On this episode, we share lots of listener true tales of paranormal activity! Also, the history of haunted house attractions. When and where did these start?
There are over 2500 haunted house attractions in the world and they are big money makers. People love to be scared, especially in a place where they are assured that they cannot be touched and what they are about to see is not real. The Egyptians were the first to come up with the idea of planning elaborate mazes and scares with the purpose of keeping body snatchers from raiding burials. They would put these scares around the outside of burials and filled them with traps, snakes and insects, moving walls and self-opening doors. Unfortunately, these scares were not as good as our modern day ones and most tombs were raided. Greeks and Romans are known for their mythological monsters and stage performances in which they used fog, fake blood and ghosts to scare audiences. So none of these are exactly like the haunted house attractions of today, but they show that humans have always looked for a way to scare and be scared.
The use of theater to scare people would continue into the late 19th century at the Grand Guignol Theater in Paris. Stage performances featured graphic dismemberment and it had a reputation of people passing out during plays. The first haunted house would start at an English fairground called Liphook in 1915. Patrick Collins was a carnival creator and he built the "Haunted Cottage" for his wife Flora at the fairground. This was during World War I and people were seeking a way to escape, so the haunted house was very popular. The scares were pretty tame and included a maze of rocking floors, vibrating walls and air blasts from below that took place in the dark. The cottage is called the Orton and Spooner Ghost House and still runs today at the Hollycombe Working Steam Museum in Liphook. The outside features the original artwork displaying ghosts, spiders, cobwebs, skeletons, Frankenstein’s Monster and Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera.
Amusement parks started hosting funhouses with dark mazes, weird mirrors and loud noises and this spilled over into small haunted houses that played up more of the creeps. Haunted Houses started appearing in America during the Great Depression just as trick-or-treating was getting started as well. It was thought that the haunted houses would distract the kids from getting into mischief. Most of them were hosted in people's basements. A 1937 pamphlet describes how parents could create these scares: "An outside entrance leads to a rendezvous with ghosts and witches in the cellar or attic. Hang old fur, strips of raw liver on walls, where one feels his way to dark steps....Weird moans and howls come from dark corners, damp sponges and hair nets hung from the ceiling touch his face....Doorways are blockaded so that guests must crawl through a long dark tunnel....At the end he hears a plaintive ‘meow’ and sees a black cardboard cat outlined in luminous paint...” (Fun Fact: I made haunted house with some friends down in one of their basements one year. Didn't know I was honoring an old tradition at the time.)
In 1969, Disneyland premiered their Haunted Mansion with lots of special effects that featured dancing ghosts in a ballroom, transforming portraits, pop-up monsters in a cemetery, a spectral sea captain and a headless horseman. The original idea was to make it a walk through attraction, but when people lingered to long looking at exhibits, doombuggy cars were introduced to keep the crowds moving at a steady pace. Today's haunted houses fall back on the walk through attraction. The Jaycees started making charity haunted houses and soon other amusement parks started incorporating haunted houses during October that continues all the way up to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. The haunted houses of the 1980s and 1990s featured a lot of connections to Hollywood's craze of slasher movies.
Today, the industry is worth $300 million dollars. Home haunters have gotten into the game, turning their homes into mini haunted attractions for Halloween. Have you been to a haunted house and which has been your favorite?