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

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

And now a story about climate change and Halloween. Climate change is increasing flood risk in communities across the U.S., and some people are finding ways to adapt. One business owner in Philadelphia is trying something especially creative and spooky. WHYY's Sophia Schmidt has the story.

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

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. (Screams). OK.

Inside the chamber is evidence of horrifying experiments the 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. Oh. Oh, God. OK. There's, like, a bunch of old, like, 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 PERSON: There's no escape here for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD SQUAWKING)

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 (laughter), so...

SCHMIDT: Corcodilos showed me how high the floodwaters reached.

CORCODILOS: The water was essentially, you know, 7 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 did 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 it's much easier - if it does flood again, it's easier to - it's not drywall that we're ripping apart.

SCHMIDT: The haunted house is inside this bathtub. It's 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 my - hopefully it's not my lifetime - but if it floods again, we're going to be in - 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 is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.