Halloween has always captivated the imagination of thrill-seekers and horror enthusiasts alike. From catching the creepy shadow lurking in the hallway to letting out a scream from the top of our lungs, that blood-pumping rush of adrenaline is what we patiently wait for all year long. One of the most anticipated aspects of Halloween is visiting or operating a haunted attraction that is able to bring our deepest fears to life. But our love for being scared is no recent phenomenon. In fact, it can be traced back hundreds of years. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the most famous haunted attractions throughout history that have left visitors with chills down their spine.
History of the Haunted House
The idea of a house being haunted by spirits is nearly as old as time, but haunted houses being used as public attractions only started emerging in the 1800s. According to the Smithsonian, one of the earliest examples of a haunted attraction was when Marie “Madame” Tussaud created a horrific collection of wax sculptures in London in 1802. Members of the public were able to see gruesome recreations of decapitated French figures like King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. As the 20th century came around, it was during the Great Depression that parents would organize haunted houses to keep their children entertained and out of trouble on Halloween. Since then, more and more commercial haunted attractions have popped up all across the world. We have seen haunted houses evolve from simple jump scares to what we know now as elaborate and immersive experiences that feature intricate sets, special effects, and live actors. Haunted houses and attractions remain an integral part of Halloween culture that people can simply not get enough of.
San Mateo Haunted House (1957)
Opening its doors in 1957, the San Mateo Haunted House was part of the initial boom that kicked off the opening of haunted attractions in California during the 1950s. It was sponsored by the Children’s Health Home Junior Auxiliary. This haunt was so popular that people had to be transported by bus, which earned the nickname “The Ghost Bus.” It was open for 20 seasons and would help set the foundation for haunted attractions to come in the future.
The Jaycees Influence on Haunted Houses (1960s-1970s)
We can’t talk about the history of haunted houses without mentioning the influence that Jaycees had on their growth. Going into the 1960s and 1970s, haunted houses quickly spread across the United States via charity fundraisers conducted by The United States Junior Chamber (“the Jaycees”) and others. Members of The Jaycees were encouraged to build haunted houses in abandoned buildings or fields as charity fundraising events, and the organization became known for these houses throughout America. This helped to spawn a new generation of haunted houses that were now being built in larger cities across the country like Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Children’s Museum Haunted House (1964)
The Children’s Museum Haunted House was Indiana’s first haunted house and is currently the longest running in the nation. Striking a balance between scares and family-friendly fun, it has become a beloved tradition for both children and adults. With its engaging storytelling, interactive exhibits, and rotating yearly themes, the Children’s Museum Haunted House captures the spirit of Halloween while providing a safe and thrilling experience for people of all ages.
The Haunted Mansion (1969)
Haunted houses becoming a staple in American culture is often attributed to The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. This is a timeless classic that has brought on frights for generations of visitors. Originally opening in 1969, this attraction offers a ghostly tour through a labyrinth of haunted rooms, accompanied by haunting sound effects and animated characters. Its iconic Ghost Host and unforgettable ballroom scene are considered classics by many haunt enthusiasts. The Haunted Mansion continues to be a must-visit attraction for any person who is a fan of haunts.
Knott’s Scary Farm (1973)
The first haunted theme park was Knott’s Scary Farm, which opened at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. This started as a small haunted house in the Ghost Town area of Knott’s Berry Farm. It was originally a three-night affair, only open from October 26th through the 28th in 1973. It featured various shows with scare actors and three mazes inside of the scare zone. Over the years, it has grown into a full-fledged Halloween experience featuring much more elaborately themed mazes, live shows, and its own theme park rides.
Cool Patch Pumpkins (2001)
This patch is labeled as “The Coolest Maze on the Planet” and for a good reason. This adrenaline-pumping maze was awarded the Guinness World Record for the largest corn maze in the world in 2010. Spanning across 45 acres, it’s reported that some people have even had to call 911 because they got so lost in the maze. Additionally, the maze changes every year so that it is completely unique and visitors can still enjoy the next year.
Garfield’s Nightmare at Kennywood’s Old Mill (2004)
Garfield’s Nightmare at Kennywood’s Old Mill, launched in 2004, offered a Halloween experience with a bit of a fun twist. This haunt combined scares with beloved cartoon characters in a tunnel that looked like a neon-explosion. Visitors embarked on a boat ride through the dark and twisted dreams of Garfield the cat after he has a food-induced nightmare. Complete with paintings, 3D glasses, and a captivating storyline, this ride truly put on a fully immersive experience for guests. The ride met its demise in 2019 due to issues with licensing, and the Garfield imagery was soon removed and the ride was converted back to the Old Mill.
Haunted attractions have a rich and fascinating history that dates hundreds of years. Today, haunts aren’t limited just to houses, but also include a wide variety of attractions like haunted hayrides, mazes, paintball, and more. We love haunts to death and they’re here to stay, so get out there, take a step into the darkness, and see what terrifying thrills await you!
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