The American Scream: Gender, Capitalism, and Power in Rural Haunted House Attractions


Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In the wake of industrialization many rural American farms embraced agritainment and learned they could commodify nostalgia and romanticized ideas of rural life. They evolved into Fall festivals featuring family-friendly agricultural entertainment, called agritainment, and reinvented a “pure” rural space, where families could seek refuge, and temporarily escape urban life. Some of these farms expanded their business into the evening by adding haunted house attractions. These farms transform at dusk, and perform a hostile identity, owning the narrative of dangerous “hillbillies” who don’t take kindly to strangers, while also performing other popular horror themes, tropes, and contemporary legends. In the same ways they commodify romantic rurality, they also commodify narratives that describe a clash between affluence and rural poverty, gendered behaviors, and invite audiences to become immersed in the narratives of the haunt to perform an elaborate folk drama. This thesis explores ten rural agritainment/haunted house attractions in Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia through participant observation and auto-ethnography. I argue that the narratives performed at these rural haunts are both problematic and empowering and using the scholarship of performance, power, and narrative, I will demonstrate that this model of agritainment reflects community, contemporary culture, and their values. Whether it’s the romantic idea of rurality, or performing familiar legend and folk horror narratives, I argue that the American agritainment is a place of evolving rural identity. A place where communities reckon with systems of power, positionality, and performance in a way to maintain cultural relevancy.