The History of the Haunted House

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Two days until Halloween means two days left to go see a haunted house. For many Americans, visiting a haunted attraction is a Halloween tradition, just like decorating a tree for Christmas or an egg hunt on Easter. How did this simple activity become such a seasonal staple though? Where did the idea of being scared for fun in a horrifying setting come from?

The haunted house actually has its roots in Ancient Greece. To explain the mysterious and unknown world they lived in, ancient Greeks created gods who controlled everything. To explain these gods they put on plays to tell their stories. According to Adam Warner in his NBC article “The History of Haunted Houses: How Fears Have Fueled an Industry,” these plays contained “theatrical techniques still used in today’s haunts, like fog, fake blood and trapdoors.” A fascination with demons and evil continued into the Middle Ages, when traveling actors went from city to city performing plays to scare people from the evils of sin.

The first true haunted house as we know it today opened in 1915 by Orton & Spooner, two British men known for creating fairground rides. Warner states that the original haunted house was “a dimly lit funhouse, where floors shook and demonic screams roared from phonographs.” Although the exterior, a typical English looking home with skeletons hanging from the windows, looks tame by today’s standards, it’s easy to imagine how it scared guests who had never experienced anything like it before.

The love of terror continued with the rise and fall of the freak shows and circus acts that inspired this season of American Horror Story. Interestingly enough, Walt Disney also played a part in shaping the haunted houses we love and fear today. Warner says it was Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion that had a major influence on haunted attractions across the country. With its use of modern technology and traditional scare tactics, the Haunted Mansion continues to inspire those just getting into the industry. And yes, it is an industry.

According to Martha C. White in her NBC article “It’s aliiiive! Haunted-house industry scares up big money,” in 2013 haunted houses netted $300 million. Warner includes haunted houses along with hayrides and mazes to give the industry a total of $1 billion in annual revenue. There is both The Haunted Attraction Association and the Haunted House Association for those in the industry to come together and share ideas and information.

With so much time and effort these people put into creating the perfectly frightening experience, why not make a last minute trip to a haunted house? I’m sure it will be terribly fun.


Bench, Evan. Mysterious House. 24 Aug. 2013. Online image. Flickr. 29 Oct. 2014. https://flic.kr/p/fWvxQf

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