I haven’t had cable for more than five years now. I don’t really miss it; I was never much of a channel-surfer, and thanks to the internet, I have plenty of ways to keep up with the shows I regularly watch. But there is one thing I miss — and I miss it at the same time every year: I miss the Travel Channel’s October programming. Or, more accurately, I miss the Travel Channel’s October programming circa 2007 through roughly 2012; because of that whole not-having-cable-anymore thing, I’m not sure if it’s the same these days as it was back then. (At a glance, it doesn’t seem to be; the current October schedule is mostly full of Ghost Adventures and a bunch of shows that didn’t exist in the mid-2000s to early 2010s.) But during the Halloween season between those six years, my television was tuned to the Travel Channel virtually non-stop, largely because doing so allowed me to experience all the spookily thrilling haunts and traditions used to celebrate the best holiday of the year across the country — even places from which I lived thousands of miles away.
It was, in a sense, the same kind of thing humans have been doing for as long as there have been maps and atlases and explorer journals: Armchair traveling at its finest.
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Three types of specials played in heavy rotation during those six Octobers: America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions, Halloween’s Most Extreme, and Most Terrifying Places In America. They weren’t shows in the standard sense of the word — they didn’t have seasons; just different installments, often aired back-to-back as a marathon. They usually filled hour-long slots, with each installment clocking it at around 45 minutes in length, once commercials were accounted for.
There wasn’t really anything overly unique about their format or presentation; they were basically the docuseries version of a listicle, each consisting of a handful of locations or activities counted down and examined one by one. Still, though, I absolutely adored them — and, indeed, many of the subjects I’ve ended up writing about over the course of my career, both here at TGIMM and elsewhere, I first heard about from these specials.
For reasons I’ve never quite understood, however, information about these specials is surprisingly hard to come by now. For example, IMDB often has huge holes in its coverage — it has entries for the second and sixth installments of Most Terrifying Places In America, but none of the others — and beyond holding a few clips, the Travel Channel’s own website is no help at all. (Halloween’s Most Extreme is apparently so old the site doesn’t even have a page for it.) There are a few bits and pieces scattered about the internet, though, and occasionally, you can even hunt down bootlegged copies of the specials on video sharing sites like YouTube and DailyMotion.
So, using whatever I’ve been able to locate combined with my own recollections, let’s take a brief tour of the Travel Channel’s Halloween specials from an oddly specific period in time. What can I say? I’m big on nostalgia. Particularly if it’s spooky.
Picking a favorite among these three specials is kind of like what I imagine being asked to pick a favorite child is like: Sure, you love all of them… but there’s one that you feel a special affinity for, even if you feel too guilty about it to admit it. For me in this particular situation, that favorite is America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions.
The first installment of the series aired in 2006, according to IMDB (which, surprisingly, had an entry for this one), while the last, as far as I can tell — America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions 4 — aired in 2013. Between those four specials, the series covered upwards of 30 haunts, ranging from around seven to nine haunts per show. The crew behind the specials spoke to the haunts’ creators, to their actors, and — perhaps most importantly — to the people who visited them, giving you an overview of what made each attraction unique.
Didn’t live anywhere near Dallas? You could still get a taste of Thrillvania here. Far, far away from Pittsburgh? Check out Scarehouse from the comfort of your own couch. Stuck on the East Coast? Go swashbuckling with California’s Pirates of Emerson anyway. Sure, watching America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions wasn’t the same as actually walking or riding through a haunt; it did, however, give you a glimpse of each attraction, plus some bonus behind-the-scenes stuff that’s great fun to watch if you’re into the nuts and bolts of how these things work and what goes into running them.
But these shows weren’t just good for armchair traveling; they could also alert you to events in you own area with which you might not be familiar. At the time I was watching these shows, I lived in New York — and while I hopped on the Nightmare NYC train early on, thanks to their spectacular and pervasive subway ad campaign, I didn’t actually know about the other main haunt in my city until America’s Scariest Halloween Attraction 2: Blood Manor. (Blood Manor is still in operation; the group behind Nightmare NYC, however, have since branched out into more immersive and unconventional experiences under the banner This Is Real.) I’ll confess that Blood Manor was never quite my speed — I’ve never found gore particularly interesting — but once I learned about it, I did quite enjoy comparing and contrasting it with Nightmare NYC, which tended to focus on high concepts more than how much blood they could go through in a single night.
I even found out about Eastern State Penitentiary through the series: Terror Behind The Walls was the focus of the very first segment in the very first installment. When I finally took a trip to Philadelphia some years later, I made a point to visit Eastern State; even though it wasn’t haunt season then, I had begun to dig into the history of the place thanks to this segment and knew it was one of bucket list travel locations. I eventually visited Bates Motel when I found myself in the Gradyville, Pa. area for a brief period during the Halloween season in 2014, as well — something I probably wouldn’t even have known to do if it weren’t for the Travel Channel.
