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7 Floors of Hell

12 Haunted Tours Worth Traveling For

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7 Floors of Hell

We are entering the premier weekend for haunted house tours. In the past couple of decades, the haunted tour has grown into a multimillion-dollar business, with attractions in every city and small town. Some are worth traveling for, as you'll see in this list. It is not an exhaustive list, but may give you an idea of what's available to scare the living daylights out of you this Halloween. Be aware that many of the attraction websites have auto play sound. Happy haunting!

1. The Darkness

Photograph from The Darkness at Facebook.

The Darkness in St. Louis, Missouri, has evolved over twenty years into a megaplex of haunted attractions. In addition to The Darkness, you can tour Terror Visions 3D, Creepyworld, and The Haunting of Lemp Brewery. The attractions are gathered together under the name Scarefest. The Darkness is an indoor self-guided maze that takes about a half hour to get through -unless you run away scared!

2. The Asylum

Photograph from The Asylum at Facebook.

The Asylum in Denver, Colorado, is one of four related haunted attractions. Its sister haunts are 13th Floor, Undead Haunted House, and Primitive Fear: the Apocalypse, all in Denver. The Asylum is a tour down into "Gordon Cottingham's Hospital for the Mentally Insane." Inside, you'll find "spiders, rats, snakes, and the endless screams of the tortured souls.”

3. The Haunted Prison Experience

Photograph from The Haunted Prison Experience at Facebook.

The Haunted Prison Experience takes place at the defunct Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. The prison opened in 1896 to house young offenders. Over its 94-year history, the institution held 154,000 incarcerated men, many who died there, sometimes by murder, sometimes by suicide. The prison was closed in 1990, and later became the setting for the movie The Shawshank Redemption. You can see for yourself how spooky the empty facility is, only populated by the spirits that roam the halls -both actors and real spirits.

4. 13th Floor

13th Floor is open in Phoenix, Arizona. In many buildings, the management skips labeling the 13th floor and floors go from 12 to 14, due to the superstition about the number 13 being unlucky. The legend is that these buildings actually do have a 13th floor, but it inaccessible because the souls of the dead live there. And that's the theme of this haunted attraction in Phoenix. A second attraction, Zombieland, has been added, so that the tour now encompasses 60,000 square feet of space.

5. House of Shock

The House of Shock in New Orleans, Louisiana, has been scaring folks for 21 years. More than just a haunted house, it has a bar and restaurant, a place to sit and watch the ghouls go by, a concert stage, and a complete outdoor Halloween festival! This is all very handy for friends and family members to scared to tour the House of Shock. The video shows the stage show presented before the tour begins.

6. Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Waverly Hills in Louisville, Kentucky, is open for haunted house tours. This is not an attraction from an entertainment company, but an actual hospital with a haunted history. Waverly Hills Sanatorium has been a tuberculosis hospital, a nursing home, a failed religious monument, and a paranormal investigation site. Now the Waverly Hills Historical Society invites you to relive the misery of the past by touring the entire first floor of the haunted hospital.

7. Haunted Overload

Photograph from Haunted Overload at Facebook.

The Haunted Overload at Demeritt Hill Farm in Lee, New Hampshire, is a combination indoor-outdoor tour with props that loom monstrously tall over the visitors. There are scary shows scheduled at night with actors (rain or shine), non-scary shows with lights but no actors, and casual tours during the day in which you can take your time strolling through. They recommend that you buy show tickets in advance. If you arrive without a ticket, the show may be sold out, and even if not it's an extra $5! The attraction is all-new for 2013 -see a video of the construction that began last summer. 

8. The Dungeon of Horrors

Photograph by Flickr user Sideonecincy.

The Dungeon of Horrors is the name of the special Halloween haunted tours of the West Virginia State Penitentiary. The prison held inmates from 1866 until it was closed in 1995. The facility was famous for overcrowding, poor conditions, and inmate abuse. It was the site of many executions, both by hanging and by electric chair, plus numerous murders. In addition to the Halloween tours, you can also book a Ghost Adventures Tour, in which your group can stay from midnight until 6AM -if you dare.

9. 7 Floors of Hell

Photograph from 7 Floors of Hell at Facebook.

7 Floors of Hell in Cleveland, Ohio, was named after an urban legend: a tale of a haunted house attraction that no one survived to exit! Rodney Geffert heard the story and made the attraction real, although his visitors do survive to visit another day. The "7 Floors" are seven different attractions: Blackout, The Cemetery, insane Asylum, The Crypt, Psycho Circus in 3D, The Butcher Shop, and The House of Nightmares. You can buy tickets to your choice of three haunted houses, or a general ticket to visit all seven.

