Sunday, October 11, 2015

Haunted Houses Are Big Business, Part 1 of 2

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.

Ancient Times:
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.

The Renaissance:
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.

The 1800s:
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 1900s:
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.

The 1960s:
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.

The 1970s:
Non-profit organizations began to use abandoned buildings and fields to put up haunted houses to raise money for charity.

The 1980s:
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.

Check back next week for Part 2 of my Haunted Houses blog.


Ashantay said...

Humans so love to be made afraid, sounds like! I love the costumes part of Halloween - trying on a new personality or dressing for success? I'm not sure -

Samantha Gentry said...

Ashantay: It seems that today's (in fact the last several years) Halloween "fun" has become slasher/blood/gore dominated. My garage turned haunted house when I was a kid didn't have any blood or gore, it was just fun with a hint of scary. At least the people who pay the money to go through today's professional haunted houses can't claim they didn't know what they were getting into what with all the disclaimers, advertisements and promotions.

Thanks for your comment.

Hebby Roman said...

I have noticed how big haunted houses have become in the past 10 or so years or maybe even longer. People take over entire warehouses to put them on. I did not, however, know that most of the big ones are operated for charity. That was nice to know. Cool post.

Samantha Gentry said...

Hebby: And they seem to be growing larger, more elaborate, and more numerous each year. The largest, best-known ones are probably the amusement/theme park ones and maybe a dozen or so of the huge professional 'for profit' attractions. With approximately 3000 professional haunted houses being run by numerous charities, it provides an excellent fund-raising opportunity for those organizations.

Thanks for your comment.

Paul McDermott said...

Interesting that a (by a UK yardstick!) relatively YOUNG society such as yours is absorbed by the idea of Haunted Houses! LOL

Haunted Houses in the UK are almost without exception older than any buildings on your vast and varied landmass. The well-known Liverpool writer Tom Slemen has written over 30 books dealing with the Haunted Houses and associated tales of ghosts etc people have seen and experienced over the years.
One of these is at the centre of one of my current WiPs and there are plans being prepared by the local Tourist Board to open it up for guided tours in time for anyone visiting Liverpool next summer (we have now AT LAST been able to offer proper facilities for Cruise Liners to dock at our magnificent waterfront!!)
Exellent blog, really interesting - many thanks

Samantha Gentry said...

Paul: By most global standards [not just the UK], we are a relatively young country. :) But one whose history is extremely varied due in part to what you accurately described as a 'vast and varied landmass.' While the Revolutionary War was being fought on the east coast in the late 1770s to secure our freedom and establish the first 13 states of our country, the Spanish were building a string of missions up the coast of what would become the state of California and the French 'owned' the port of New Orleans and the lower Mississippi River and a large portion of the interior which Thomas Jefferson purchased from Napoleon for the United States in 1803 thus doubling the size of the country. With so many nationalities/cultures being responsible for building our country, it creates a patchwork of history rather than a cohesive flow.

And from that, we have a varied history of 'things unexplained and unexplainable' which has manifested itself into today's haunted tales [almost in defiance of our relatively young age :)]. Halloween is definitely big business in the US and has become the 2nd largest expenditure of holiday money with only Christmas generating more. And with Halloween comes haunted houses and things that go bump in the night.

Thanks for your comment.

Calisa Rhose said...

What a rich history haunted houses have! I never imagined there was so much we may not know. Thanks for this. I'll be back for part 2. :)

Samantha Gentry said...

Calisa: A lot of that surprised me, too. I had always thought the ancient Egyptians protected the pyramids by hiding the entrance. It never occurred to me that they would leave scary things to frighten away people who tried to rob the burial sites.

Thanks for your comment.