Escape…if you can

Pennsbury Manor will host two historically-inspired escape room experiences

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Can you make it out?: The public can travel back to the 1600s when Pennsbury Manor hosts two escape rooms inspired by true historical events. “Witches in the Woods” centers around the real-life witch trial of Margaret Mattson, while “Cottage in the Woods” is based on the murder trial of Judith Roe. Source: Pennsbury Manor

By this point, we’re all pretty familiar with the escape room trend that’s sweeping the nation. In one hour, you must work together with a group to scour a small space for clues, all with the goal of (you guessed it) escaping the room. As you attempt to solve seemingly impossible puzzles, a massive clock on the wall ticks down the remaining time. It’s stressful. It’s challenging. But when you find the exit with five seconds to spare, it’s oh so rewarding.

Recently, themed escape rooms have become a popular trend. From an ’80s experience in South Philadelphia to a Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban-inspired one in Conshohocken, people crave the chance to be immersed in another world, even just for a little while. Thanks to the creative minds at Pennsbury Manor, the public can now travel to the 1600s when William Penn’s former estate hosts two escape rooms inspired by true historical events on April 20 and June 29.

On both dates, the two escape room experiences will be held simultaneously, with each lasting one hour and 15 minutes and organized into three sessions. The first, “Witches in the Woods,” transports participants back in time to witness the fear and power of witches in the 17th century.

Inspired by the actual witch trial of Margaret Mattson, whom Penn judged himself, the escape room will test detective skills and creativity in finding clues (all by candlelight) to either help or condemn Mattson. Sessions for “Witches in the Woods” are held at 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. and are limited to 10 participants.

Pennsbury’s second escape room option is “Murder in the Woods,” where participants must solve the murder case that was deemed “notorious and barbarous” even in the late 1600s. Based on the real-life trial of Judith Roe, escape room-goers will gather evidence to prove her guilty. The three sessions for “Murder in the Woods” take place at 6:15 p.m., 7:45 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. and are limited to eight participants.

While the Mattson-inspired experience is new this year, Pennsbury Manor hosted “Murder in the Woods” (previously “Cottage in the Woods”) toward the end of September last year. According to managing director Sarah Rudich, this was Pennsbury’s first dive into the escape room trend. It was supposed to be an experimental “let’s see how this goes” sort of thing, so it came as a shock when tickets sold out in less than two weeks.

“The main question we kept getting was, are you going to run it again?,” Rudich said. “It caught us pleasantly by surprise.”

A second run of “Cottage in the Woods” was held in October, and this time it sold out in fewer than 24 hours. Pennsbury was clearly onto something as the demand for its historically-inspired escape rooms continued to grow. The only problem was the matter of expanding the project without putting strain on the limited number of volunteer staff members. After some brainstorming, it was decided running two escape rooms simultaneously was the answer.

Marketing initiatives for the new format began in February and though this consisted mostly of non-paid social media promotions, Rudich said the April 20 date was sold out by Easter. There’s just something about the historical ties of Pennsbury’s escape rooms that keeps people clamoring for more.

“We’ve gotten creative to bring them into the modern-day era,” she explained.

As Rudich and her team prepare to welcome an all-new round of participants, they’re already looking ahead to next year and beyond. Though it’s dependent upon this year’s success and the number of staff members available, there is the potential of hosting more escape room options, including private opportunities for larger groups such as bridal parties. ••

If you go…

The April 20 escape room is recently sold out, though a second will be held June 29. Spots are limited, so those interested should register as soon as possible. Tickets can be purchased at facebook.com/PennsburyManor or pennsburymanor.org. Pennsbury Manor is located at 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com