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A historic building flooded during a hurricane, so the owner made it a haunted house


Climate change is increasing the risk of floods across the United States, so a business owner in Philadelphia found a way to adapt. On this Halloween, here's WHYY's Sophia Schmidt.

SOPHIA SCHMIDT, BYLINE: OK, we're rounding a corner. I'm, like, genuinely scared.

I'm in a haunted house, approaching a hidden chamber that was revealed when floodwaters receded last fall - at least that's according to the story.

All right. There is, like, ominous music. It's very winding. So there's a lot of, like, blind corners. (Screaming) OK.

Inside the chamber is evidence of horrifying experiments a fictional mill owner did on his employees about a century ago. I should mention I don't normally go to haunted houses, so I'm pretty terrified.

Oh, God. OK. There's, like, a bunch of old equipment, which I think might be the textile mill. OK, there is, like, a head - like, a really scary head.

There's plenty of gore, human puppets, a big, bloody fish. Costumed actors are waiting in dark corners, ready to scare anyone who dares to walk through.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) There's no escape here for you.

SCHMIDT: The haunted house is in an old mill building along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, and it has a story of its own. It was flooded last year during the remnants of Hurricane Ida. The building owner, Brian Corcodilos, heads an architecture and design firm in the neighborhood and co-created the haunted house. But when Corcodilos first bought the building, he had other plans.

BRIAN CORCODILOS: I bought it in March of 2021. And then Ida hit in September of '21 - totally wiped it out, so...

SCHMIDT: Corcodilos showed me how high the flood waters reached.

CORCODILOS: The water was essentially, you know, seven feet up on this first floor that we're standing on. And prior to this, no water had ever hit in this floor before.

SCHMIDT: Corcodilos says the flood caused over a million dollars' worth of damage to the big stone building along the river. It wiped out a commercial kitchen from back when the building housed a popular bar. The flood also took out elevator equipment, flooring, drywall and the building's entire back deck. Corcodilos tried to find another bar or restaurant to rent space in the building but...

CORCODILOS: Every time someone came here to look at the space, it was - where'd the water come to, was the first question. And I would point up onto the ceiling like I did to you earlier. And you could see their eyes get a little big and go, I don't know about this.

SCHMIDT: So he opted for a different business model, one that wouldn't require so much permanent infrastructure, like a kitchen, that could get damaged in the future as climate change increases Philly's flood risk. He also made some changes to the building, like adding flood vents around the foundation to protect the structure by letting water flow in and out. He moved major electrical systems up to the second floor. And he built what he calls the concrete bathtub.

CORCODILOS: So the whole first floor has concrete on it now. We have, like, concrete and stucco up the walls. So if it does flood again, it's not drywall that we're ripping apart.

SCHMIDT: The haunted house is inside this bathtub. Its maze-like walls are made of drywall, but they're movable and temporary. Corcodilos' plan is to have a new pop-up event each quarter - something like nightmare before Christmas, scary Valentine's Day or an escape room.

CORCODILOS: So when it floods again, I get - hopefully it's not in my lifetime. When it floods again, this building won't be as damaged.

SCHMIDT: He's keeping the space flexible to accommodate whatever comes from the river.

For NPR News, I'm Sophia Schmidt in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sophia Schmidt | WHYY
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