Autumn isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but maybe it should be. Think about it. The heat and humidity of the brutal Pittsburgh summer are finally waning, it’s cool enough for a hoodie at night, and the warm, rustic colors of fall make a comeback. I’m enjoying the foliage on my afternoon commute as I approach the inbound Fort Pitt Tunnels and again on Route 28 as I follow the Allegheny River. This time of year gives me the warm fuzzies that most people only get around December. And what’s the best part about this time of year… Halloween! Hands Down!
Maybe I love Halloween because, as I was growing up, my early November birthday ultimately meant that my birthday parties were Halloween parties. Maybe it’s because even now, I love the idea of being somebody completely different for a night. Maybe it’s my love of the classic scary movies. Maybe it’s my unhealthy love for Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins. Or maybe it’s just the adrenaline rush I get from being completely terrified. Either way, I think Halloween is a blast.
I was lucky enough to grow up in South Park, where the humble Phantoms in the Park (now Hundred Acres Manor) ruled the social lives of every kid in the South Hills for the entire month of October. Since then, I have searched to find the best Halloween attractions around, including some spooky-but-not-scream-inducing sites because, well, Halloween isn’t all about blood and gore, and I’m getting to the age where my friends have little ones of their own. This isn’t a definitive list by any means, but those seeking a thrill may find this a good reference point.
Not for the Faint of Heart Attractions
These attractions aren’t recommended for children.
You know how that vacant Circuit City near you turns into Spirit Halloween or some other costume store during October? A lot of haunted attractions do the same thing, but not the ScareHouse. Often voted one of America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions, the ScareHouse has employees working year-round to make each year more terrifying than the last. This year features three different haunts with your ticket price, including The Forsaken, Pittsburgh Zombies, and Creepo’s Christmas in 3-D . The makeup, the costumes, and the sets are all top-notch and will leave you hoarse from screams.
New this year: The Basement. Upstairs in the rest of the ScareHouse, and in pretty much every other haunted attraction, the ghouls, demons, and monsters aren’t allowed to touch you. The Basement throws that notion away for their most terrifying experience yet. No more grabbing onto all your friends at once here; you either go in alone or with one other person. The monsters will touch you, and they will have no qualms about restraining you. You will be scared senseless, and the people at the ScareHouse know it. No one under the age of 18 is allowed in The Basement (be prepared to show ID), and you have to sign a waiver before you go in. Now if only I could find someone brave enough to go in there with me…
Also new this year: Timed tickets. This means a little more planning on your part, but a lot less waiting once you get there. With a timed ticket, you have a specific time to go in, similar to a movie time, meaning you aren’t waiting in line for what seems like eternity (this is also less time to chicken out). What’s also great is that the ScareHouse offers free parking at the Pittsburgh Zoo with free shuttle service (there is no parking available at the Scarehouse, so don’t bother looping around Etna)
Find out more: ScareHouse
West Virginia Penitentiary, Moundsville, WV
Truth is stranger than fiction. The former West Virginia prison executed over 100 of its inmates in its 132-year existence, either by hanging or electrocution. This was also home to one of the most violent prisons in the country, with one riot calling over 170 state and local police officers onto the property. The difference between this place and something like the Scarehouse is that there are no hired monsters, demons, or ghouls in these halls, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find any. The Penitentiary hosts Ghosts Adventures open to the public every Saturday night. Guests take the typical 90-minutes guided tour then spend the rest of the night roaming the halls on their own. If you aren’t brave enough to spend the whole night, there is the Dungeon of Horrors, where you are actually locked into a cell, put into a maze, then walk through the dungeon itself. For a bone-chilling adventure, try the North Walk, the area of the prison supposedly with the most paranormal activity. Looking for something milder? There are Twilight Tours and Daytime Tours, because sometimes even history can be scary in the dark.
For the ghost hunters, WV Pen also hosts Private Paranormal Investigations for up to 20 people, but you must book in advance.
