We know them by many names but collectively they are known as Mystery Spots because of the mysterious events which often occur in, or near them. Lucky for us their owners love to show them off and visitors are welcome to come in and see the resident “alien vortex,” and other strange phenomenon…for a small fee. Mystery Spots are a product of the Great Depression, a time when entertainment was just about the only industry still growing in America. Mystery Spots continue to draw crowds and delight visitors to this day.
Most mystery spots share a basic presentation. You are shown into a special room or small cabin where the strange phenomenon will occur. A friendly guide explains that what you are about to see “lies well-beyond the scope of science.” The patter may differ, but the stage is set for some rather astounding optical illusions. You will see balls roll uphill, and water flow briskly up the spout. You will watch as ordinary chairs defy gravity and cling to the wall without support, while fellow visitors stand around in impossible angles.
We can explain how the special effects and optical illusions are produced, however knowing the truth does not lesson the enjoyment of the experience. Rather they are are more fun just because you know. No good optical illusion is ever ruined by the truth.
The effects which you see at a mystery spot are deliberate; driven by spatial distortion and misdirection. They are cunning perspective and spatial illusions designed to boggle the senses, and they work very well.
How It Works. Mystery Spots are cleverly engineered. To construct your own mystery spot, first build a little room or cabin. My little sample below is a squarish room with a chimney.
Next, lift one side of the house until the room tilts about 25°. Some say that the first Mystery House slid down a hill in a rain storm and ended up at the perfect angle. Whereupon the owners noticed strange things happening inside. Personally I think Americans are clever enough to think up the idea with, or without a rain storm.
Important. Hide the fact that the little house is tilted. Place the room along a slope. Bury part of the floor if necessary. Use walls or fences along the approach to cleverly disguise the terrain; slope them the wrong way. The idea here is to distort the architecture, and add landscaping to make it look straight and level to a visitor. Remove as many vertical references as possible, and change the slant of the ceiling to make the room look level. Place purposely distorted objects around to further enhance the effect of normalcy. Everything has to look as normal as possible; as if the room weren’t tilted. You are now ready to welcome visitors.
How People Stand at Impossible Angles. We can see what is actually happening from a vantage point outside of the cabin. From our vantage point the people look like they are standing in a normal, upright position..
However, things look different to the people inside the room (right-hand cartoon). They desperately cling to a false notion of normal 3D space, but are deceived by the environment. To people in the room, everybody looks like they are standing at an impossible angle. They see friends defy gravity and walk up walls. People lean effortlessly into space without falling. The “alien vortex” seems to have a powerful enfulence.
How Water Flows Uphill. From our vantage point we see the water flowing normally down a slight incline and spilling naturally from the spout.
Inide the room, things are getting stranger and stranger. To visitors it looks as if gravity is leaking out of the room. They watch in amazement as water flows uphill and pours out of the spout at an eerie, unnatural angle.
Does it matter if you know how it works? Even when you learn the secret behind the effects, they are no less amazing. In a Mystery House environment there are no mirrors or hidden panels; no flashes of light or clouds of smoke; the illusions are in-your-face real, and happening right now; to everyone present. It is an enjoyable and rewarding social experience as everyone present shares the same illusions. Mystery spots are an exciting, and fun excursion into the wonderful world of sensory illusions whether you understand how they work, or not.
Why do we like Mystery Spots? Perhaps because of our total belief and commitment to reality. Like riding a roller coaster; it is fun to lose control for a few brief moments. We like to tease reality, to lose the security of familiar spatial references for a brief time. It is no wonder that many people consider mystery spots to be a premium ticket.
How to Find Them. Here are some names and links to Mystery Houses. This is by no means a complete list. We have found that some mystery spots have their own web sites, and others are featured on city or state portals. Some of the following links may not be active. As an example, a visitor recently reported that the Knott’s Berry Farm Haunted Shack is now closed. Call first, just to be sure. Visit a Mystery Spot today!
Confusion Hill Gravity House, Percy, CA; Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA; The Mystery Spot
Santa Cruz, CA; Calico Ghost Town Mystery Shack, Yermo, CA; Knott’s Berry Farm Haunted Shack,
Buena Park, CA; Spook Hill, Lake Wales, FL; Mystery Spot, St. Ignace, MI; Mystery Hill, Irish Hills, MI; Mysterious Tuttle House, North Woodstock, NH; Mystery Hill, Blowing Rock, NC; Mystery Shack, Maggie Valley, NC; Mystery Hill, Marblehead, OH; The Oregon Vortex House of Mystery, Gold Hill, OR; Confusion Hill, Ligonier, PA; Gravity Hill, Bedford Country, PA; Cosmos of the Black Hills, Rapid City, SD; The Wonder Spot, Lake Delton, WI; The Teton Mystery, Jackson, WY; Mystery Hole, Ansted, WV.