10. Terror Behind the Walls

Photograph from the Collection of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in America. Open 142 years, the prison was a place of madness, torture, and suicide, as well as murder and the despair of prisoners who served time until they died of natural causes. Every Halloween, you can take the Terror Behind the Walls tour, which has the spookiness of the historic prison plus the added scariness of actors and special effects. There are six attractions inside, from state-of-the-art 3D illusions to the experience of solitary confinement in the dungeon.

11. USS Nightmare

Photograph from USS Nightmare at Facebook.

USS Nightmare in Newport, Kentucky (just across the river from Cincinnati) promises to scare the ship out of you! It's a haunted steamboat on the Ohio River. The 20-minute tour takes you through two levels of an old river dredge with lights and actors. The tour focuses on historic ghosts who once inhabited the boat.

12. Field of Screams

The Field of Screams in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is a haunted hayride that takes you to several haunted houses, but the hayride itself is terrifying, with ghouls and goblins inhabiting the haunted cornfields.

What haunted attractions would you recommend?

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GhostwatchBTC via YouTube
The BBC Halloween Hoax That Traumatized Viewers
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GhostwatchBTC via YouTube

After more than 20,000 phone calls, one induced labor, and thousands of angry letters, the UK's Broadcasting Standards Council convened for a hearing. On June 27, 1995, they ruled that the producers of Ghostwatch, a BBC program that aired on Halloween night less than three years earlier, had deliberately set out to “cultivate a sense of menace.”

Put another way, the BBC had been found to be complicit in scaring 11 million people senseless.

Airing from Northolt, North London, Ghostwatch alleged to report on the paranormal experiences of the Early family, which had been besieged by the actions of a ghostly apparition they called “Pipes.” Four recognized BBC presenters appeared on the show, which took on the appearance of a straightforward documentary and offered only subtle clues that it was an elaborate hoax. For a significant portion of viewers, it appeared as though they were witnessing documented evidence of a malevolent spirit.

Viewers grew so disturbed by the content that the network became embroiled in a controversy over what audiences felt was a ruse perpetrated by a trustworthy news source; cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in children were even reported in the British Medical Journal. What the BBC had intended to be nothing more alarming than an effective horror movie had petrified a country—and would eventually lead to accusations that it was responsible for someone’s death.

There is something of a myth surrounding Orson Welles’s infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast of October 30, 1938. As the decades have passed, accounts of how Welles used the H.G. Wells story to fool a nation into believing aliens had invaded have become embellished. Listeners had supposedly become so infused with terror that they leapt from windows and suffered nervous breakdowns. Major cities had streets crowded with people craning their necks and looking for signs of a violent galactic attack.

While it’s true a number of people may have been disturbed by the “accounts” of military forces being overwhelmed by aliens, it’s unlikely to have been as widespread as later accounts would have it. Newspapers eager to browbeat the competing medium of radio exaggerated the show’s effect, then quickly dropped the matter; it’s not likely all that many people were even listening in the first place, with the program going up against a popular comedy show airing at the same time.

As perpetrators of hoaxes go, only Stephen Volk seems to have lived up to the standard Welles is thought to have set. A screenwriter, Volk pitched the BBC on a six-part series in 1988 about a roving paranormal investigation crew that climaxes in a live tour of a supposedly haunted house.

The BBC, however, wasn’t that enthused about devoting that much time to the idea. Instead, the pitch was condensed down to the last episode—a kind of “mockumentary” take on a paranormal occurrence that the channel could air as a Halloween special.

For Volk, it represented an opportunity to explore what he felt was the relative comfort of a television broadcast. Audiences went to horror films, he believed, knowing what to expect, consenting to being scared. But television was more intimate and less predictable. Viewers who tuned in anticipating a spoof or anticlimactic, tongue-in-cheek exploration would be in for a surprise—and not a pleasant one.

To add to the program’s credibility, Volk and director Lesley Manning structured it so two BBC presenters—Sarah Greene and Craig Charles—would be installed at the Early house, while highly regarded broadcaster Michael Parkinson would anchor from a studio. (Both Charles and Greene frequently popped up on BBC children’s programming, which would prove to be a lure when it came to an adolescent audience.)

Actors portrayed members of the Early family: single mother Pam and daughters Suzanne and Kim all reported instances of strange activity in their home, including rattling, mysterious cat noises, and smashed dishes. Suzanne would sport odd scratches on her face, which she claimed to be the work of Pipes, the ghost who refused to leave their home.

