23 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 23: The History of Haunted Attractions

Posted by Bryan White | Friday October 23, 2009 | Whimsy

haunted overloadThese days, just about everywhere you look, there’s some kind of haunted house attraction. Right now, you can probably name three in your area(I can name 5, Haunted Overload, Spookyworld, Castle of the Damned, York’s Wild Kingdom Haunted Hayride,  and Fright Kingdom) without even thinking about it. It’s big money this time of year and everyone does it. I’ve seen some downright outstanding haunted house attractions and have been to and worked at some really bad, honky-tonk attractions that are completely full of shit. I set out to write this article, illustrating the beginnings of this movement up to their current state but ran into a problem. There’s really no defining point in global culture that kicked off a wave of haunted attractions. Halloween, being a festive time of year since its beginnings in Celtic Europe, has motivated people for centuries to embrace the spooky side of the season and let their imaginations run wild. So for years we’ve had people holding seances both tragically hokey and allegedly real, Grand Guignol style stage performances, horror themed on-rails Fairground rides and Museums of the Odd. It’s a no brainer that at some point in our global stage of history, someone would smash them all together and outfit their garage with a strobe light, a fog machine and some spray cans full of fake cobwebs to entertain the trick or treaters of their neighborhoods.

Probably the most commonly found haunted attractions are those put on the JayCees (Junior Chamber International), an organization founded in 1920 and dedicated to motivating young people for volunteer service. One of my earliest haunted house experiences was a JayCee’s haunted house put on at the Marblehead, Massachusetts YMCA. I was 7 or 8 and dressed in a bee costume as some jackass teenager in a hockey mask led me through the lamest haunted house I’d ever see, staged in the Y’s basketball courts. He promised that I could never leave and then promptly led me through a winding path that ended at a door with a brightly lit EXIT sign above it. Explain the logic in that. A couple of years later, I’d live in North Hampton, New Hampshire and find another JayCee’s haunted house one town over that markedly better. Those things were everywhere! Years later I would find myself hiding behind a covered bridge, wearing a rubber werewolf mask, yelling “BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!!” at truckloads of people on the York’s Wild Kingdom Haunted Hayride in York, Maine, arguably the worst haunted attraction I’ve seen since that one at the YMCA. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that these attractions make bank! Though neighborhoods had been putting these things on since the 50’s, most likely, the money would escalate the chain of commerce until entire corporations were open for business with no other intention than franchising the very concept of a branded haunted attraction. Terror On Church Street, a haunted attraction that used to be on the corner of Orange Ave and Church Street in Orlando, Florida, was on such attraction. Extremely elaborate in its presentation, Terror On was a part of a franchise or chain of haunted attractions with roots in Brazil that combined movie-set special effects and actors to torment visitors through the entire walk. I’ve never seen anything like it. Hot on its heels came Pasaje Del Terror, which was built beneath the Pleasure Beach Casino in Blackpool, England.

Everything escalates, of course, and while theme parks had been in the game for years, none of them took the haunted attraction quite as seriously as Knott’s Scary Farm (one of the first haunted attractions, in 1973), Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and Six Flags’ Halloween Fright Fest. Each park dedicates massive amounts of real estate and replaces their usual costumed characters with spooky folks in make-up or characters licensed from movies. Universal, being that it is a movie-lot theme park, is pimping The Wolfman for the upcoming remake, has a Saw attraction to tie in with the annual Saw movie release and others, like Chucky. They hire actors specifically for the job and contract some of the biggest theme park designers from around the world to make their parks the baddest in the world for the month of October.

fujikyu haunted hospitalThe king of all the haunted house attractions, though, is said to be the Haunted Hospital attraction at the Fujikyu Highland park in Fujiyoshida, Japan. At the foot of Mount Fuji, this attraction, more than your average walk-through is the largest haunted attraction in the world that boasts 4 hour long wait lines to get inside on any given day. What goes on inside to warrant such a long waiting line? From the looks of this video, not much.

1 Comment 

  1. January 26, 2011 3:45 pm

    Matthew Flagler

    Hey there! Great article! I’m doing some research on the history (at least modern history) of the industry myself-you have some great stuff there, but not much on dates-for example you mentioned visiting that lame YMCA haunt when you were 7 or 8 but didn’t give a date. Also, do you have, or know anybody that has, old photos from the day? (1969-present) of early haunted attractions

    Thanks, Matthew

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