logo

A Brief History of The Haunted House

A giant, walk-through attraction is the most extreme haunted houses in Ohio in 2017. It’s located in the Georgia Antique Center, just outside of Atlanta. It is called Netherworld and features 3D special effects, aerial performers, and flesh-eating clowns. People with heart conditions should be advised against purchasing tickets to Netherworld.

This is what a haunted home is supposed to do. They are there to scare people. Although haunted homes are not a new idea, people have been telling spooky stories for hundreds of years. Haunted houses are unique because they are tied to the holiday that brought them cultural fame. The Halloween holiday is a tradition that cannot exist without.

The haunted house originated in 19th-century London when a variety of illusions and attractions introduced new forms of horrifying entertainment to the public. Marie Tussaud, a British artist, scandalized British audiences in 1802 with wax sculptures of French decapitated figures. These included King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Tussaud’s likenesses are remarkably accurate and she made death masks for, the French Revolution’s many victims of the guillotine. Her grotesque collection was named the “Chamber of Horrors” when she opened a permanent London exhibit. This name has remained in the wax museum.

As Rebekah McKendry explains in Fangoria, modern haunted houses started to experiment with macabre themes at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Grand Guignol theater in Paris became famous for its depictions of graphic destruction. Max Maurey, the theater’s director, once boasted that he rated each performance according to the number of people who were shocked and passed out. An English fairground in Liphook introduced the first ghosthouse, an early form of a commercial horror attraction. There was a growing public interest in horror.

Lisa Morton, the author of Trick Or Treat: A History of Halloween tells Smithsonian.com how Halloween-themed haunted homes first appeared during the Great Depression. This was because American parents devised ways to distract young trickers, whose holiday pranks escalated to property loss, vandalism, harassment of strangers. She says that they appeared at the same time as trick or treat. “Cities searched for ways to buy these children off.”

The first haunted homes were primitive. Many families would decorate their basements together and host “house-to-house” parties. Children could go from basement to basement and experience different frightening scenes. This 1937 party brochure explains how parents can also create “trails of terror”, to scare their children. Anyone who has ever experienced a disappointing scare may be familiar with the effects.

A door leads outside to the attic or cellar, where one can meet ghosts and witches. Hang old fur and strips of liver on walls. This is where one can feel his way to dark steps ….Weird howls and moans come from dark corners. The ceiling has hair nets and damp sponges that touch his face ….Guests must climb through a dark tunnel …..

However, the haunted house wasn’t a cultural icon until Walt Disney built one. The Disneyland Haunted Mansion was built in 1969, almost two decades after Disney approved the troubled project. It was built in the same style as the Evergreen House or the Winchester Mystery House. The attraction quickly became a hit. The Haunted Mansion was visited by more than 82,000 people in a single day. The attraction’s main feature is the Grand Hall. This 90-foot-long ballroom scene of dancing ghosts at a birthday party is its centerpiece. The scene was brought to life by a complex series of illusions called Pepper’s ghost. These illusions use refracted lighting to create ethereal images. “Disney’s Haunted Mansion is the most popular haunted attraction in the world,” Morton says. Morton states that it was the beginning of haunted attractions. She explains how Trick or to treat made the attraction revolutionary.

The Haunted Mansion was not a resemblance to haunted homes or “dark rides”, which were tawdry carnival haunted house-style haunted places of the past. It was its innovative use of new technologies and effects that made it so popular and influential. Ghosts weren’t just sheets hanging from a tree. They were actually shimmering transparent figures that spoke, moved and sang. A witch was not just a rubber-masked person who sat in a fake cauldron. It was a fully realistic bodiless head that floats in a crystal ball and conducts complex seances.

The haunted house spread quickly over the country within a few years. The haunted houses of the United States Junior Chamber (also known as Jaycees) became a popular way to raise money. (The fundraising venture was so successful that it spawned its how-to guide. Knott’s Berry Farm in California began hosting Halloween night attractions. This quickly grew into a multi-week schedule of events. Bob Burns, a man who reconstructed classic horror films each year attracted national media attention. Evangelical Christians also created their anti-Halloween attractions. Liberty University and Jerry Falwell introduced the first hellhouse in 1972.

Hollywood started to embrace horror movies like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The haunted house business reaped the rewards. The horror boom created a demand for scarier attractions and cross-promotional ads. You would have seen Freddy Krueger and Jason at haunted houses in the 1980s or 1990s. According to Larry Kirchner, president, and CEO of Haunted Home Association, which is a trade association for haunted-house operators, the haunted industry followed closely the movie industry.

In the same period, professional haunted houses quickly emerged as an industry and outspent non-profit organizations like the Jaycees. Eight teenagers were killed in a fire at a haunted home in New Jersey. After their deaths, attractions were closed and new safety regulations were enacted. Volunteer groups struggled to compete with the newer competition. Many were soon forced to close their doors. Kirchner says it was a turning point in the industry. “The Jaycees were pushed out because of their basic haunted houses. He says that it was based on the assumption that people would volunteer. But when you have people opening large haunted houses with lots of advertising, that’s difficult.”

The number of professionally haunted houses increased over the next 20 years. Kirchner estimates that there were approximately 2,700 haunted houses nationwide last year. According to an NBC report, a large haunted house attraction could earn $3,000,000 during the Halloween season. The industry is valued $300,000,000.

Haunted houses are not just about scary characters or hyper-realistic horror. The industry is now embracing all kinds of extreme horrors, including zombie runs and escape games. These are just a few examples of the experiences that seem to be designed to terrorize. These successes will last for how long? Is the haunted house able to last for another 50 years? What will the house look like if it lasts another half-century?

Kirchner is skeptical that the haunted house will stay. He says, “If I had to guess, no.” “Every business eventually fails, so we want to be here as long as possible.”

 

I love nature and guitars