Real-life Haunted Houses in the United States
Most travelers avoid staying at haunted houses, preferring to stay at bed-and-breakfasts or inns without sordid pasts or resident ghosts. Some travelers, though, consider paranormal activity to be the hallmark of a great vacation.
If you’re one of those travelers who longs for adventures filled with ghost stories and goosebumps, have we got an itinerary for you. The U.S. has plenty of houses with dark pasts and frightening stories of ghosts and ghouls, so if you’re looking for a chilling vacation destination, consider adding one of these haunted houses to your travel plans—or just tour these creepy sites from the safety of your home.
The Whaley House: San Diego, California
Back in 1852, James “Yankee Jim” Robinson was hung by his neck for the crime of grand larceny. A few years later, Thomas and Anna Whaley built a house on the spot where Robinson died and soon enough, Yankee Jim’s ghost showed up, haunting the site. It's said his footsteps can be heard clumping around the house.
Yankee Jim isn’t the only specter, though—both Mr. and Mrs. Whaley, a young girl, and even the family dog have been known to make appearances from beyond the grave. The house is so thoroughly spooky that, according to TIME, in the 1960s, the U.S. Commerce Department classified the Whaley House as haunted.
House of Death: New York City
New York’s Greenwich Village has some of the most desirable real estate in the world—save for one brownstone on West 10th Street. Known as “The House of Death,” the townhouse is said to be haunted by the ghosts of 22 people who lived or died within its walls, including that of a six-year-old girl beaten to death by her adopted father.
Being New York City, however, the house has a celebrity pedigree, too. It’s said that author Mark Twain stayed in the house back in 1900 and returns for the occasional visit.
The house’s haunted history is documented in author Jan Bryant Bartell’s “Spindrift Spray from a Psychic Sea,” which recounts her experiences living in the building’s top floor apartment.
Winchester Mystery House: San Jose, California
According to legend, the rambling Victorian mansion that sits on a busy street in San Jose, California, is haunted by the ghosts of everyone killed by a Winchester rifle. That’s undoubtedly a lot of spirits, and in order to appease them, the house’s owner, Sarah Winchester, the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune (and the founder’s widow) added room after room to the house to add more space for the dead.
Winchester didn’t simply add rooms, though, she created a labyrinth filled with halls that lead nowhere, cut-off staircases, sloping floors, and a rabbit warren of chambers. According to ABC News, the house has “10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, and nine kitchens.” Since Winchester died in 1922, the home has hosted tours for those willing to walk among the Winchester ghosts.
For those looking for a less spooky reason for the house’s mysterious design, the podcast 99% Invisible posited the theory that Winchester simply loved architecture and had the room to add on and on without tearing it down first.
Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast: Fall River, Massachusetts
Back in 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were found dead—killed by an axe-wielding psychopath. The police’s number one suspect was Andrew’s daughter, Lizzie. Lizzie stood trial for her crimes and was ultimately acquitted, but she spent the rest of her life under the shadow of guilt.
She is now said to haunt the Fall River, Mass., home where her father and stepmother were murdered, and her ghost is said to laugh at the top of the home’s stairs. The house is now a museum and bed & breakfast (outfitted with ghost cams) where stalwart guests can spend the night listening for Lizzie’s ghost or that of her murdered parents, and listen for the echoes of the maid’s screams after she found the dead in their bed.
If that’s not gruesome enough, visit the Lizzie Borden House in August when the museum stages their annual re-enactment of the gory crimes on the anniversary of the murders.
Villisca Axe House: Villisca, Iowa
The small Iowa town of Villisca (population 1,252) doesn’t have much to offer tourists, except for a night of terror at the Villisca Axe House. In a story straight out of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood" back in 1912, the white wood frame house was the site of a horrifying crime that left an entire family, including their four children and their two young friends, killed by the swings of an axe.
