Tonight I am attending my first haunted house/hayride/whatnot of the season. I go to these very year. Being just outside of Philly, there are a whole lot of them about. As I stated earlier, I enjoy being scared. So I pay to have people dress in elaborate costumes, hide in scary settings and jump out at me. It’s a yearly tradition.
It’s hard to get a clear answer on the origins of haunted attractions. According to my “Halloween Handbook” the most likely origin comes from ordinary Halloween parties wherein, in addition to dressing up, hosting games of bobbing for apples, dancing, divination and the like; hosts might set up “haunted” locations in their house. They might set up their basement to look like a catacombs. They might decorate their attic with creepy lighting and let the cobwebs take effect.
Add in the tradition of pranking which, up until 1930’s was far more common than trick or treating, and a picture starts to emerge: some neighbors get together in their house for a Halloween party. Their kids, wanting to prank and joke, set about making noises and spooky sounds while the adults are down in the basement telling ghost stories. Seems plausible, right?
Also, according to the history in this book, it seems like haunted houses might fit right in with the attractions that local townships might’ve encouraged in order to keep kids occupied so that they wouldn’t prank. The history goes that as the population grew more and more people came into more urban settings where, instead of your next door neighbor’s kid tapping on your windows and then running way, you’d have a kid from twelve blocks over breaking your windows and playing increasingly dangerous pranks leading to property damage. In order to keep kids from doing these things, organized activities such as Halloween parades, trick or treating and the like would be planned.
Organized haunted attractions where people would pay a price of admission are a more recent development with the first ones documented only popped up around the 1970’s. Like most of our newer traditions, however, they gained popularity and now it’s estimated that well over 12 million people in the US attend some sort-of haunted attraction every year.
Wherever they came from, I’m glad they’re here. Where else am I gonna see a life-like recreation of a scene from my favorite horror movies? Or get scared enough that I jump in a seemingly super-human way? Or have an excuse to scream loudly enough to break glass? All these things, in my opinion, are necessities for celebrating the season and part of what make Halloween the best holiday.