Haunting Culture in America
There are few things in life that are certain, but in North America, there is one thing of which everyone is sure. The turning of the leaves and the changing of the season from summer to fall brings more than just the anticipation of Halloween—it brings all of the haunted attractions, houses, hayrides, and trails along with it. This is a culture that began ages ago, and even now, is flourishing. Now, let’s look back at the history of haunted houses in America.
History of the Traditon
In the early 1900s, scary attractions just began to emerge. There were traveling circuses displaying freak shows in America, and the notorious Grand Guignol theater and it’s graphic stage shows filled with (fake) blood and dismemberment. One of first recorded haunted houses in America was the Orton and Spooner Ghost House built in 1915 in the United Kingdom as part of the Edwardian fair.
The population’s appetite for fear was growing, but there were no large haunted attractions or haunted houses in America until Walt Disney had an idea in the 60s. In 1969, his idea came to fruition, and the Haunted Mansion was born. It was an immediate hit, with thousands of patrons passing through the door. The guests were the first to experience the new special effects placed in the attraction, making it one of the first commercial haunted houses in America. The Haunted Mansion was inspired by the Winchester Mystery House, designed to look like a lavish mansion, as per the name. There just so happened to be ghosts occupying instead of people.
Haunted Houses in Modern America
Haunting culture just kept growing and growing, not only with haunted houses in America popping up in every state, but also because of blockbuster slasher films paving the way for modern horror movies, and changing the culture (including what is seen in haunted attractions) forever. Farms and fall festivals, such as Knott’s Berry Farm in California, began hosting Halloween-themed, haunted attractions after the sun went down, which became so popular they were featured weekly.
Soon, theme parks and amusement parks across America started to feature Halloween attractions throughout October, adding haunted houses, haunted walkthroughs, and scare actors prowling the grounds. However, in the 80s, tragedy struck and eight teenagers were killed in a fire in the Haunted Castle at Six Flags in New Jersey. After that, tighter regulations were laid down for newer attractions and safety awareness.
Since the 90s, haunted houses and attractions in America are everywhere. There are children-centered, family hayrides and walkthroughs, sometimes sponsored and held in a variety of places from farms and fall festivals to zoos and aquariums. Haunted hayrides are another aspect that accompanies haunted houses. Tractor rides are huge hits at fall festivals, but these haunted hayrides only happen after dark, taking patrons through scary scenes, sitting on hay bales in a wagon being pulled through the woods and corn stalks. Also walking trails, where patrons must walk along a trail in the woods through different scary scenes, became the next big thing and are even more frightening than the haunted hayrides.
Today, haunted houses have amped up their game, so to speak, becoming more and more extreme. There are now some haunted houses and attractions that feature a separate trail or ride where patrons sign a waiver allowing the actors to touch and swear at them. There are also several stand-alone “extreme haunts,” the most extreme-to-date being McKamey Manor in San Diego. This extreme haunt features simulated kidnapping, drowning, and torture to name a few, many cannot complete the entire experience, which is not for the faint of heart. There are others that don’t go this far, and it’s best to research extreme haunts, so patrons understand what they are in for before they put their signature down.
There are such things as year-round haunted attractions, but you’ll only find a handful of these in big cities or at major amusement parks such as Universal Studios, which hosts the “House of Horrors” walkthrough haunted house. There is also a year-round haunted house in New York City in the heart of Times Square.
“Hell houses” are haunted attracted run by Evangelical Christian Churches, the first one being introduced in 1972 known as Scaremare, which is still extremely active today at Liberty University. Now there are several, if you know where to look. Some focus on taking patrons through tableaus of sins such as abortion, which would land the sinner in hell. The guests must compete the attraction to find redemption in the end. Other Hell houses are simply like any other haunted house or attraction in America, with a simple sermon following the walkthrough. There is a great Hell House in Virginia that I visited myself, called The Death Trail.
Recommendations from Jax!
Here is a small list of smaller-scale haunts that I’ve visited and that are sure to entertain just the same as larger scale attractions!
- The Scarehouse and The Basement – a three floor haunted house in the heart of Pittsburgh, featuring the basement–a “touch” haunt requiring a signed waiver. Check out the video of Elijah Wood talking about his experience at this haunted attraction!
- Hundred Acres Manor – Surrounded by dense woods, this haunted house serves up terrifying actors and animatronics alike. Not recommended for young children, it can get pretty extreme.
- Rich’s Fright Farm – this haunt includes a hayride, a haunted house, a walkthrough, and a mild “touch” walkthrough at the end where patrons are blindfolded, following a rope through the maze. A great haunt that is often overlooked but always worth a visit!
- Field of Screams – this haunt is found in Maryland, right over the Virginia line, and is host to 4 different attractions. I tackled only one the time I visited, the Trail of Terror, but definitely try to experience each one during your visit to get the most out of your time and money!