Apparently, Disney put out a Haunted Mansion movie that nobody went to see… in the middle of July. If the Mouse doesn’t wait until October to sell its spooky mansion story, I can probably explore the subject too!
What Was the First Haunted House?
I don’t think it is possible to put a date on the exact moment humans started to believe in ghosts and other types of folkloric tales of the sort. It’s part of every culture. But we apparently can talk about the first documented tale of a haunted house!
One of the first documented cases of a haunted house dates back to ancient Rome. Pliny the Younger, a Roman author and jurist, described a haunted home in Athens in a letter written in the first century AD. Pliny’s letter, known as “Epistulae,” tells a narrative given to him by Athenodorus, a philosopher who formerly resided in the haunted villa.
According to the legend, a spectral spirit haunted the Athens villa every night, appearing, making weird noises, and frightening anyone who saw it. Athenodorus made the decision to spend the night in the villa to look into the haunting since he was curious. He saw the apparition throughout the night and noticed that it appeared to be attempting to get his attention.
When Athenodorus pursued the spectral figure outside, it eventually guided him to a location in the courtyard before dissipating. Athenodorus marked the location and let the authorities know the following day. The remains of a guy who had been buried there were supposedly found after excavations were conducted there. After they properly buried him, the hauntings stopped.
This story is one of the oldest known examples of a haunted house in historical literature, but the idea of haunted places and ghostly encounters certainly predates written records.
Who thought of building a haunted house to scare people?
Today, when we talk about haunted houses, we first think about the fun attractions to explore on a scary night. The idea is not a modern one at this point. Inspired by the wax museums that offered ghastly recreations of human horrors that were popular during the Victorian era, the first commercial horror attractions of this type appeared around 1915.
It was the Orton and Spooner Ghost House, which opened in 1915 in Liphook, England as part of an Edwardian fair. The manager, a man called Patrick Collins, constructed what he called the “Haunted Cottage.” The floor and the walls vibrate, air comes from below, and ghastly sounds make for a short, but scary walk in the dark. The “house” was approximately the size of a train car. All of that is powered by steam–and that’s why you can visit it at The Hollycombe collection.
During the Great Depression era, Halloween became quite chaotic as the kids started to be more and more daring with their pranks and they went a bit too far on multiple occasions. As a way to respond to the growing problem, some cities thought about canceling the holiday. However, many communities began instead of organizing trick-or-treating, parties, and other activities. This led to the creation of “haunted houses” as a way to entertain the children. Those were not elaborate, but they did the trick.
The First Haunted House by Disney
It was not until Walt Disney entered the scene that the haunted house phenomenon truly became a cultural icon. The opening of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion in 1969 marked an important turning point in the growth of haunted attractions. The concept had been approved nearly two decades before by Walt Disney, and the attraction was constructed in the spirit of the Evergreen House and the Winchester Mystery House.
It didn’t take long for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion to become a huge hit. Over 82,000 individuals visited the attraction on the day it opened. The Grand Hall, a 90-foot-long ballroom scene with dancing ghouls during a birthday party, is one of its most recognizable aspects. Disney used Pepper’s ghost, a novel and intricate set of illusions that project and sculpt ghostly images using refracted light, to bring this scene to life.
The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland has a profound and far-reaching impact. Many professional haunters consider it to be the beginning of the haunted attraction industry. The success of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion prompted others to build more intricate and immersive haunted houses, and it established a standard for the amount of inventiveness and invention that would come to be associated with the business.