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Haunted Houses

The History of Haunted Houses!

The History of Haunted Houses


Currently, in the United States alone, there are over 1,200 professional haunted houses, 300 theme parks that operate horror-themed events and over 3,000 charity-run spookshows. But our love of being scared is by no means a recent phenomenon. Haunted attractions have a long history that dates all the way back to our earliest civilizations.

The Ancients

The Egyptians knew well that if you wanted to keep body snatchers away from a pyramid, the best way was to scare the hell out of them. Mazes, moving walls, self-opening doors, traps and the use of snakes and insects were commonplace in preserving treasures and dead royalty. Granted, they weren’t exactly charging admission for these scares, and the public was not lining up to get lost in the snake room, but this is one of the earliest examples of people crafting devices and sets to provoke fear.

The Greeks and Romans also unknowingly seeded the path for haunted attractions. Their folklore is rich with mazes and labyrinths, all filled with monsters. As theater was a vital part of their culture, it stands to reason that these ancients began devising rudimentary special FX to represent monsters and beasts. They also pioneered a number of theatrical devices that would evolve into the spooky elements used in haunts today, including fog, trapdoors, ghostly images and even fake blood and gore. (Fun fact: The ancient Greeks created multiple large-scale special FX contraptions, including the deus ex machina, used to make actors fly, and the ekkyklema, a platform mostly used to reveal dead bodies so the audience could see them.)

The Dark Ages

It’s hard to believe, but this period saw the Christians forwarding the evolution of the haunted house. During this time (around the 1300s through the 1500s), Europe had recently been converted from Celtic and pagan religions to the practice of Christianity, and pageant wagons toured the land performing plays. These were mostly Biblical stories acted out, often including the scarier parts. Though they were intended to frighten folks into staying pious, the attendees enjoyed the scares and gore right along with the morals.

Additionally, this era began the evolution of Halloween as we know it today. Though the holiday was born out of the Celtic and pagan religions, the European masses carried its practices with them as they converted to Christianity. Carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, dressing up in costume and even trick -or-treating were all pagan practices that were carried over. (Fun fact: Originally, people carved turnips to represent sprits and demons on Halloween. It was believed that hanging these carvings outside would protect your home for the night. When the European settlers came to America, they found very few turnips, but discovered that pumpkins grew in abundance and were much easier to carve. Thus, the jack o’ lantern was born.)

The Renaissance

Society’s love of horror and the development of special FX continued to grow as theater became increasingly popular. Ghosts, demons, the devil and other monsters made regular appearances in plays, including those of William Shakespeare. (Fun fact: In order to create onstage gore during stabbing scenes, actors used to strap pig’s bladders to their midsections. The opposing actor would stab the bladder and pig blood would pour out, making it look as if the actor was actually bleeding to death.)
The 1800s
People became enthralled with ghosts and the possibility of other realms during this century. Mediums, fortune tellers, spiritualists and conjuring sessions to communicate with the dead became a form of entertainment for the elite, and many clairvoyants became renowned celebrities who were paid top dollar for their services. Magician Harry Houdini set out to disprove the practice, and debunked several famous spiritualists.

The haunt-theme path in the theater continued, including John Pepper’s invention of a setup that, through the use of mirrors, made people appear to be translucent apparitions on stage; this device became known as Pepper’s Ghost. The 1800s also saw the opening of the first wax museum, paving the way for future walk-through attractions that played with the patron’s sense of reality. (Fun fact: That same 1800s obsession with death led Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. First published in 1818, the book sees Frankenstein’s monster brought to life through the real-life practice of galvanism—reanimating the dead with electric shocks.)

The Early 1900s

The beginning of the 20th century saw the height of the traveling carnival, and with it the rise of the freakshow. Patrons would walk through these attractions looking at human deformities and other oddities (many of them fake). Dark rides also became popular amusement attractions; these had patrons sitting on a boat or train and automatically moved through numerous scenes (the best-known variation is probably the Tunnel of Love). As amusement parks and family fun centers sprang up all over the nation, many could not afford a big rollercoaster, so some offered cheap fun-houses and haunted houses to pull in patrons. These were often very dark mazes filled with mirrors and loud buzzers.

