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Haunted houses weren’t the first business to ever open with the objective of giving people the creeps. Satisfying their morbid curiosity was not a haunted house. Instead, it is a business that is still open to this day, the Marie Tussauds Wax Museum. It is creepy like a haunted house. Many people know how every so often people will see an article on social media about a celebrity getting their own wax sculpture. Well, a lot of those models are produced at the Marie Tussauds Wax Museum. Tussaud’s career started back in 1777, when she created her first wax figure of the French writer and philosopher, Voltaire.
However, the sculptures she made were not to inflate celebrity egos like they are today. In fact, many of her famous statues were not made of people who were still alive. The collection that she opened to the London public in 1802 was called “The Chamber of Horrors.” She included figures like King Louie XVI, Marie Antoinette Marat, and Robespierre. All figures from the French Revolution. This meant that for the first time ever, the average commoners could get up close and personal with the most powerful figures in history.
What made these sculptures so impressive was their accuracy to so molded the faces of these models. From the deceased individual’s Death Masks and plaster moldings that were made of their faces after they were killed. This meant that visitors could be confident with what they were seeing was as close to the real deal as it got. Which was a pretty big deal in a time period before cameras. Later in the 1800s came the theater Le Thèâtre du Grand-Guignol which translates to The Theater of the Great Puppet. Don’t write it off yet because these weren’t simple puppet shows people were lining up to see. No, The Grand Guignol Theater specialized in what they called “Naturalistic Horror Shows.”
From Shows to Haunted Houses
They could be thought of as the old-timey equivalent of modern-day splatter films. The shows they put on push the limits of special effects. To show the most graphic violence imaginable in the most realistic way possible. They created knives that spurted out blood, squibs, and elaborate sleight-of-hand tricks to cut off limbs and tear out guts.
Similar to how we use special effects makeup in haunted houses today. Even more impressive they did all of this on a 20-foot wide stage. In front of an audience that was sitting close enough to shake hands with the actors. So that’s a testament to how believable these effects were, but sadly unlike Tussaud’s museums, the Guinea Theater no longer exists.
After WWII, its director Charles Nonon said, “before the war, everyone felt that what was happening onstage was impossible. Now we know that these things, and worse, are possible in reality.” It doesn’t get much darker than that.
But while people no longer wanted to be exposed to ultra-realistic depictions of violence and death, they did still enjoy being spooked. This is where the world’s first commercialized haunted house comes in. “The Orton and Spooner Ghost House opened in London in 1915. And for the first time ever, guests can do exactly what we do today. Get up close and personal with the unknown and frightening and come out safely on the other side. And nearly complete darkness visitors would walk through a maze [of] moving floors that blasted out air and vibrating walls that could collapse at any moment. The house doesn’t feature the usual modern gimmicks like costumed actors or models of ghosts and goblins but it sure was enough to give the 1920s London the heebie-jeebies.”
Haunted House Traditions
Now believe it or not the popularity of haunted houses here in America isn’t solely the result of capitalism doing its thing. Sure the money-making element would be a nice byproduct down the line. But originally these haunted houses were put together for the sole purpose of Public Safety. How exactly do haunted houses and Public Safety correlate? Every year on Halloween, our homes are visited by ghosts, goblins, and demons from other dimensions who present to us a choice. A choice that could either take our lives to the penultimate or send a spiraling into the pits of hell. That choice is a deceptively simple one: Trick or Treat?
By: Zaylah De La Torre
History: The Great Depression Origins of Halloween Haunted Houses
Props.Eric-Heart: THE GORE OF GRAND GUIGNOL By: ERIC HART
WorthPoint: 1937 Minneapolis Halloween Fun Book Frances Somers National Youth Administration
Featured Image Courtesy of Кирилл Чеботарь‘s Flickr Page – Creative Common License