Find out more: West Virginia Penitentiary
In case you didn’t know, Pittsburgh is the Zombie Capital of the World. This is mostly thanks to George A. Romero and his classic Night of the Living Dead filmed up in Evans City (the first modern zombie movie, by the way). Pittsburgh is also in the Guiness Book of World Records for the largest gathering of zombies. In Pittsburgh, the undead aren’t so much scary as endearing. That’s a lie; they’re still scary, but here we do love our zombies. While this isn’t a haunted attraction, at ZombieFest, you’re sure to see some ghastly people roaming about Arsenal Park on Saturday, October 12. Celebrate with your are-you-or-aren’t-you-dead friends with activities like the Brain Eating Contest, the Zombie Olympics, Ugly Pageant, and the Best Scream Contest. Afterward, join the ghouls for the first ever Zombie Bar Crawl. There’s plenty to keep you entertained and just enough of the creepy stuff to keep you on your toes.
Find out more: Pittsburgh ZombieFest
Terror Town, Strip District
Pittsburgh’s largest indoor haunted attraction, the building that houses Terror Town at 17th and Smallman has been deemed alive with paranormal activity by the Pennsylvania Department of Paranormal Investigation (yes, this is a real thing). No children under 12 are admitted and children 12-15 must be accompanied by a parent. Terror Town is 30,000 square feet of monsters, mazes, and darkness for your directional dysfunction. Whatever your biggest fear is, chances are you’ll be facing it head-on here.
Find out more: Terror Town
Hundred Acres Manor, South Park
I have to give credit to my hometown. Located within South Park, Hundred Acres Manor rivals the Scarehouse in its costumes, pageantry, and overall oh-my-God-this-is-the-scariest-place-on-earth ranks. With six different attractions, you most definitely get your money’s worth here. Your first stop is the Dead Lift, the manor’s elevator which is hardly a gentle ride. Upon exiting, you wander the rooms of the manor in Damnation, filled with zombies and spirits who find your presence most unwelcome.
Then there is South Valley Hospital, a gruesome, American Horror Story: Asylum-esque sight of tortured patients and doctors roaming the halls. The doctors haven’t gotten their fill of torture yet, so beware! You may think you’ll find solace in the family’s 1945 fallout shelter in The Family Unearthed, and you’d be wrong, as you may become dinner to the cannibalistic underground family.
In The Maze, you encounter the dreaded chainsaw nuts that scared me senseless when I was a kid (and have the same effect on me now). Your relief from getting through the maze is only brief when you realize you still aren’t out of the dark just yet.
No trip to Hundred Acres Manor is complete without a visit to the Brine Slaughterhouse. Blood, guts, and screams fill the hallways of your final leg of the manor–and hopefully you leave with both of yours.
Find out more: Hundred Acres Manor
Microsopic Opera’s Night of the Living Dead, East Liberty
It was bound to happen sooner or later, turning George Romero’s classic horror movie Night of the Living Dead into an opera! That’s exactly what Microscopic Opera has done. Opera singers will play the classic roles including Barbara, Johnny, and Ben and others. I wonder if the Zombies will moan in a harmonic manner? October 31 – November 3. Kelly -Strayhorn Theatre.
Find out more: Microscopic Opera Company
But Halloween isn’t all about the thrill of the haunt or carving pumpkins or even finding that perfect costume. Sometimes it’s raining, or it’s too cold, and the only acceptable thing to do is grab some popcorn and watch a movie. Luckily, plenty of Pittsburgh theaters have the Halloween spirit and are showing movies to put you in the spooky mood, too. I haven’t seen a lot of the classic scary movies on the big screen, so I’m looking forward to finally experience Jack Nicholson’s famous “Heeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!” (The Shinning) in a theater.
Classic Halloween Movies: All Dates in October
Loew’s AMC Waterfront 22, West Homestead
16: The Lost Boys
23: The Shining
The Oaks Theater, Oakmont
11 – 12: Beetlejuice
16 – 17: 13 Ghosts
18 – 19: Nightmare on Elm Street
20: Kultur Shock!
