All this week: Halloween urban legends – horrific truths, bald-faced lies, wild embellishments and insane speculations. On Monday, Matt explored the panic about us over tainted candy.
Today: Questing After Haunted House Eden
Like the lost city of El Dorado, or perhaps more appropriately like the profusion of rumored “midget towns” across the country, the ultimate haunted house attraction is an infamous and highly sought after fantasy destination. These rumored Halloween paradises aren’t advertised and move to a different hidden location every year. They’re generally described as multi-floored (anywhere from 3 to 13) warehouses run by mysterious, wealthy cabals. Some allegedly offer full refunds to anyone who can make it through the entire production (sometimes the refund is offered in installments paid out as a participant completes each floor). Of course, they’re so genuinely terrifying that no one has ever managed to reclaim the full entry fee.
Interestingly, unlike the diminutive midget towns, which always seem to be tucked away in unmapped corners of forgotten counties, these Edenic bastions of fright are generally rumored to exist in urban areas – warehouse districts or dilapidated portside neighborhoods. Fueling these stories is a suburban fascination with the city. A panic-tempered awe. A wonder-blanched fear. The middle school kids who loo
k forward to annual jaunts through the plywood corridors of local Kiwanis-run haunted houses construct elaborate fantasies about said houses’ wild urban equivalents. The stories are built from an ingrained hyperbolic vision of the city as a concrete wilderness that’s at once less sympathetic, less polite, less controlled and, most importantly, more grown up than the familiar suburban landscape. Like a profusion of the message board posts debating the supposed locations of these hidden terrordomes state: “Half the fun is finding [the attraction].” By the very nature of the attraction’s non-existence, the search becomes the destination and the “ultimate haunted house” is actually the city streets as seen through the eyes of cul de sac sons and development daughters.
The richest version of the legend I could find was actually the one I grew up hearing: Somewhere in Philadelphia, PA is a 13-floor haunted house called, well, “13 Floors.” The first couple floors are rumored to be laughably standard haunted house fare; subsequent floors give way to trapdoors, complete darkness, live insects and reptiles, and, supposedly, violent physical assaults by masked assailants. Really, the whole thing unfolds into a beautiful allegory for growing up. The horrific, whispered climax of the story? Every year, the one or two participants who manage to successfully soldier on past the seventh or eighth floor are Never. Heard from. Again.
These few fearful, but brave, souls become the ghosts of suburban grade school legend. Neither living nor dead – just lost to the city. They matured into vapor. Grew up into steam. In truth, they are the ones who escaped.
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