Recently we let you into a little secret of Victorian haunted houses: they are only considered haunted because of the new gas lighting inside of them and a cultural preoccupation with death. Sorry Ghost Hunters fans.
Today, over 1200 haunts scatter throughout the United States during the Halloween season (3,000 if you include charity-driven ones), inviting all ages to test the limits of our fear. As someone who is still spooked by the story of the woman with a green ribbon around her neck, these extreme haunts aren’t really for me. I always put my fear aside, however, for a good old homemade haunted house that tells a story. The DIY haunt has a long history, and sometimes those are way more fun than the huge spectacles. But each has its places, and both hold a long history.
In many ways, you can trace the concept of moving through a specific space to face your fears back to prehistoric times, and tribal rituals, where youth - usually male - come of age. Then you get to the Egyptian burial tombs and their elaborate mazes within the labyrinths, leaving meaningful objects to satisfy all the haunts along the way - and hinder anyone daring to rob the sacred places.
At the turn of the twentieth century, on the heels of a quirky Victorian era, influences like the Grand Guignol and Phantasmagoria among others started connecting the frights with houses. It was The Great Depression, however, that turned abandoned homes on their heads, trying to both scare the neighborhood kids and bribe them into being well behaved, even if just for that one night. Here is where scare stations developed over time, because apparently the kids were really big troublemakers. Adults would hang whatever they could find to turn your five senses into spooks, like wet sponges or raw bacon. It reminds me of the bucket full of peeled grapes that my Girl Scout leader forced my hand into and called them eyeballs. I’m pretty sure I ran screaming and they had to find my sister to comfort me.
To get my mind off that memory, I went on a search for cool haunted houses around the world, and of course Instagram was a well of spooky stories.
• The Witch’s House, or the Spadena House, in Beverly Hills was appropriately built as a silent film movie studio in 1921. With its exaggerated peaked roof and oddly shaped and placed windows, just add dwarves for Snow White’s Cottage or turn it into gingerbread and you’ve got an evil witch waiting to cook up wandering children. Although you can sneak a peek here, it is a private residence and not open for tours. Side note to Nook Experts: if this house ever goes on the market, please sign me up!
• I didn’t mention The Haunted Mansion in my history because it is so obvious and year round. However, it does get all dolled up for Halloween in Anaheim. Your favorite dancing and hitchhiking ghosts transform into those crazy kooks from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, arguable the last good film he ever made. It happens almost overnight and stays through the Christmas season. I dare you to ride it and not spend the rest of the day humming “This is Halloween.” It is impossible.
• The Queen’s House in London has a rich and storied history way before rumors arose that it was haunted. For one thing, it is an architectural dream, the first Classical building in England, inspired by architect Inigo Jones’ travels in Italy. The Great Hall was cutting edge in the 17th Century, with its stunning marble flooring and Tulip Stairs. It became known as a haunted house after Canadian tourists in 1966 saw this creepy hand on the staircase after returning from their trip.
• The Winchester Mystery House has a crazy good Instagram feed and an upcoming film featuring Dame Helen Mirren, my eternal crush. We’ll share more on this famous haunt next week!
• Some people find the macabre in everyday life, and abandoned buildings are ripe for such adventure. I love this image on Instagram because it is simple, and the viewer brings their spooky story to the window. Some of the most frightening moments are when you fill in the blanks with your imagination.
Photos Courtesy of Los Angeles Magazine Article via Getty Images.