Like the Haunted Mansion and Ghost Boat today, the hokey scares of these lost Wisconsin Dells attractions brought overpriced chills to decades of family vacations to the Waterpark Capital of the World.
A looming black facade caught my eye a few years ago during a family getaway to Wisconsin Dells.
There I was, a brooding antisocial goth dad surrounded by screaming children and tourists in flip flops and fanny packs at Mount Olympus water park. I was just trying to survive it long enough to take the Ghost Boat tour along the Wisconsin River into the rocky crevices and canyons of the Upper Dells later that evening.
Then this monolith appeared to me – a bleak beacon of gloom in the midst of go-kart tracks, mini golf, petting zoos and water slides.
I stood at the chain link fence gaping in awe at the thing across the street. The menacing gargoyles. The black gothic parapet. The large crooked letters that read “CASTLE OF ERROR.”
There was once a “T” but now it was gone, leaving behind only a faded reminder of its former glory. Its days of doom and terror were long behind it, and only the error remained.
I could relate.
This monstrosity was my spirit animal.
Behold, the dreaded Castle of error
Wisconsin Dells may be the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” but at its heart it is a weird and kitschy wonderland of WTF that defies explanation (possibly even reality) with unique and bizarre attractions like the upside down White House dubbed Top Secret, Alligator Alley (if you don’t lose a finger or two during your vacation, you’re doing it wrong), the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory (formerly Robot World) and the immersive Wizard Quest fantasy adventure, to name a few.
There’s also a dark side to Wisconsin Dells if you’re looking for the macabre, like the Museum of Historic Torture Devices, or Ripley’s Believe It or Not! where you can come face-to-face with the severed head of sadistic German serial killer Peter Kurten.
But if you’re looking for more family-friendly chills (in case the kids aren’t into iron maidens and child-murdering, blood-drinking psychopaths) the Dells has a few options that might still be scary, but at least they don’t have real human remains. The Haunted Mansion and Ghost Outpost are good for some cheesy, spooky fun.
Sadly, some of the most beloved Wisconsin Dells attractions of old, like the quirky Wonder Spot, or Fort Dells (which is now a Walgreens and McDonalds) have eventually ended up on the wrong side of the dirt over the years.
If you are looking for things to do in Wisconsin Dells, you’ve come to the wrong place. These three classic haunted houses that may have given you nightmares during childhood vacations with the family have long since given up the ghost.
Castle of Terror
Part of the Extreme World park, the Castle of Terror was a huge castle facade with menacing skulls and gargoyles. But the only terror to be found inside, if the reviews on TripAdvisor are accurate, was the fact that you just laid down your hard-earned cash to get into the “WORST haunted house in the Dells.”
The reviews go on to explain that the Castle of Terror was little more than a five-minute walk through a “black maze with small little scene rooms with puppets that don’t even move. The scary part of this awful haunted house is your guide running ahead of you and screaming at you as you turn the corner.”
Sounds like this attraction was probably spookier in its afterlife as the forlorn Castle of Error.
Sadly, the castle was torn down sometime in the last few years to make way for a barren lot full of overgrown weeds.
Dungeon of Horrors
Bill Nehring opened the Dungeon of Horrors in 1981. Employees soon began noticing mysterious cold spots in the building, hearing strange noises, and believed they were being followed by the apparition of a man in glasses. It quickly became evident that not all the ghosts inside this attraction were fake.
According to Nehring, the building used to be a mechanic’s shop with a mortuary next door. According to legend, the owner committed suicide with a shotgun in the garage.
“For a while, at different times, we had trouble keeping employees inside,” Nehring said in a 2007 interview. “It was scaring out the employees. We had one summer where everyone there was pretty convinced something extra was going on. There were so many employees and customers affected by it. I mean we weren’t doing anything to scare them in some spots and they came out terrified.”
The claims have been researched numerous times by paranormal investigators, most of whom believed the haunting at Dungeon of Horrors was a little more than a marketing ploy. Until they spoke with the employees who actually experienced things, which erased whatever skepticism they previously held about the place.
Nehring eventually changed the name of Dungeon of Horrors to the Haunted Crypt, but the legend of the haunted building persisted.
Today, the building sits beside a Subway (was that the mortuary?) and a paintball place has taken up residence inside its corpse. If anything paranormal is still terrifying employees and customers there, I haven’t heard of it.
Maybe ghosts don’t like paintball.