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The History of Haunted Houses

I have often wondered what started the whole idea of touring a haunted house? So let’s see what I can discover about the history of haunted houses.

As Chris Heller wrote in the post, A Brief History of the Haunted House, for “the origins of the haunted house date back to the 19th-century London, when a series of illusions and attractions introduced the public to new forms of gruesome entertainment. In 1802, Marie Tussaud scandalised British audiences with an exhibition of wax sculptures of decapitated French figures, including King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre.”

The history of haunted houses-Madame Tussard

Image result for death mask
death mask

Marie Tussaud was born December 1, 1761, in Strasbourg, France. From 1780 until the beginning of the French Revolution she was employed as an art tutor at Versailles for Louis XVI’s sister, Madame Elisabeth. Tussaud was later imprisoned as a royalist and was given the gruesome job of making death masks from the freshly guillotine severed heads of those that were her friends. These death masks would enable Marie to create the extremely accurate wax figurines she is famous for. In 1802 she took her collection of wax models and her two sons and left France for England, she then toured the British Isles for 33 years before establishing a permanent exhibit in London that she dubbed her grotesque collection the “Chamber of Horrors” – a name that has stuck with the wax museum to this day.(2016,



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Early Haunted Houses

Rebekah McKendry tells us in Fangoria Magazine, that at the turn of the 20th century the closest relatives to modern haunted houses began playing with macabre themes. The Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris became well-known for its on-stage displays of graphic dismemberment. Max Maurey, the theatre’s director famously boasted that he “judged each performance by the number of people who passed out in the audience.” Then in 1915 a fairground in Liphook, England opened one of the first “ghost houses,” as the public appetite for horror was increasing.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s primitive haunted houses would pop up around Halloween time. These haunted houses were often located in the basement of a family home and would use simple props like hanging raw liver on the walls of a dark area where children would need to feel their way forward. I swear I can hear the screams coming from those unfortunate enough to touch the cold, jiggly liver in the dark. They would also have things such as furs, and hair nets hanging from the ceiling to touch the children faces. There would be strange noises coming from the dark, dank corners. Some of the homemade haunted houses would require the children to crawl through tunnels at some point of the experience too.

Along Comes a man named Walt Disneyghost

When Walt Disney decided to build a Haunted House in Disneyland he made it a cultural icon. The Disneyland Haunted Mansion opened its doors in 1969. Shortly after its opening 82,000 passed through it in one day. Lisa Morton is the author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, and she says “A lot of professional haunters will point to one thing, and that’s Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. It’s the start of the haunted attraction industry.”

The technology used in the Disneyland Haunted Mansion is what set it apart from the cheesy carnival haunted houses. The ghosts were not sheets hanging from the ceilings but rather they were an exceptionally complex series of illusions known as Pepper’s ghost, which used refracted light to project and shape the ethereal images. This made the images appear shimmering and translucent that moved, spoke, and sang. The witches were not just a rubber-masked-figure by a cauldron but are realistic bodiless heads floating in crystal balls while conducting a seance. Walt Disney truly was an innovative thinker with an imagination that was limitless.

Click here to buy the book, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

Increased Popularity of Horror Movies

The Horror genre grew in the 1980’s with movies like The Nightmare on Elm Street series, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. This caused the abundance of Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Michael Myers appearing in Haunted Houses that would open for Halloween. Many different organizations would use an annual Haunted House as a fundraiser during Halloween season. From the Jaycees to Evangelical Christians (who aim more at the Hell aspect of horror) joined in the craze in the United States.

Current Trends

Haunted Houses have been big money makers in the past couple decades. There were at 2,700 of them in the United States last year alone. A large, professional haunted house can generate $3 million during the Halloween season with the industry itself generating around $300 million according to an NBC report.

With the rise in popularity of television shows like The Walking Dead, and the Saw movies we now see the Halloween trend running more towards Zombie themed runs, and escape room games. The haunted house may die a slow death eventually. So enjoy the thrills, and chills while they last. (2016,

I hope you have enjoyed learning about the history of haunted houses. Feel free to tell us about any haunted houses you have experienced. What was your favourite part? Were you truly scared at any time or just having a good laugh? Comment below.


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2 thoughts on “The History of Haunted Houses

  1. Oscar O'Malley

    I had no idea Walt Disney made haunted houses such a big sensation! This being Halloween season, I’ve been wondering how haunted houses came around. It’s so cool to see how they’ve changed and continue to grow over the years since Madame Tussard.

    • Bill

      Thank you for the comments Oscar O’Malley. I was surprised by some of the information I uncovered while researching my post about haunted houses. We love them.

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