(In a testament to Volk’s commitment, he petitioned the BBC to allow him to try and insert a high-pitched warble on the soundtrack that would be audible to animals near televisions, hoping their bizarre behavior would unsettle viewers more. It proved to be technically impossible to do.)

Various ideas were batted around to reinforce the disclaimer, but few made it to the air. Mike Smith, Greene’s real-life husband and an on-air BBC correspondent who appeared on the special, once told the Radio Times that he suspected things might go south. “We had a meeting with the BBC days before transmission,” he said. “And we told them that this was going to cause a fuss. They told us not to worry because it was being billed as a drama in the Radio Times complete with a cast list. But we felt that wasn't enough."

By the time Ghostwatch premiered at 9:25 p.m. on October 31, 1992, the special had already been filmed, showing Parkinson reacting to segments and taking calls—all staged—that invited the audience to discuss their experiences with paranormal activity. In the interests of fairness, he also included an interview with a (fake) skeptic dismissing the Earlys’ claims.

Only highly observant viewers would have done the same. While the show began with a title card indicating it was written “by” Volk, the graphic was onscreen for only a split second; the presence of established and familiar faces to BBC viewers added to the verisimilitude. So did the program’s slow burn. At 90 minutes, it took its time, showing only fleeting glimpses into the Early family’s experiences that were left purposely ambiguous.

In the show’s second half, things took a turn. A viewer called in to tell them that someone had once committed suicide in the home; a mutilated dog corpse was said to be recently found nearby; the Early children were depicted as increasingly upset over the home’s disturbances. Around an hour in, Parkinson even advised viewers they’d be pre-empting scheduled programming to remain with Greene due to the "extraordinary" events taking place: Suzanne speaking in a baritone voice, and unseen cats mewling behind the walls.

Ultimately, Greene disappeared in the crawl space under the home’s stairs while a paranormal expert proclaimed that the television audience had unwittingly participated in a mass séance that had further emboldened Pipes. At the end of the show, Parkinson was seen being apparently possessed by the ghost’s spirit.

The finale laid it on a little thick, but not everyone made it that far in. By the time Ghostwatch signed off, a not-insignificant portion of the show’s 11 million viewers were either convinced ghosts were real, extremely upset at the BBC for traumatizing their children, or both.

The broadcaster had just five operators standing by its phones [PDF] once the show went off air, a number that was quickly overcome by the thousands of calls that flooded in. One woman reportedly went into labor due to the stress caused by watching the program; another reported her husband had soiled himself. Within hours, the BBC aired a brief segment that reminded viewers the show was fictional. It was a little too late.

Public discourse—including on the BBC’s own viewer feedback show, Bite Back—criticized the station for using its reputation to fool viewers into thinking harm had come to both the Earlys and to their hosts. Parapsychologist Susan Blackmore later said that “It treated the audience unfairly. It can be exciting to play on the edge of fantasy and reality, or stretch the accepted norms of television conventions, but this was neither true to its format nor fun. It was horrid to watch the distress of the girls, real or faked. I found it over-long and occasionally disgusting … The lack of adequate warnings was irresponsible.”

Greene quickly appeared on children’s shows to reassure younger viewers she had not been abducted or murdered by Pipes. Volk and Manning offered their own apologies, feeling that the BBC considered them pariahs. They had simply wanted to pay homage to Welles, never imagining the program could have the kind of effect it did.

In a report published in the British Medical Journal 18 months later, doctors in Coventry reported cases they classified as “post-traumatic stress disorder” from consumption of media—in this case, Ghostwatch. Two 10-year-old boys were suffering from panic attacks and sleep disturbances as a result of the broadcast. When the piece appeared, the Journal received correspondence from other doctors relating similar cases.

If not for his reported learning disabilities, 18-year-old Martin Denham might have been more psychologically equipped to deal with some transient nerves from the show. When he became distraught in the days following the broadcast, he began to grow concerned he might make contact with ghosts and committed suicide. His parents, Percy and April, blamed Ghostwatch, leading the Broadcasting Standards Council to rule that the show had been improperly labeled, with too few warnings that it was a fictitious premise.

Later, the handheld-camera, raw-footage approach would unnerve cinema audiences that flocked to films like The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity series. While those films rarely resulted in any claims more serious than motion sickness, Ghostwatch successfully married the BBC’s credibility with an effective ghost story to create an experience that’s unlikely to ever be duplicated.

Not that the network wants to try. Since its original airing, the program has never again been broadcast in its entirety in the UK. (Though it is available to stream via Shudder.)

