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Ghost of La Llorono. Shutterstock illustration.

Why do we love ghoulish stuff?

It seems our fascination with things that go bump in the night is stronger than ever. Plus: Six spooky spots to visit in Denver.

October 25, 2021

By Mark Cox

Spooky season is here, and Americans couldn’t be happier.

Two-thirds of Americans – children and adults – will celebrate Halloween this year and spend a record $10 billion doing so. Our streaming platforms run red with gory content, including a Netflix and Chills season.

And just last year, as millions faced real-life calamity during the pandemic, horror movies scooped their largest share of the U.S. film revenue in modern history. Which raises the question: Why do people love getting spooked so much?

“Well, not everyone does,” said Randi Smith, Ph.D., Psychology professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “It’s worth pointing out that some people, especially those prone to anxiety, will avoid scary experiences, even phony ones, at all costs.”

But for most of us, she said, watching a creepy thriller brings a satisfying jolt of fear that we can relish and enjoy, largely because we know we’re secure in front of the TV and in control of our own anxiety. Safe but scared, it turns out, is a winning combination.

And there’s another, slightly more sinister notion at play.

“Watching movies filled with depravity and horror tacitly allows us to explore our own darker motivations, the ones we generally like to keep hidden – even from ourselves,” Smith said.

RELATED: Horror movie fans are better at coping with the pandemic

Enduring ghosts

Besides, liking spooky stuff is hard-wired into us and has been for countless generations. “Ghost stories and legends tend to be very durable,” said Jose Quintana, folklore expert and senior lecturer in MSU Denver’s Department of Chicana/o Studies. “No matter how much the world changes, they easily adapt to fit in with current times and locations.”

La Llorona (“the weeping woman”). Shutterstock illustration.
La Llorona (“the weeping woman”). Shutterstock illustration.

As an illustration, Quintana cites the Latin American legend of La Llorona (“the weeping woman”), an apparition who traditionally roamed waterfront areas mourning the children she had drowned in a fit of rage.

As times have changed, the story has evolved. “These days,” Quintana said, “the ghost might appear by local creeks, rivers and lakes or even places like water-treatment plants. These compelling stories always find a way to endure.”

There’s another reason why we’re so addicted to frights: They might just be good for us.

“It sounds counterintuitive, but there may well be benefits to that false sense of mastery we get from sitting through a scary entertainment – the idea of ‘I’m terrified, but I’ll survive this!’” Smith said.

She explained that brief experiences with fake fight-or-flight scenarios can help engage our “calm down” functions (what psychologists call parasympathetic nervous division) while inducing feel-good hormones such as serotonin.

So, getting the bejeezus scared out of you is fun and healthy. Now, time to hit some of those Halloween horror movies

6 spookiest spots in Denver

Check out our ghoulish guide to the Mile High City’s scariest locations.

Tivoli Student Union, 900 Auraria Parkway

Ghosts of Tivoli from MSU Denver on Vimeo.

The Tivoli Student Union, built in 1870 as a brewery, is the most iconic building on the Auraria campus, which is located in Denver's oldest neighborhood. Ghost stories abound all over campus, but many think the Tivoli is the most haunted building on Auraria. Stories of strange figures and sounds from the deepest recesses of the building – including ghostly sightings a small child skipping through its corridors – give us a glimpse into the Tivoli's rich history. 

Oxford Hotel, 1600 17th St.

The Oxford Hotel at 1600 17th Street in Denver. Photo courtesy of Visit Denver
The Oxford Hotel at 1600 17th Street in Denver. Photo courtesy of Visit Denver

According to MSU Denver History Professor (and historic-walk guide) Kevin Rucker, this hotel is a hotbed of paranormal experiences. In Room 310, where a mistress once shot her married lover and killed herself, single male guests have reported waking to find a woman sitting on their bed. And other guests have spotted a young Victorian girl in a lace nightie. Spine-tingling stuff. 

Cheesman Park, 1900 E 11th Ave.

One of the prettiest spots in the city may also be the most haunted. This popular park was built on top of an old cemetery in 1898, and about 2,000 bodies are still buried there. Unsurprisingly, there have been countless reports over the years of ghosts, whispered moans and spectral shadows from those who wander there at night.

Riverside Cemetery, Brighton Boulevard

The oldest resting place in Denver holds 67,000 sets of human remains and a reputation for being haunted – because really, what could be spookier than a historic packed graveyard? The cemetery leans into its ghostly reputation by offering guided History Mystery Tours throughout fall. And even if you don’t see a ghost, there are plenty of fascinating Coloradans buried at the site.

The Patterson Inn, 420 E. 11th Ave.

This sandstone mansion on Capitol Hill may be the most haunted building in Denver. Built in 1890, it has featured a litany of reported hauntings over the years. These include a wailing phantom baby, a spectral caretaker, a little girl trapped in the basement and the ghosts of two snarling dogs who reportedly leapt to their death from a top window. Yikes.

Molly Brown House Museum, 1340 Pennsylvania St.

The Molly Brown House. Photo courtesy of Visit Denver
The Molly Brown House. Photo courtesy of Visit Denver

The Unsinkable Molly Brown, famed survivor of the Titanic disaster, was a force of nature during her lifetime and remains so even now, according to legend. Numerous guides, workers and visitors at her museum home say they have seen the redoubtable Mrs. Brown and her husband, J.J., wandering the rooms of their former home. And she has been reported to even occasionally rearrange the furniture.


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