Around this time, many of the residential houses built during the early 1800s were becoming worn down and dilapidated. To prevent children from exploring these dangerous buildings, adults would say that ghosts inhabited the neglected homes, further fueling the mystique of haunted dwellings.

The first recorded haunted attraction was the Orton and Spooner Ghost House, which opened in 1915 in the United Kingdom as part of an Edwardian fair. At this time, the Grand Guignol in France was scaring audiences nightly with its graphically staged horror entertainment. (Fun fact: The fake blood of the Grand Guignol was made of soap and bugs! It consisted of equal parts glycerin—clear soap—and carmine, a bright red pigment made by boiling and crushing certain beetles.)

The 1960s

1969 saw the opening of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, featuring a spectral sea captain, a ghostly wedding party, transforming portraits and a headless horseman. Walt Disney did not like the idea of putting an old, decrepit-looking structure in the middle of his park, so he took inspiration from San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House and created a lavish mansion with a pristine exterior. Originally, customers were supposed to walk through the Haunted Mansion, but the park staff had problems maintaining their pace and keeping the line moving steadily, so it became a dark ride in which patrons sat in trains (known as “doom buggies”) that carried them through the haunt. (Fun fact: A haunted house was part of Disney’s plan for the park long before Disneyland was built in 1955. In the original pre-construction artists’ renderings, a rundown mansion and graveyard can be seen overlooking Main Street.)

The 1970s

Many haunt owners and even older generations remember having their first spooky-attraction experience courtesy of the Jaycees charity. Short for the United States Junior Chamber, the Jaycees encouraged its young members to put up haunted houses in abandoned buildings or fields as a way to raise money, and the organization became so well-known for these haunts that in 1975, two men from the Bloomington, Illinois chapter, Jim Gould and Tom Hilligoss, decided to write a book about how to create one, detailing makeup FX, scene ideas and marketing strategies . Over 20,000 copies were printed, and Gould and Hilligoss became the first-ever haunted-house experts. They would go on to form The Haunted House Company, one of the first outfits to sell FX, masks, lighting, costumes and marketing materials all in one place . (Fun fact: The two men also created the first-ever Santa’s Village attraction for Christmas.)

The 1980s

As horror movies grew in popularity during this decade, so did haunted houses; most amusement parks boasted a scary attraction of some sort. In 1984, the Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey caught fire, trapping and killing eight patrons. This set off alarm bells across the industry about the importance of safety, choice of building materials and emergency awareness. Haunts were reshaped to preserve the artificial scares but maintain a high level of safety, ensuring that a tragedy like this would never happen again.

The 1990s – Present

Haunts are everywhere, and not just limited to houses; there are haunted hayrides, mazes and scavenger hunts. Most of us have been through multiple attractions, and for many people, this was their first taste of horror. They’ve become so popular that Halloween enthusiasts known as “home haunters” create attractions at home simply for the love of doing it. Haunts are here to stay, and their industry will only continue to evolve and grow into more terrifying directions. Happy haunting!

Read more in this special issue of FANGORIA Magazine!

13th Floor in Phoenix

The 13th Floor Phoenix showcases the newest “out of this world” creations from some of the best and most creative minds in the industry. As the next evolution of industry giants Screamworks Entertainment LLC and Harbinger Events Inc. this colossal 60,000 square foot haunted house turns the industry on its head as it showcases the latest and greatest set designs, special effects, and scares in the country.


Cinematic quality engulfs every inch of this production that houses Phoenix’s single larges haunted house ever created. Customers experience a barrage of excitement as they cycle through multiple onslaughts of horror that seem endless through this haunted behemoth. Showcasing the movie studio quality set design and special effects that Harbinger and Screamworks are known for the 13th Floor Phoenix promises all customers, patrons, and enthusiasts the single greatest haunted house experience in the Southwest.

