey Devil Hunt

The Jersey Devil was supposedly born the 13th child to Mrs Leeds, born in Leeds Point, NJ in the 1700’s. After having so many children, she didn’t want any more and if she had another it would be the devil. There are other women in other places who supposedly gave birth to the jersey devil, but her name, that town, and that reason are the most commonly known origins. Over the past 200 years over 2000 people claim to have seen the creature, mills were shut down, trolleys were supposedly attacked, and fire departments supposedly tried to knock it off a roof with their fire hoses.

The JD Hunts are conducted by Russell Juleg, of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, whose goal is to help preserve the Pinelands, and to educate people about the area. They conduct many nature walks, canoe trips, as well as provide lessons in wilderness survival. JD Hunts are held numerous times thru out the summer and fall. The event costs $10 pp, and you must register in advance. You can register by calling Russell Juleg at the PPA at 609 787-3740. The hunts begin at the Batona campsite, located directly opposite the Caranza Memorial on Caranza Rd.

We arrived for the hunt around 7PM, and although it was getting dark, we still had an hour of light left so we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows and enjoyed the evening air and talked amongst ourselves. There was at least 15 of us, ranging in age from 10 to at least 55. Around 8PM it was getting dark and we got down to business. Russell Juleg, our host, stoked the fire good and began telling the story of Mrs Leeds 13th child. He took care to present the story as folk lore. “it’s not too terribly helpful to get hung up on whether not the JD exists. From a folklorists standpoint, a more important question is what role did the telling of the story play in South Piney culture?” Juleg explains the history of development in the Pinelands, and tells how the story may have originated, and how strange noises in the woods might translate into a “sighting”. He also explains why the story has continued to be told nearly two centuries after it first began being told….

The Jersey Devils hockey team are named after the creature.

By the time Juleg had given us a history of the JD and the basic history of the Pine Barrens, it was now 9PM and it was pitch black. Russell told us to put our food and chairs away and to meet by a big tree. “And leave your flashlights in your cars!” he yells. Surprisingly we were able to see quite well in the pitch black night, and we proceeded on a 90 minutes 1.5 mile hike over old railroad beds, past the Caranza Memorial, and along narrow trails. All along the way Russell told us tales about Piney characters from long long ago, and we kept a lookout for a set of eyes up in the trees. I won’t reveal what happened on our excursion, but I will say that at times it was a tad scary and unnerving, being in the woods in the dark. Course some of us were more scared then others, and that of course made it even more fun for the rest of us. The whole thing lasts about 3 hours or so, and is well worth the $10 cost. If you go, remember to bring bug spray, marshmallows and hot dogs, but leave the flashlights at home!

Blue Man Group

The Blue Man Group Official website describes the show thusly: “These performances feature three enigmatic bald and blue characters who take the audience through a multi-sensory experience that combines theatre, percussive music, art, science and vaudeville into a form of entertainment that is like nothing else.” Ya, ok. So what the _#@)(@ does that mean? It is a total mind trip that involves marshmallow art, Twinkie audience participation, the most paper streamers you’ll ever see outside of Times Square New Years eve, posters you can’t possible read fully, fish art, drum art, plus a skewering of modern technology, societal norms and expectations.

The Astor Place theater is quite small so I suggest you get seats in row HH or better, but be aware that anyone in the first six rows is handed complimentary rain slickers. Trust me, you’ll need them. The first 2-3 rows of the balcony also are decent seats. Anything else and you’ll find your viewed periodically obscured. So what do they do? Well they say the Happy Birthday song to an audience member. Have you ever tried to simply say the words to Happy Birthday? Now imagine 250 people saying the words together. It’s hysterical. Its stupid. It’s riotously funny. This is a show that really can not be described. I’m not a film critic or a reviewer, all I can say is I highly recommend them.

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This blue man reminded me quite a bit of Michael Berryman, a long time horror film star. His film credits include The Hills Have Eyes, One Flew over the Cuckoos nest, numerous television cameos including the X-Files.
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Frightfest at Great Adventure

Six Flags runs their Frightfest every Octobe. Pictured is Dr Zombini (Todd Robbins who runs the Side Show Saturday Night). In the past Dr Zombini has done the human blockhead routine, eaten light bulbs and done flame eating. He also took one of those balloons (“You know the kind that clowns and magicians turn into cute little animals? I don’t do that….”) and inserted one end up his nose, and pulled it out of his mouth. Also performing was Ula the Rubber Pain-Proof Girl

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