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8 Famous Séances
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For centuries, séances have provided entertainment for skeptics as well as solace for people hoping to catch a glimpse of their deceased loved ones. Here are a few notable times mediums have tried to contact the dead.

1. THE ANNUAL HOUDINI SÉANCE

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Before magician and famous skeptic Harry Houdini died in 1926, he said that he would send word of the afterlife, if there was one, once he was gone. He and his wife, Bess, even devised a code word that only they knew. Though Bess held séances on the anniversary of his death for 10 years, hoping to hear their secret word, nothing ever happened. Still, a variety of magicians, Houdini enthusiasts, and spiritualists have continued the tradition ever since.

2. JANE PIERCE’S WHITE HOUSE SÉANCES

Even if you don’t believe séances can produce spirits, you can’t blame First Lady Jane Pierce for trying. She had already lost two young sons before her husband, Franklin Pierce, was elected president in 1852, so she was particularly protective of Bennie, the only surviving child. Unfortunately, it didn’t do her much good—two months before Franklin Pierce was inaugurated, the family was involved in a train derailment that took 11-year-old Bennie’s life.

She wrote her deceased son a letter not long afterward, asking him to appear to her so she could apologize for failing him. To help him find his way, she hired the Fox sisters, famous mediums who did much to popularize séances. There’s no record as to what happened at the White House séance, but we do know Jane reported that Bennie had appeared to her in her dreams shortly thereafter.

3. LEVITATION SÉANCES

Starting in the 1880s, Daniel Dunglas Home convinced some people of his supernatural ability by levitating during séances. Though the stunts certainly generated publicity, Home's "abilities" were called into question when insiders said he simply stood between closely placed balconies or stood outside on wide windowsills. Home counted many celebrities among his fans, including Queen Sophia of the Netherlands, Napoleon III, and poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but he didn't impress everyone. Houdini wasn't fooled, calling Home “the forerunner of the mediums whose forte is fleecing by presuming on the credulity of the public.”

4. THE SÉANCE THAT “RAISED” A JUDGE

Judge John W. Edmonds died on April 5, 1874. A month later, he allegedly gave a speech in London, thanks to medium Cora L.V. Tappan, a young woman who had been giving spiritualist performances since the age of 15. The eloquent speech helped bolster the medium's successful career; she became the pastor of a spiritualist church the following year, and helped found the National Spiritualist Association.

5. THE MARY TODD LINCOLN SÉANCES

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Like Jane Pierce, Mary Todd Lincoln’s interest in talking to the dead is pretty understandable. And, also like Pierce, Lincoln employed the Fox sisters to help her reach a loved one taken too soon—specifically, her assassinated husband. There are no reports as to whether she was satisfied with the result, but the Fox sisters later admitted that their method of communicating with the dead—rapping on tables and other objects—was created by cracking their joints and making noises with their feet.

In addition to Abe, Mary also tried to contact her sons via séance, using a variety of mediums—and was quite happy with how those turned out. “Willie lives,” she once reported. “He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile he always has had. He does not always come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him.”

6. MUSEUM-WORTHY SÉANCES

Georgiana Houghton was an artist who became interested in spiritualism in the early 1860s after the death of her younger sister. It didn't take long for Houghton to combine her two interests, channeling creative spirits during séances to create watercolors and other works of art. Though she originally said that dead family members helped guide her hand, Houghton later claimed to have contacted Renaissance artists Titian and Correggio. Whether or not her works were the result of the afterlife, they're still relevant today—her art was exhibited at a prestigious London gallery just earlier this year.

7. THE BLACK HAWK SÉANCES

In 1913, Mother Leafy Anderson founded the Eternal Life Christian Spiritualist Association in Chicago, an organization partly founded on the messages she brought from her spirit guide, Black Hawk, a leader of the Sauk tribe, during religious séances. Anderson never knew Black Hawk—he died in 1838, nearly 50 years before she was born. Anderson herself died in 1927, but the word she brought from Black Hawk stuck—some faiths still channel Black Hawk to this day.

8. THE PAY-PER-VIEW SÉANCE

Lest you think that séances are ancient history—a silly diversion for people unenlightened by technology—consider Spirit of Diana, a 2003 pay-per-view event in which British mediums Craig and Jane Hamilton-Parker claimed to have contacted Princess Diana. The things Diana "revealed" weren’t exactly shocking or personal: The mediums claimed she said she was “having fun” in the afterlife, chilling with Mother Teresa. She had planned on marrying Dodi Fayed, and was still watching over her sons.

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