This week and next week I'm doing a two-part blog about haunted houses.
I remember when I was a child in West Los Angeles. We had a very large garage and one year my mother and father fixed it up like a haunted house for my Halloween party—a winding, twisty route through all kinds of scary things. It was a lot of fun and totally different from anything anyone else in the neighborhood did for Halloween. Of course, back in those days, scary things were not at all the same type of bloody gruesome attractions that are the main features of today's professional Halloween attractions.
Halloween attractions have moved far beyond the neighborhood scare as a fun encounter for the trick-or-treaters. Today they are big business—very big business. Operators of the large attractions spend most of the year coming up with new and better ideas for frightening attractions and then implementing them. They take pleasure in dreaming up even more diabolical ways of giving us the seasonal nightmares.
This week, let's talk about the history of haunted houses and some Halloween facts. Just in the United States, there are over 1200 professional haunted houses, 300 theme parks that operate horror-themed events and over 3000 charity-run spooky Halloween attractions. Haunted attractions have a long history dating back to early civilizations.
The Egyptians knew that the best way to keep body snatchers away from a pyramid was to really scare them away. The commonly used mazes, moving walls, self-opening doors, and traps as well as snakes and insects to protect treasure and the bodies of royalty. True, they weren't charging admission and the public wasn't lined up waiting to get inside, but it is an early example of creating a setting to produce fear.
The Greeks and Romans have a folklore complete with mazes and labyrinths filled with monsters. With theater being a vital part of their culture, we can assume they created numerous special effects devices to enhance the scare factor that would evolve into today's haunted house elements.
The Dark Ages:
This period in history saw the Christians continue the evolution toward today's haunted house attraction. During the 1300s through the 1500s, Europe had been converted from Celtic and pagan religions to the practice of Christianity. Many of today's Halloween activities—carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, dressing up in costumes and even trick-or-treating—were pagan practices that stayed with us.
Theater became increasingly popular and catered to society's love of horror and resulted in the development of more special effects. Ghosts, demons, the devil, and other monsters appeared regularly in plays including those of William Shakespeare.
This was a time when the general population became fascinated with ghosts and the possibility of other realms. Self-proclaimed mediums, fortune tellers, clairvoyants, and spiritualists engaged in conjuring sessions in an attempt to communicate with the dead which became a form of entertainment for the elite. The theme of hauntings continued in the theater and the century provided the first wax museum, the forerunner of future walk-through attractions that played on people's sense of reality.
The start of the 20th century saw the increased popularity of the traveling carnival and the rise of the what was referred to as a freak show. Dark rides also became popular amusements. The patrons sat in a boat or on a train and were automatically moved through numerous scenes. Amusement parks came into popularity during this time. Those that could not afford a big roller coaster offered cheap fun houses and haunted house attractions to pull in customers.
Also during this time, many of the residential houses built during the early 1800s had become dilapidated and worn down. Adults would tell their children that ghosts filled the neglected homes in an attempt to keep them from exploring the neglected homes. This further fueled the mystique of haunted houses.
1969 was the opening of Disneyland's (Anaheim, California) Haunted Mansion attraction. Rather than putting a genuine decrepit-looking structure in the middle of Disneyland, he created a lavish mansion with a pristine exterior based on the appearance of the San Jose, California, Winchester House. It was originally a walk-through attraction but was soon changed over to a ride.
Non-profit organizations began to use abandoned buildings and fields to put up haunted houses to raise money for charity.
This was the decade when horror movies grew in popularity and so did haunted houses. Most amusement parks had a scary attraction of some sort.
The 1990s to present:
Haunts are everywhere—haunted hayrides, mazes and scavenger hunts. They've become so popular that haunts are here to stay with the industry constantly evolving with new and more terrifying attractions.
Halloween Frightening and Fun Facts:
Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in the U.S.
Approximately 100 countries celebrate Halloween.
Over 7 billion dollars are spent annually on candy, costumes and activities in just the U.S.
Approximately 90% of all households with children will participate in some sort of Halloween activity.
Over 80% of all haunted attractions in the U.S. are operated by a charity or help to benefit a charity of some sort.