How to do Halloween Right in the South
With its history, hauntings, and notorious hell raisers, the South knows how to celebrate Halloween.
New Orleans has its voodoo. Savannah, its world-famous cemetery. And in Nashville, you’ll find the haunted mansion of a dead president. This Halloween, there are spooky spots to visit all over the South; here are ten of the best.
Home to above-ground cemeteries, voodoo, and as the birthplace of Anne Rice, New Orleans offers Halloween celebrations as dramatic as the city itself.
1. For 27 years, members of Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat Fan Club have gathered in her hometown the Friday before Halloween for the Coven Vampire Ball. This year, The Vampire Chronicles author will join them in person for the horror-themed event. It’s the highlight of the club’s four-day UnDead Con (October 29-November 1), which also features events such as a panel discussion with American Horror Story’s Naomi Grossman, and the always-popular Bizarre Bazaar (on sale: leather masks and custom acrylic fang caps).
2. The evening of October 24, huge papier-mâché floats of scowling skeletons, headless horsemen, and angry clowns will make their way through the streets of the Vieux Carre during the Krewe of Boo, the official parade of New Orleans. Instead of simply throwing beads, costumed float riders shower the massive crowds with Elmer’s Chee Wees (New Orleans–made cheese curls) and miniature pralines.
“The Hostess City of the South” is also a welcoming spot for ghosts. Built atop Native American burial sites and unmarked graves from the Colonial era, Savannah is considered one of the most haunted cities in America.
3. Friday and Saturday evenings in October, a candlelit Davenport House Museum presents Stranger than Fiction: An Exploration of the Extraordinary In Old Savannah. This living history program introduces visitors to ghostly Savannah residents from the 1820s; together, they relay their generation’s commonly held beliefs about death, the supernatural, and even hot topics of the day, like the newly published Frankenstein.
4. Made famous by John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bonaventure Cemetery is the final resting place of such notable figures as songwriter Johnny Mercer and Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Conrad Aiken. Sixth Sense World and Blu Orb Tours guide visitors around this Southern Gothic landmark filled with statues of the deceased.
It’s called the Holy City, but Charleston is no stranger to things of the dark. The town’s 345-year history is splattered with wars, injustices, and diseases, leaving the brick and cobblestone streets haunted by a bevy of restless ghosts.
5. Descend into a dungeon that once held Revolutionary War prisoners; tour a historic jail where 19th-century pirates languished; wander past wrought-iron gates into a graveyard where disease-ridden patients were allegedly buried alive. Bulldog Tours offers three different ghost tours highlighting these spooky sites from centuries past.
6. So abundant are Charleston’s ghosts even its bars are haunted. Throughout October, take a Haunted Pub Crawl to a handful of local watering holes, where you’ll sample Lowcountry beers and hear sordid ghost stories. (At Southend Brewery, for example, the ghost of a man who hanged himself on the building’s third floor more than a century ago still appears to visitors.)
So ghost-friendly is Nashville, even Elvis allegedly has taken up residence in Music City (in Ryman Auditorium, where his daughter Lisa Marie is rumored to have heard his laugh).
7. As George Strait and Alan Jackson once lamented, there’s “Murder on Music Row.” Hear stories of the country-crooning ghosts who appear on this famed strip as you ride around town in an actual hearse, courtesy of Nashville Hearse Tours.
8. There are haunted houses, and then there are haunted mansions that once belonged to dead presidents. Experience the latter during Hauntings at the Hermitage on the evening of October 24. Tour Andrew Jackson’s former abode by candlelight, as living historians describe the spooky noises and ghostly apparitions that have long been a staple of this early nineteenth-century structure.
Atlanta isn’t known as a particularly haunted city: Many of its historic buildings were destroyed during the Civil War, and its city noises serve as ghost repellant (as any paranormalist will tell you, the undead like their peace and quiet). But that doesn’t mean the capital of the Peach State can’t have a ghoulishly good time on Halloween.
9. An adults-only Halloween play starring a bunch of puppets? It’s one of Atlanta’s cult favorite activities at this time of year, and October 14 through 31, it’s back for the eighth year at the Center for Puppetry Arts. The Ghastly Dreadfuls: Raising Spirits showcases creepy classic tales, such as Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” for audiences ages 18 and older. (Sorry, Little Johnny.)
10. B-Afraid. B-Very Afraid. The B-52s, Georgia’s very own pop band from the 1980s, will play a campy show at the historic Fox Theatre October 30. Never ones to avoid loud costumes, band members will show up in all their glittered, painted glory, and audiences are encouraged to follow suit. Go-go boots are encouraged; dancing is mandatory.
Allison Entrekin is an executive editor with Southbound Magazine and the Georgia Travel Guide. She covers the Southeastern United States beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her @aweissentrekin.