The Haunted House – A Brief, Haunted History of Fright

As the Halloween season draws near, haunted attractions will begin to prepare for the coming scare season. For a few short weeks, haunted houses across the nation will open their doors and welcome new victims – young and old. The haunted house is a celebrated Halloween tradition, without a doubt, and it’s almost a rite of passage to visit one at some point during the Halloween season.

Have you ever found yourself wondering how this came to be? What is it about the haunted house that resonates so soundly with us? Before this scare season gets under way, here’s a brief history of the modern haunted house.

How It Got Started

It all starts, as do many things, with the ancient Greeks and Romans. These and other ancient civilizations created ways cope with a mysterious and ever-changing world. To fill this need, they created myths, legends, and gods to explain the unknown. This gave them a feeling of control over things that frightened them, and, above all else, it explained and gave meaning to things that would otherwise be random and inexplicable. So, rather than a terrible, random storm that destroyed crop rations, it was Zeus showing his anger for not receiving proper sacrifice.

To more effectively bring these fears to life, they would put on theatrical performances complete with effects we still use today like fog, fake blood, and trapdoors.

As civilizations advanced and people started to master the world around them, fear of nature changed instead to fear of other people, manifested in the forms of witches, spirits, and demons. In the Middle Ages, traveling Christian theatrical troupes staged plays to scare people away from sin.

Around the late 1600s, puritanical Christians grew so fearful of sin that they associated anyone who did not wholly and absolutely conform to their beliefs with the devil. Pagans, or those who believed in the power of nature, were especially feared. This negative sentiment grew to its height in newly settled New England. Puritans were fearful of the wild and strange land around them, and the American Indians that inhabited it. Their paranoia grew to such an extreme, in fact, that that they eventually turned their suspicious stares to one another. And so, the Salem Witch Trials ensued.

Later on, the Victorian Era saw a generation trying to acclimate itself to a world that was becoming more technologically advanced. Fueled by electricity and a booming industry, people began to yearn for pastoral life as it had been. This renewed an interest in ghosts, magic, and the supernatural.

It was around this time when Madame Marie Tussaud featured her infamous “Chamber of Horrors” in her wax museum, featuring the decapitated likenesses of famous French figures. The Grand Guignol Theater in Paris became notorious for its enactments of stories from the penny dreadfuls.  

The Modern Haunted House

The haunted house as we know it today was perhaps first most clearly represented by Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion in 1969. This early haunted house used many of the same scare tactics from the theater, while also utilizing refracted light to create and project ethereal images. Even now, haunted house owners will point back to Disney’s Haunted Mansion as being their inspiration.

From there, haunted houses popped up across the country. It started in theme parks, but then charity organizations would open them in people’s backyards to raise money. From there, hobbyists took over, creating haunted houses in cornfields, barns, garages, and actual houses.

Fear of tainted Halloween candy in the 1980’s funneled even more customers towards the haunted house. If people were too scared to go trick-or-treating, they needed another outlet with which to celebrate the holiday.

As they grew more popular, like-minded individuals joined together to perfect the art of the haunted house. Today, you probably don’t have to look very far to find one near you. Every year, those dedicated to them look for ways to perfect the experience, searching for ways to illicit the most authentic screams out of their patrons.

The Future of the Haunted House

The scare industry is booming, and those who run haunted houses are always seeking to change and develop their craft. They seek to thrill not only newcomers but repeat customers as well. In order to do that, they must constantly change their sets, alter their strategy, and add new scares.

Owners are continuously looking for ways to innovate their attractions and take fear to new heights. Some new haunted houses boast an experience that a person must go through alone. Others plunge customers into total darkness. In some of the most extreme attractions, you may even find yourself kidnapped and bound.

Among a new trend in haunted attractions are escape rooms. A group enters and must find the clues to solve a mystery before time expires while encountering frightening situations along the way. It’s a live action puzzle incorporating the thrilling elements of a haunted house, forcing customers to think under pressure and duress. Visiting haunted escape rooms are most definitely an exciting way to spend a night in October.

Looking for some haunted attractions to visit this coming fall? 13th Hour is revving up for October and will be unveiling some new scares this season. Prepare yourself for two full floors of fear and terror! And if you’re in the mood for something new, check out their own escape rooms. 13th Hour is regarded by many Halloween enthusiasts as New Jersey’s most original and innovative haunted attraction. Quick! Get your tickets online now!