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A haunted house is a house or other building often perceived as being inhabited by disembodied spirits of the deceased who may have been former residents or were familiar with the property. Parapsychologists attribute haunting to the spirits of the dead and the effect of violent or tragic events in the building's past such as murder, accidental death, or suicide. More scientific explanations for the perception that a house is haunted include misinterpreting noises naturally present in structures, waking dreams, suggestibility, and the effect of toxic substances in environments that can cause hallucinations.
According to science writer Terence Hines, cold spots, creaking sounds, and odd noises are typically present in any home, especially older ones, and "such noises can easily be mistaken for the sound of footsteps by those inclined to imagine the presence of a deceased tenant in their home."
Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell writes that in most cases he investigated, he found plausible explanations for haunting phenomena, such as physical illusions, waking dreams, and the effects of memory. According to Nickell, the power of suggestion along with confirmation bias plays a large role in perceived hauntings. "As a house, inn, or other place becomes thought of as "haunted," more and more ghostly encounters are reported" says Nickell, "When people are given to expect paranormal events, they tend to notice those conditions that would confirm their expectations."
Toxicologist Albert Donnay believes that chronic exposure to substances such as carbon monoxide, pesticide, and formaldehyde can lead to hallucinations of the type associated with haunted houses. Donnay speculates on the connection between the prevalence of gas lamps during the Victorian era and start of the 20th century stories of ghost sightings and hauntings, describing it as the "Haunted House Syndrome". Donnay says that carbon monoxide poisoning has been linked to haunted houses since at least the 1920s, citing a 1921 journal article published about a family who suffered headaches, auditory hallucinations, fatigue, melancholy, and other symptoms associated with haunted houses.
Michael Persinger, Jason Braithewaite, and others, suggested that perceived apparitions, cold spots, and ghostly touches are perceptual anomalies caused by variations in naturally occurring or man-made magnetic fields. However, a study by psychologist Chris French and others that attempted to replicate Persinger's findings found no link.
Commercial haunted houses
The concept of the haunted house was capitalized on as early as 1915 with the Orton and Spooner Haunted House in Hollycombe Steam Collection (England), and by the 1970s, commercial haunted houses had sprung up all over the United States in cities like Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. By 2005, an estimated 3,500 to 5,000 professional haunted attractions operated in the United States. In addition, around the time of Hallowtide, many Christian churches run a type of haunted house known as a hell house, which while being a haunted house, also promotes their interpretation of the Christian gospel message. According to USA Today, in hell houses, "participants walk through several 'scenes' depicting the consequences of things like abortion, homosexuality and drunkenness."
In the case Stambovsky v. Ackley, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division ruled in 1991 that a seller must disclose that a house has a reputation for being haunted when there is a fiduciary relationship or in cases of fraud or misrepresentation, because such a reputation impairs the value of the house:
In the case at bar, defendant seller deliberately fostered the public belief that her home was possessed. Having undertaken to inform the public at large, to whom she has no legal relationship, about the supernatural occurrences on her property, she may be said to owe no less a duty to her contract vendee.
Short stories and novels
Legends about haunted houses have long appeared in literature. The earliest surviving report of a haunted house comes from a letter written by Pliny the Younger (61 – c. 112) to his patron Lucias Sura, in which he describes a haunted villa in Athens. Nobody would live in the house until the philosopher Athenodorus (c.74 BCE – 7 CE) arrived in the city. He was tempted by the low rent and undeterred by the house's reputation so he moved in. The ghost, an old man bound with chains, appeared to Athenodrus during the first night, and beckoned to the philosopher. The apparition vanished once it reached the courtyard, and Athenodrus carefully marked the spot. The following morning he requested the magistrate to have the spot dug up, where the skeleton of an old man bound with chains was discovered. The ghost never appeared again after the skeleton was given a proper burial.
Stories of haunted houses are also included in the Arabian Nights, as in the tale of "Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House in Baghdad"; more modern authors from Henry James to Stephen King have also featured them in their writings.
