The history of Haunted Houses traces back to the earliest of civilizations, not necessarily associated with the holiday we know as Halloween. Egyptians were familiar with invoking fear through similar techniques employed in modern haunted house attractions, using clever traps, snakes, spiders, mazes and moving walls to deter and scare would-be body snatchers and grave robbers from crypts in the pyramids. Ancient Greeks and Romans also popularized theatrical gore that would evolve into props for the modern haunted house, such as fog machines, fake blood, trap doors and ghostly images.
Haunted houses exist to scare people for entertainment, the idea for which has been around for centuries. While “thrills” in the form of the horror genre of films and theater are not limited to Halloween, Haunted houses are synonymous with this holiday, a natural pairing given the history of supernatural mystique with origins in pagan and Celtic religions from which the holiday originated. Modern day haunted houses have origins in the early 1800s, when gruesome illusions and attractions were being introduced to the public as entertainment.
Madame Tussaud was one of the originals, putting on display death masks and wax figures of notorious figures from the French Revolution and guillotine victims in London. Her temporary exhibit became a permanent collection and still carries the moniker “Chamber of Horrors.” It was also around this time that spiritualists and mediums were high in demand in the parlors of Victorian London, as the elite gathered to commune with spirits.
The popularity of haunted houses in the United States is commonly traced back to the Great Depression, when parents and community leaders were becoming alarmed with the increasing incidents of property damage and vandalism during Halloween, as tricksters were turning more violent. Haunted houses throughout the neighborhood, crafted in basements attics and garages, were used as distractions to keep potential troublemakers entertained. Additionally, in the Depression-era, many homes built in the prior century were falling into disrepair or abandoned, and parents concocted scary stories of ghosts and hauntings to scare children away from entering these hazardous properties.
Contrary to the sophisticated and elaborate decorations available to luxury home owners today, these basic “ghost houses” were creatively crafted at virtually no cost. Inspired home owners can take a cue from that simplicity, such as Walt Disney did when he created his Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in the late 1960s. His imaginative use of lighting techniques, mirrors and special effects was revolutionary in its sophisticated yet simple approach, and within a few years haunted houses were a staple of every community’s Halloween tradition.
Haunted implies ghosts, which capture the “spirit” of Halloween. Check out these simple and tasteful kid-approved ways to put a little haunt in your beautiful custom built home on this spooky holiday.