I keep hoping they’ll put another installment of America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions; it’s been five years since the last one, and the scene has changed enough in that time that I think there’s plenty of fodder for more. Alas, though, it doesn’t appear to be in the cards right now, so I’ll jut have to satisfy myself by re-watching the old ones again. The first and third ones can be found above, while this playlist covers the contents of the second one. Unfortunately, all I’ve been able to find of the fourth one is this clip of Hundred Acres Manor in Pittsburgh — but it’s something, at least.
As far as I know, the Travel Channel only every produced one installment of Halloween’s Most Extreme; it originally aired in 2007, per IMDB, but I also have memories of watching it several years running, for whatever that’s worth. Unlike America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions, Halloween’s Most Extreme had a broader focus: It profiled four haunts, three farm-related activities, and two other items I’d classify as “odds and ends.” Also included as wraparound segments were shorter bits filed by theme under “Extreme Halloween Traditions.”
These days, many of the places and traditions included in this special would probably be considered pretty tame. For example, although the Headless Horseman Hayride in Ulster Park, New York, Netherworld in Atlanta, Ga., Fright Dome in Las Vegas (which, alas, appears to have shuttered), and The House of Shock in New Orleans (also now closed) were all considered some of the most extreme haunts in existence in 2007, they existed in a pre-Blackout and McKamey Manor world. In light of the rise of truly extreme haunted attractions — ones that kidnap you and simulate torture — these more traditional haunts can only be considered so scary. Extreme pumpkin carving has also gone more mainstream in recent years, as have massive corn mazes.
I think the spooky themed weddings at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel stand the test of time, though; in fact, if anything, they’ve become even more notable. The wedding industrial complex keeps growing year after year, continually trying to convince us that there’s only One Right Way to have a wedding — a Way that involves hundreds of guests and increasingly ridiculous price tags (and hey, if that’s your jam, go for it) — but the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel’s themed weddings remind us that there’s no single “right” way to get married. If your perfect wedding involves zombies and a fright wig, so be it.
Even though there’s only one Halloween’s Most Extreme special in existence, however, the Travel Channel’s more recent trio of Halloween Crazy specials — Halloween Crazy, Halloween Crazier, and Halloween Craziest — seem to be functionally similar. With the first of the bunch airing in 2011, they cover haunts like the Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati and Erebus in Michigan, activities like the zombie-themed Run For Your Lives 5K race and obstacle course — and, yes, there’s even a segment on McKamey Manor. I’m not sure whether these specials still air occasionally, but you can watch many of the segments on the Travel Channel’s website.
The Most Terrifying Places In America specials aren’t specifically Halloween-themed; as such, you might spot them on the Travel Channel airing at pretty much any time. In October, though — or at least, in October around 10 year ago — you’ll be much more likely to find them. Perhaps because they weren’t seasonal, there’s also more information available about these shows online than there are for the other two specials featured in this piece. There’s even an entire Wikipedia page for the specials, complete with location listings for each and every installment.
And there are a lot of installments — seven in all. I might even go so far as to classify Most Terrifying Places In America as a mini-series: The first two installments aired back-to-back on Oct. 9, 2009, while the following five installments aired weekly between Oct. 1 and Oct. 22 in 2010. (Terrifying Places 3 and 4 both aired on Oct. 1, 2010.) Each installment featured between seven and nine allegedly haunted locations; a camera crew and research team would visit the spots, interview anyone officially affiliated with them, talk to historians if relevant, and do some light paranormal investigating, stringing together each of the resulting segments into one complete show.
The earlier installments feature locations that are so infamous that they may not be of interest to many anymore; the well-seasoned ghost enthusiast likely is likely already familiar with the Villisca Axe Murder House and the Stanley Hotel. The later shows, however, highlight some locations that are a bit more off the beaten path. The Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, for example? I first heard about it on Most Terrifying Places In America 5. Captain Grant’s Inn, too — that one was on Most Terrifying Places 7.
What I liked the most about these shows is that they weren’t hammed up for the camera in the way that, say, Ghost Adventures and a lot of the Travel Channel’s more recent paranormal-focused shows have been. Sure, the narration and the editing could be a little over the top — but each segment was firmly based on the real history behind each location. What’s more, you could tell that the people who were interviewed for each segment absolutely believed what they experienced. Despite the hokey framework, these two essential qualities gave the show an air of believability that made them extraordinarily fun to watch. All of them are currently available on DailyMotion thanks to a channel called Haunted Shows.
And hey, guess what? Two new installments of Most Terrifying Places In America have aired as part of the Travel Channel’s 2018 “Ghostober” programming! I haven’t seen them yet, but according to Red Carpet Crash, the first of the new shows focused on haunted road trips, while the second visited “cursed towns.” As far as I’ve been able to find, these will be the first new installments made since 2010—and that’s exciting news, indeed.
I’ll confess that I’m not that thrilled by the rest of the “Ghostober” schedule — it’s quite Ghost Adventures-heavy, and I am… shall we say, not exactly a Zak Bagans fan. But I do appreciate that, even after all these years, the Travel Channel still really leans into its spookier offerings during the Halloween season — because after all, what’s Halloween without a few good ghost stories?
[Photo via Pexels/Pixabay]