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13th Floor in San Antonio

The 13th Floor Haunted House in San Antonio Texas delivers over the top sets, dynamic special effects, and non stop in your face scares across a sprawling 40,000 square foot historic cold storage facility. The 13th Floor San Antonio has made a name for itself creating a haunted event that rivals movie & television studios in production quality and design. This event is a haunted powerhouse that only a city with such a rich and vivid haunted history as San Antonio could anchor.


The 13th Floor San Antonio features 2 haunted houses, the first of which begins in the basement of the building taking patrons through a series of suffocating caves, ancient passageways, and decrepit sewers infested with lurking horrors. Customers are lead down a passageway underneath the building to a hidden entrance that beings the first trek of fear simply dubbed “Unearthed”. After successfully navigating their way through “Unearthed” the larger of the two events awaits on the primary level of the 13th Floor. A gothic hotel that has been burned, home to murder, beckoned agony, and housed sheer acts of terror twists and turns endlessly before dumping those brave enough to survive into a dark abyss where the intensity of the event explodes beyond compare.


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The Dent Schoolhouse

The Dent Schoolhouse is one of Cincinnati’s best kept horror secrets.

Taking place within a rundown schoolhouse, guests quickly realize that this is not your normal haunted attraction.

A hall pass to this school gives “students” access to over 50+ movie quality rooms, a faculty of 50+ monsters, top of the line animated props and special effects, and a janitor that loves to show off his cleaning skills!

The attraction consumes its customers with a grizzly story that is fully themed throughout the house.

Once you step foot on the grounds of the school be ready to relive the story of Dent!

In addition, The Dent Schoolhouse is Cincinnati’s largest single haunted attraction and the building is said to be haunted.

Mixing paranormal with movie quality effects and you have a very scared… but satisfied audience.

Located in the Cincinnati Tri-state, Dent pulls customers not just from its home state of Ohio, but from Kentucky and Indiana as well.

Sponsors and media outlets looking for a haunt ahead of its class… look no further and take a lesson in FEAR from The Dent Schoolhouse!
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The Beast Haunted House

Kansas City’s Most Elaborate Haunted House

Established in 1991, The Beast is known throughout the industry for it’s elaborate scenes and attention to detail. The Beast pioneered the “open format,” where you’re not in a line, you’re wandering through the scenes, never knowing when an actor or activated device will rock into action.

It takes about 45 minutes to one hour to walk through The Beast — IF you don’t get lost in the fog in the werewolf forest, stuck in a maze or pulled through the light in the three story tower. The werewolf forest is a full 1/4 acre in size, the storm scene’s thunder and lighting will make your hair stand on end, the cobblestone streets of Jack the Ripper’s London will seduce you, beware the raging wolf! And don’t forget the swamp with it’s blood thirsty alligators. The exit is a four story slide, it’s straight down and blazing fast!

Are you ready to go from the screen to SCREAM? Welcome to the Macabre Cinema. Don’t just watch it, LIVE the action of classic and contemporary horror scenes on your 45 minute – one hour adventure through our haunted 1930’s movie theatre. Macabre Cinema continues the open format of The Beast Haunted House (opened in 1991) through more than 30 dramatic scenes housed throughout the 4 floors and, if you dare, the dungeon.

Full Moon also owns and operates 3 more attractions in Kansas City,

They are




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7 Floors of Terror

This marquee event features 7 Haunted Houses sprawling over the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds with well over one million dollars of special effects, props and scenes designed to impress!

Renowned as Ohio’s largest and scariest haunted event for thirteen years running, 7 Floors was also listed by Hauntworld Magazine as one of the top 13 best haunted events in the world in 2006 and was featured nationally on the Today Show!

Always changing and updating the attraction every year brings back hordes of return customers eager to explore the event and confront their greatest fears in a safe and fun environment.

Sponsors involved with this property will be well supported by a massive advertising budget and media outlets can expect tons of incredible visuals sure to amaze and entrance Halloween fans!

To reach the Haunted House and Halloween market in Ohio you need look no further than 7 Floors of Terror!
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Spookywoods is more than just a haunted house; it’s an entire Haunted SCREAM Park by night and hours of family bonding during the day.

