Fact Check

The Unfinishable Haunted House

Does a Halloween haunted house attraction exist that is so scary no one has ever finished it?

Published May 28, 2001

Somewhere in the U.S. is a haunted house attraction so scary that no visitor has ever completed a tour of it.

Every October in communities from coast to coast, such attractions seemingly pop up out of nowhere, complete with gory settings of horrific scenes and populated by a staff of fearsome frightmasters whose only purpose is to elicit screams from those thrill-seekers who've paid to walk through the "house." On a larger scale, amusement parks in large cities are routinely turned into fright-themed after-dark attractions (e.g., Knott's Berry Farm, located near Anaheim, California, reinvents itself on October evenings as "Knott's Scary Farm").

Young and old alike revel in the search for the ultimate scare, constantly seeking thrills that will both shock them right down to their booties yet do so in a perfectly safe fashion. Against such a backdrop, whispers about a "haunted house" too terrifying for anyone to get all the way through fall upon highly receptive ears. Such a house would prove an irresistible challenge to those determined to prove they can't be startled by anything as well as to those who just like a good heart-stopping scare and don't mind paying for it.

Belief in the mythical "too scary to complete" house of horrors appears to date at least to the mid-1980s, predating even the 1990s burst of popularity that made "haunted house" attractions all the rage:

[Collected via e-mail, 1999]

I have heard for YEARS about a supposed "Haunted Hospital" here in Ohio.

Not actually haunted, but a haunted house attraction set in a hospital. Supposedly it's very scary and if you can make it through all the floors you get your money back. And no one ever makes it all the way through.

I've heard this story from MANY people, but NOONE knows exactly where it is. I've heard Dayton, OH Columbus, OH even KY.

[Collected via e-mail, 1998]

The first time I heard this was in middle school in the suburbs of Detroit, MI. There was supposedly a huge "haunted house set up in a 5 story abandoned building in downtown Detroit. The admission was around $25.00 but you could get it back in $5.00 increments with each level you completed. The house was supposed to have the scarriest attractions so no one could complete it. Some of these included: live snakes, spiders, and insects. Secret doors, dropaway floor slides etc. No exact location of the house was ever given. Recently I heard the story again at college in Austin, Texas. On Halloween two of my friends were going to Dallas to try and find the 5 story haunted house but I told them it was an urban legend.

This mythical house of terror has been rumored to exist all over the United States. Wherever it's been told, teens who have heard the rumor have breathlessly gone scampering on what would later prove to be naught but a snipe hunt. The attraction they searched for never existed.

Common elements of the rumor are statements that the "house" has a specified number of floors or levels, and visitors are charged an exorbitant fee for entering, but get back a specified dollar amount for each floor or level completed. Ultimately, according to scuttlebutt, those who complete the full tour get back every cent they paid to get in. In the same breath, however, one hears that no one has yet managed this feat — this place has proved too darned scary for those who've so far tried it. (Some versions even posit that a few visitors never came out the exit, and were later found dead on the top floor.)

To fill the need created by the legend, haunted attractions have cropped up that offer money back to those who complete the tour. These houses aren't so scary they can't be completed, however; they employ a gimmick of some sort that renders them practically unfinishable (such as mazes that befuddle the intrepid). Other spooktaculars of this ilk have been said to employ "monsters" who toss patrons out near the end of the attraction, or to present visitors with an openly dangerous final path to glory that few are fool enough to risk life and limb on.

Wishful rumors aside, the ultimate "haunted house" attraction of all time was the Halloweenified home of Richard Garriott (better known as "Lord British," the creator of the Ultima series of computer games) of Austin, Texas. Garriott's 4,500-square-foot mansion and its three surrounding acres were reputedly something to see even at normal times, what with their dungeon, hidden library, indoor tropical rain forest, trap doors, secret passageways, rooftop observatory and private island. (He's moved since then to larger, scarier quarters.) But every second Halloween between 1988 and 1994, Garriott would go all out, investing more than $100,000 to turn his mansion into an interactive theme park where guests were led through a real-life sword-and-sorcery adventure, complete with monsters and mayhem. The renovations were so extensive that he'd have to move out for the three months leading up to the event to allow workmen sufficient rein to do what they needed.

This fright-fest was in operation for just four years between 1988 and 1994. Only 200 guests a night were led through the manse and its grounds. People typically lined up two days in advance to get in on the adventure. The tour was free (the only cost was the wait to get in), and it was reputedly well worth the campout. Garriott himself claimed to have seen folks going up and down the line offering $1,000 for anyone who'd give up his ticket and finding no takers. (In 2014, Scare for a Cure, "born out of the ashes of legendary haunts Britannia Manor and Haunted Trail," is once again staging a haunted house attraction to raise money for cancer-related charities.)

Not everyone is looking for the ultimate scare, though. In January 2000, a woman filed suit against Universal Studios in Florida, alleging its annual Halloween Horror Nights was too scary and caused her emotional and physical damage. The outcome of the suit is unknown.


  • Patrons of the haunted house either recover a specific dollar amount per floor completed, or they get all of their entry fees back upon completion of the entire attraction.
  • The "too-horrifying-to-complete haunted house that refunds money" tale has been heard as a local legend in Oklahoma, Georgia, Oregon, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee, and North Carolina.


Associated Press.   "Hoax Sends Teens Looking for 'Haunted House.'"     [Dubuque] Telegraph Herald.   31 October 1999   (p. A9).

Associated Press.   "Woman Sues Universal Studios Because Haunted House Was Too Scary."     5 January 2000.

Loohauis, Jackie.   "An Urban Legend Returns."     Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.   18 October 1995   (p. A1).

Robinson, Gaile   "Dungeons and Dwellings."     The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.   30 October 1999   (Home; p. 1).

Article Tags