Haunting is used as a plot device in gothic or horror fiction or, more lately, paranormal-based fiction; haunted castles and mansions are common in gothic literature such as Dracula. Notable works of fiction featuring haunted houses include:
- The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole
- The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe
- "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1845) by Edgar Allan Poe
- The House of the Seven Gables (1851) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James
- The House on the Borderland (1908) by William Hope Hodgson
- "The Rats in the Walls" (1924) by H. P. Lovecraft
- The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson
- Hell House (1971) by Richard Matheson
- The House with a Clock in Its Walls (1973) by John Bellairs
- 'Salem's Lot (1975) by Stephen King
- The Shining (1977) by Stephen King
- The Amityville Horror (1977) by Jay Anson
- The Woman in Black (1983) by Susan Hill
- Drawing Blood (1993) by Poppy Brite
- Silk (1998) by Caitlín R. Kiernan
- House of Leaves (2000) by Mark Z. Danielewski
- The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red (2001) by Ridley Pearson
- Rose Red (2002) by Stephen King
- The Little Stranger (2009) by Sarah Waters
- The Haunted House (1912)
- The Ghost Breaker (1914)
- Wee Lady Betty (1917)
- The Haunted House (1921)
- The Ghost Breaker (1922)
- The Monster (1925)
- The Cat and the Canary (1927)
- London After Midnight (1927)
- The Terror (1928)
- Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)
- The Cat Creeps (1930)
- The Ghost Goes West (1936)
- Lonesome Ghosts (1937)
- The Cat and the Canary (1939)
- The Ghost Breakers (1940)
- Hold That Ghost (1941)
- The Canterville Ghost (1944)
- The Uninvited (1944)
- The Time of Their Lives (1946)
- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
- Scared Stiff (1953)
- House on Haunted Hill (1959)
- 13 Ghosts (1960)
- The Innocents (1961)
- The Haunting (1963)
- Bhoot Bungla (1965)
- The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
- The House That Dripped Blood (1970)
- Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
- The Legend of Hell House (1973)
- Burnt Offerings (1976)
- The Amityville Horror (1979)
- Inferno (1980)
- The Shining (1980)
- The Changeling (1980)
- The Entity (1981)
- The Evil Dead (1981)
- The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)
- House (1986)
- Evil Dead II (1987)
- Beetlejuice (1988)
- Night of the Demons (1988)
- Sweet Home (1989)
- Pathimoonam Number Veedu (1990)
- The People Under the Stairs (1991)
- The Pagemaster (1994)
- Casper (1995)
- Haunted (1995)
- Tower of Terror (1997)
- Ghosts (1997)
- House on Haunted Hill (1999)
- The Haunting (1999)
- Thirteen Ghosts (2001)
- The Others (2001)
- The Devil's Backbone (2001)
- Rose Red (2002)
- Darkness (2002)
- Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
- The Haunted Mansion (2003)
- The Grudge (2004)
- The Amityville Horror (2005)
- House Of Wax (2005)
- The Skeleton Key (2005)
- The Grudge 2 (2006)
- Monster House (2006)
- An American Haunting (2006)
- In a Dark Place (2006)
- Stay Alive (2006)
- Return to House on Haunted Hill (2006)
- The Messengers (2007)
- The Orphanage (2007)
- 1408 (2007)
- Paranormal Activity (2007)
- 1920 (2008)
- Paranormal Entity (2008)
- The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
- Deadline (2009)
- Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
- Haunted – 3D (2011)
- Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
- Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)
- The Innkeepers (2011)
- The Pact (2012)
- Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
- The Woman In Black (2012)
- The Conjuring (2013)
- Ragini MMS 2 (2014)
- Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)
- Poltergeist (2015)
- Crimson Peak (2015)
- Carson Mansion a famous Victorian house in Eureka, California commonly used as a template for haunted houses in art
- Ghost hunting
- Legend tripping
- List of ghosts
- List of reportedly haunted locations in the world
- Nang Ta-khian
- Stigmatized property
- Watts, Linda S. (2007). Encyclopedia of American Folklore. Infobase Publishing. pp. 192–. ISBN 978-1-4381-2979-2. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- Lyons, Linda (1 November 2005). "Paranormal Beliefs Come (Super)Naturally to Some". Gallup Poll. Gallup. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
- Moore, David W. (16 June 2005). "Three in Four Americans Believe in Paranormal". Gallup Poll. Gallup. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
- Hines, Terence (1988). Pseudoscience and the paranormal: a critical examination of the evidence. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-0-87975-419-8.
- Muir, Hazel (2001-12-20). "Ball lightning scientists remain in the dark". New Scientist. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
- Nickell, Joe. "Catching Ghosts". June 2008. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- McKay Jenkins (19 April 2011). What's Gotten Into Us?: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World. Random House Digital, Inc. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-1-4000-6803-6. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
- Glass, Ira. "And the Call Was Coming from the Basement". This American Life. Public Radio International.
- Michael A. Persinger & Stanley A. Koren, "Predicting the Characteristics of Haunt Phenomena from Geomagnetic Factors and Brain Sensitivity: Evidence from Field and Experimental Studies", in Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, ed. By James Houran & Rense Lange (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2001)
- Jason J. Braithwaite & Maurice Townsend (2005). "Sleeping with the Entity – A Quantitative Magnetic Investigation of an English Castle's Reputedly 'Haunted' Bedroom". European Journal of Parapsychology 20.1.
- French, CC; Haque, U; Bunton-Stasyshyn, R; Davis, R (May 2009). "The "Haunt" project: an attempt to build a "haunted" room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound.". Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior 45 (5): 619–29. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2007.10.011. PMID 18635163.
- Keim, Brandon (30 October 2009). "Scientifically Haunted House Suggests You're a Sucker". Wired. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
- "Haunted House (1915)". Hollycombe Working Steam Museum. Archived from the original on April 25, 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
- "Vintage - The HOUSEOFDOOM". Vintage. Vintage. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
- The Associated Press. "Haunted house business getting frightfully hard. 'Scaring people is easy,' but making money at it a lot harder". 10/30/2005. msnbc.msn.com. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
- "Some Christians use 'Hell Houses' to reach out on Halloween - USATODAY.com". usatoday.com.
- Knauf, Allan. "After New York's Property Condition Disclosure Act". Archived from the original on 26 November 2006. Retrieved 15 February 2007.
- Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.2d 254, 260, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672, N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept., 1991.
- Fielding & O'Keeffe (2011), An Introduction to Haunting Phenomena.
- Pliny the Younger (1909–14). "LXXXIII. To Sura". In Charles W. Eliot. Letters, by Pliny the Younger; translated by William Melmoth; revised by F. C. T. Bosanquet. The Harvard Classics 9. P. F. Collier & Son.
- Yuriko Yamanaka, Tetsuo Nishio (2006). The Arabian Nights and Orientalism: Perspectives from East & West. I.B. Tauris. p. 83. ISBN 1-85043-768-8.
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- "You are here: Home / Travel / Attractions / Top 20 Scariest Places in America and Where to Dine Nearby". Healthy Voyager. October 21, 2013.