Activities include the Maize Adventure Corn Maze, Gem & Fossil Dig, Pumpkin Patch, Dinosaur Discovery and the Rock Shop for daytime family fun!

At night our multi-element haunted attraction features a haunted house with amazly detailed sets, haunted Ghost Town tram ride, haunted corn field and one of the most unique outdoor haunted walkthrough mazes ever built!

Spookywoods also features OVER 130 LIVE monsters, ghouls, goblins, zombies, sophisticated animations, high tech special effects, and much more…Just prepare to scream this Halloween!

Since 1985 nighttime scares and daytime fun have awaited all who would dare visit Spookywoods in North Carolina! Sponsors associated with this event will benefit from the combined massive attendance from all the attractions and impressions generated by a strong marketing budget.

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The Haunted Hotel

When you think of Halloween in San Diego the first thing that comes to mind is always The Haunted Hotel! Located in a historic 1889 building in the heart of the downtown gas lamp district, this high quality event has been the #1 Haunted House in the area since its doors first creaked open in 1993!

Every year scenic artists from Southern California’s film and television industry converge on the event to create even more amazing scenes than the year before, and a core group of high energy actors returns to scare and entertain any who dare to cross their path!

Supported by a colossal marketing campaign spanning TV, radio, newspaper, bus ads, internet marketing, etc, The Haunted Hotel is also a favorite TV backdrop for any local Halloween coverage. The Haunted Trail, located in the world famous Balboa Park, and the ScreamZone at the Del Mar Fairgrounds are produced in conjunction with The Haunted Hotel, each attraction with a unique scare factor all its own, offering a total fear package for San Diego!

In 2008, it was named one of the top 13 haunts in the nation by Haunt World Magazine. It has also been recognized by the Broadcaster’s Association for the best radio ads in the region. This multi-room haunted house has surprises and frights at every turn. Characters from your favorite horror movies will bring your fears to life as you make your way through the house. Dark and narrow walkways will leave you with no place to run as you come face to face with the horrors of this hotel.

The Haunted Hotel also has 2 other Haunted Attractions in San Diego,


SCREAM ZONE at the Del Mar Fairgrounds

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The Asylum Haunted House

Nestled at the base of the majestic Rocky Mountains, in Denver, Colorado, you will find The Asylum Haunted House. 

The Asylum has a long-standing reputation of delivering Halloween fear and fun to the Mile High City. Consistently at the top of the heap in Denver Haunted Houses, The Asylum has also been recognized nationally by the Travel Channel as one of America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions. 

Each of the owners Chris Stafford and Warren Conard brings over 20 years of experience in the haunt industry to The Asylum. Utilizing their expertise, planning and innovation for the next season begins before the current season has ended. The Asylum features well-trained, enthusiastic and energetic actors bringing Denver’s favorite Halloween attraction to life.

Huge crowds of people line up every year to visit the inmates and face their fears, due in large part to the aggressive marketing campaign, successful media partnerships, and the continuous positive word of mouth The Asylum receives. Sponsors seeking a powerful mutually beneficial relationship in the Denver market need to look no further. The Asylum Haunted House captivates an elusive market, and delivers FEAR with an ALTITUDE!

The owners of The ASYLUM also operate another haunt in Denver:


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The ScareHouse

The ScareHouse, located in Pittsburgh, is a high-tech haunted attraction featuring Hollywood-quality sets, creatures, and special effects. 

It is regarded as one of “America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions” by Travel Channel and has been nationally recognized by Haunted Attraction magazine, Hauntworld, and Fangoria magazine.

The ScareHouse employs a team of talented artists and designers working year-round to create unique and contemporary characters and creations within three terrifying haunts.

For 2010, visitors who enter this historic building will experience condemned carnival midways, smoldering ruins, and a brand-new attraction based on lost souls that dwell on darkness and misery: The Fosaken. Plus, the party inside Delirium 3-D is longer and louder than ever before and the steampunk-influenced RAMPAGE has been enhanced and expanded with custom-made effects and creatures that you can only see at The ScareHouse.

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