The Haunted House Association estimates that there are approximately 2,000 haunted houses in America that charge admission — on top of an additional 300 amusement parks with haunted components and 1,000 haunted houses that operate for charity (and, if you’re cheap, these places are terrifying and free). That might not provide seasonal work for all of America’s theater majors, but it will give you plenty of chances to scare your kid this Halloween.
But to make sure they’re not too scared, keep the following fun facts about haunted houses in your back pocket. Nothing will bring junior back to reality faster than an impromptu history lesson.
They’ve Been Around Longer Than A Lot Of Ghosts
Not that you believe in that sort of thing. While the first documented haunted attraction was the Orton and Spooner Ghost House in 1915, which was part of the Edwardian Fair in England. But according to Fangoria Magazine (“the first in fright since 1979), the popularity of haunted houses, much like the popularity The Bangles, can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt. Along with ancient Greeks and Romans, Egyptians weren’t trying to scare, entertain, or make a profit by charging admission, but instead were scaring away evil spirits they should’ve been hiring instead.
There Was Pig’s Blood
Ghost, demons, and the devil (oh my!) were portrayed a plenty throughout the rise of live theater during The Renaissance, which would later inspire future haunted houses. During this time, actor’s would strap pig’s bladders to their bodies that would burst to make it look like they were bleeding, except with pig’s blood. And they weren’t even nominated for prom queen.
They’re Descendants Of Wax Museums
Marie Tussaud was the French artist behind not one, not 2, but 23 Madame Tussauds wax museums around the world. But as she recounts in her memoir, first she cut her (likely wooden) teeth making wax models of severed heads accumulated by royals during the French Revolution by pulling them fresh off the guillotine. In 1802 she finally took them all on tour, and by 1835 this creepy lady entrepreneur opened her first permanent exhibit known as the “Chamber Of Horrors,” otherwise known as where Voldemort vacations.
They Became Family Attractions Because Of The Great Depression
Lisa Morton, author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, told Smithsonian.com that Halloween-themed haunted houses in America first started in the Great Depression as a way to keep all those damn teenagers off your lawn. And yes, if it was up to you it would’ve stopped there.
And Then People Stared Making Money
When Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion opened in 1969 it changed everything. While haunted houses continued on a local, DIY level, mostly as a means of fundraising for the United States Junior Chamber — a civic organization for you adults — Disney took these themes to the next level by adding special effects. More importantly, they charged admission, which would more than pay for the $7 million Disney initially sunk into it (about $45 million today). This started a very spooky shift towards for-profit fright that would become the $300-plus million industry it is today.
The Haunted Mansion Could Actually Be Haunted
Don’t be fooled by the figures above, the alleged 999 ghosts at the Haunted Mansion aren’t just in it for the money. While the rumors of people scattering the ashes of loved ones in the mansion aren’t necessarily true, the paranormal possibilities might make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
Local Haunted Houses Are More Extreme Than They Used To Be
Every year Hauntworld.com ranks the top 15 haunted houses in the country, showing what great lengths local attractions go to just to give your kid nightmares. This year’s winner was the House Of Torment in Austin Texas, a 40,000-foot office park full zombies, clowns, and of course, viruses! All that’s impressive, but last year’s winner, Haunted Overload in New Hampshire warns people with heart conditions to stay away. But if you live nearby, consider it a festive way to teach your kid what liability means.
Now They Can Teach Your Kid About Engineering
From projects, to products, to local competitions, haunted houses are yet another way to trick your kid into a future career in engineering. (Just ask Pepper’s Ghost.) If the basic mechanics behind your average haunted house don’t stoke your kid’s STEM skills, the design and production aspects should get them into STEAM. You can’t have a haunted house without STEAM, but zombies prefer to think of it as vapor.