23 – 24: White Zombie
25 – 26: Halloween II
28: The Last Man on Earth
30: The House on Haunted Hill
31: Night of the Living Dead
Hollywood Theater, Dormont
12: Black Sunday
18 & 20: Big Ass Spider
20, 22: Vertigo
25, 27: An American Werewolf in London
25 – 26: Rocky Horror Picture Show
26: Halloween Party with Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille, longtime host of TV’s Chiller Theatre
27: The Creature from the Black Lagoon
30: Carnival of Souls
Harris Theater, Downtown
25: Birth of the Living Dead
Regent Square Theater, Regent Square
25: Nosferatu the Vampire (this is a rare version of the film in German with English subtitles)
28: Wicker Man
Like I said, Halloween isn’t all blood and gore. There are plenty of milder, family friendly attractions around for those nights when feeling slightly spooked sounds a lot better than being absolutely terrified.
Family Friendly Halloween Fun
These attractions are ideal for little ones, their parents, or anyone seeking a friendly Halloween time.
Idlewild’s HallowBOO!, Ligonier
Like your class Halloween party, only without the boring teacher! Perfectly decorated for Halloween, Idlewild is the destination for families in the Pittsburgh area. Our small friends can trick-or-treat through Storybook Forest and tour the Witchway Academy. No scream-inducing thrills here, as the park is only open until 6 p.m., Stay safe in the daylight with Ricky Raccoon or Duke the Dragon, both dressed for some Halloween fun. Take a ride on the HallowBOO! Express Railroad or get lost in one of the two mazes while you munch on your favorite fall treats. Don’t forget to buy some goodies to have at home–if they make it that far!
Find out more: Idlewild
ZooBoo at the Pittsburgh Zoo, Highland Park
What could possibly be a better Kodak moment than having your little one dress up like a tiger and seeing the real-life counterpart? Come in costume (not required) and trick-or-treat throughout the zoo, participate in the Halloween parade, and maybe even win a prize in the costume contest! For the thrill-seekers, there is a ghostly haunted house, and plenty of fun for all ages. The zoo does ask that, if you are trick-or-treating, then to please bring a reusable bag. Also, the festivities are free with admission, but WPXI will be collecting canned goods for the local food bank so bring a few cans to help out our neighbors.
Find out more: Pittsburgh Zoo
Pumpkin Patch Trolley, Washington
Weekends at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum just got more festive! Take a ride on a historic trolley from the museum to the pumpkin patch. Enjoy the scenic view of Little Washington while you help the kids scope out the perfect pumpkin for your front porch. Kids are also able to decorate them back at the museum in the Education and Events Room…no carving or gutting necessary! The event also includes free refreshments and plenty of games for the kids.
Why this pumpkin patch? Admission price to the pumpkin patch includes one pumpkin for each child and additional pumpkins are only $2.
Find out more: PA Trolley Museum
Owl-O-Ween at The National Aviary, North Side
For all things creepy, crawly, and owl-y, spend a Saturday afternoon at The National Aviary for its annual Owl-O-Ween celebration. Enjoy trick-or-treating, a bug station, and learning about our nocturnal friends “whooo” show up in plenty of Halloween pictures. Get up close and personal with other nocturnal winged creatures as you stroll through the exhibits. You can even help name the Aviary’s newest addition, the Eurasian Eagle Owl, that hatched in March, and have your picture taken with one of the owls after the Owl Talk presentation.
The only downfall: Quoth [Ginny] the raven, nevermore! She isn’t on display at this time.
Find out more: The National Aviary
Like any holiday, Halloween is only what you make it. It can mean tricks, it can mean treats, it can mean screaming yourself hoarse, or it can mean just about anything else. For me, Halloween is a little bit of everything, from finding the perfect haunted attraction that scares the bejeezes out of me to watching a thriller in a dark theater to crunching leaves through the pumpkin patch. Halloween is actually pretty versatile if you think about it, and you don’t need to be brave to make the most of the season. Enjoy the sights, savor the treats, and try not to be too hoarse come November 1. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to finish this pumpkin latte and get moving; the haunted houses are calling my name!