There were several suspects, including an Iowa state senator, but no one was ever charged with the bloody crime. Over 100 years later, their ghosts are said to remain at the house, yearning for justice. Visitors eager for a taste of the supernatural can book tours of the site, while the bravest can spend the night and see what goes bump.
LaLaurie House: New Orleans, Louisiana
Anyone who watched "American Horror Story: Coven" will recognize the infamous New Orleans home called LaLaurie House. The stately French Quarter home belonged to the blood-thirsty Madame Delphine LaLaurie, whose perfectly appointed home hid a dark secret—a torture chamber for slaves.
The list of her ghastly crimes is long, and if anyone deserved to be haunted, it was LaLaurie. Her victims are said to haunt the property to this day, and while tours of the house aren’t available, passersby on the street have claimed to hear ghostly moans, screams, and weeping. Some say they have seen ghostly faces from the upstairs windows, too.
It’s no wonder that the house was vacant for years, until actor Nicolas Cage bought it. He soon lost it to foreclosure, and the Royal Street mansion sat vacant again, until a new owner bought the property, remodeling it and having it blessed by a priest before moving in.
Bell Witch Farm: Adams, Tennessee
In the early 1800s, John Bell bought a tract of farm land along Tennessee’s Red River. Bell and his family thrived on the farm until the family started to see strange looking animals around the property, most notably a dog with a rabbit’s head.
From that point onward, the family was beset upon by unseen forces, largely targeted at Bell himself, as well as his daughter Betsy. They experienced physical attacks, heard unexplained noises, and even spoke with the “entity,” who, in at least one account, identified herself as the Bells’ former neighbor, Kate Batts, exacting revenge for some unknown slight from beyond the grave.
The entity is rumored to have prevented Betsy’s marriage to a local boy and is believed to have killed John. According to one Bell Witch website, the haunting is backed by plenty of evidence, including “eyewitness accounts, affidavits, and manuscripts penned by those who experienced the haunting first hand.”
Today visitors can tour the Bell Witch’s cave and a reconstruction of the Bell’s cabin or come to Adams for the annual Bell Witch Festival, held on Halloween, of course.
Amityville Horror House: Amityville, New York
The most famous haunted house in the United States is undoubtedly this stately waterfront home on New York’s Long Island. While the movie "Amityville Horror" was based on the house’s dark history, its reality is scarier than anything Hollywood could dream up.
It all started back in 1974, when, for reasons unknown, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed his mother, father, two sisters, and two brothers while they slept. He was sentenced to life in prison, despite arguing that voices in the home told him to do it.
With its owners dead or in jail, the house was put up for sale and a couple with three young children bought the place. They regretted it almost instantly. They heard strange noises, felt a chill in the air, had swarms of flies invade the house, cloven pig hoofs appeared in the snow, a marching band was heard tuning up, and the young daughter developed a scary imaginary friend. A priest was unable to exorcise the spirit,and the family moved out just 28 days later. The house was put up for sale again in June, buyer beware.
The White House: Washington, D.C.
The White House may be home to presidents, but it is also rumored to house many illustrious ghosts within its storied walls. President Ronald Reagan reportedly entertained dinner party guests with stories of his dog barking at invisible specters and his daughter, Maureen, waking to a transparent figure looking out the window of the Lincoln bedroom. It may have been President Lincoln himself, returning to his former home in the hopes of reuniting with his wife or son, Willie. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reportedly encountered Lincoln’s ghost too, while he was stepping out of the bathtub.
Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, held séances in the White House, according to Mental Floss, in hopes of contacting their son, Willie, who died of typhoid, presumably from contaminated water pumped into the White House. They never contacted their son, but they did claim to get in touch with President Andrew Jackson, loitering in his former bedroom.
According to the White House History site, President Harrison, the first president to die in the White House, continues his stay there. It’s not just former presidents who haunt the halls of the highest office in the land—Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, is said to visit the gardens she helped plant, and Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, is known to do her laundry in the East Room.