America's Most Haunted Places
Young twins who died while playing in a chimney are rumored to haunt the 19th-century Kehoe House, one of many hotels and other sites across America where tales of the supernatural persist. In a New Orleans bar, a long-dead pirate guards the riches of his plundering; a screeching monster in the New Jersey woods has spooked locals for generations; and a one-armed stagehand roams the catwalks above an Illinois theater.
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Ghost hunting has become big business, with paranormal experts offering as evidence dark shadows and orbs of light caught on film, recordings of strange noises, and unexplained temperature drops. Most haunted places capitalize on the attention by offering ghost tours. Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, KY, even lets you spend the night. Request room 502 only if you want company: the spirit of a nurse who hanged herself from a lightbulb wire.
But not all ghosts are scary; some just want to have fun. One specter spends her days stealing earrings from female patrons at a historic New York restaurant, while the apparition of a little girl faithfully turns up to watch rehearsals from her favorite seat at a Memphis theater.
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Even for skeptics, playing along can be irresistible. So turn out the lights, and get ready to conjure some spirits at these haunted places.
Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO
Stephen King’s The Shining has inspired fans to visit the Stanley Hotel (even if the filming actually occurred on a soundstage in L.A.). When King stayed in room 417, he experienced a number of unusual things consistent with tales from other guests. There are reports of having belongings unpacked, lights turning on and off, and hearing phantom children laughing and giggling in the halls. Staff members have also heard music coming from the empty ballroom and kids running and playing on the floors above them. The hotel plays up its haunted reputation, showing the uncut R-rated version of the movie 24 hours a day—enough to make any skeptic start hearing things go bump in the night.
Myrtles Plantation, St. Francisville, LA
The best-known ghost story connected to this 1796 plantation involves Chloe, a slave forced to be her owner’s mistress. When he grew tired of her, legend says she baked a poisoned cake that killed his wife and two kids; the other slaves hanged her from a tree, and she’s roamed the property since. In 1871, lawyer William Winter was shot dead on the porch. His footsteps are often heard at the plantation, now an inn with historical and evening ghost tours. While staying in the Ruffin Stirling Room, guide Mark Leonard says the bed started shaking violently “like it was made of Jell-O. I watched the two posts at the bottom of the bed wave like pom-poms.” Other guests, he says, have been dragged from bed, watched pianos play themselves, and heard invisible kids laughing. Once a Confederate soldier appeared with a message: “Kindly remove yourself from my room.”
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, New Orleans
Voodoo queen Marie Laveau and sadistic killer Marie Delphine LaLaurie could find some fellow ghostly company at this old Bourbon Street bar, supposedly haunted by pirate Jean Lafitte. Opened in 1772, the bar was rumored to be a front for Lafitte’s smuggling operation and the hiding place for his stolen booty. Many believe his treasure is still somewhere beneath the charred ash and brick and that Lafitte—whose red eyes glow from behind the downstairs fireplace—remains to protect it. Some staff and guests even claim to have seen the ghost of Lafitte himself staring at them from the bar’s dark corners, only to vanish seconds later, leaving the faint trace of a tobacco smell behind as a warning to those who go in search of the bounty of his past pillaging.
Whaley House, San Diego
Built on the site of San Diego’s first public gallows in 1856, the Whaley House’s most famous ghostly resident is Yankee Jim Robinson, a drifter and thief who was hanged four years before the house was built. He can allegedly be heard walking in the halls, opening and closing doors, and making chairs rock and chandeliers seem to swing of their own accord. Many guests have also felt a sadness in the home, attributed to Whaley’s daughter, Violet, who committed suicide here. When Regis Philbin visited in 1964, he remarked: “There was something going on in that house.” It remains open for day and evening tours and ghost hunts.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
Horror movies don’t get more horrific than this: in a prison meant to hold 250 people, 1,700 inmates were tortured by sadistic guards who soaked them in freezing water outside in the middle of winter, kept them in solitary confinement for days, forbade any conversation between inmates, and looped chains from an inmate’s tongue to his wrists, which were then bound behind his back. Once the prison was shut down in 1971, the ghosts of those criminals supposedly took over. The prison, which is a National Historic Landmark, does host family-friendly events, as well as ghost tours and an annual Halloween haunted house called Terror Behind the Walls.
RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA
From crew members roaming the engine room to the sound of children crying, the ship’s list of supernatural occurrences from 100 resident ghosts is as long as it is creepy. Originally an ocean liner, the Queen Mary made its maiden voyage in 1936 before being used in World War II, and then briefly returned to passenger service until it was decommissioned in 1967. Along the way, it was the site of at least one murder and several accidental deaths, including a sailor killed in the engine room, crushed by “Door #13” as it was closing for a drill. Some guests have been victim to the supernatural tantrums of the specter of the staff member murdered in cabin B340. The ship, now a hotel, offers ghost tours and a Dark Harbor Haunted Halloween party.
The Pine Barrens, NJ
Kids growing up in southern Jersey are bound to hear tales of the Jersey Devil, perhaps told around a campfire. The main plot point is that when Mrs. Leeds gave birth to her 13th child, the baby transformed into a winged devil—a grotesque flying beast, with cloven hoofs for feet, a goat’s head and haunches, a forked tail, and massive wings. For nearly 200 years, the creature has supposedly roamed the haunted forest, with the worst sightings in 1909; area residents were so terrified of running into the monster that schools shut down and the local mill closed for several days. Some still avoid the Pine Barrens or warn their children not to swim in the Blue Hole, a natural pool said to be bottomless and frequented by the winged monster.
Earnestine & Hazel’s Bar, Memphis, TN
The address 531 S. Main St. has belonged to a pharmacy, a brothel, a blues bar, and now, a seedy dive bar with a reputation for its ghostly patrons. Apparitions of long-dead men and women linger on the stairwells and dark in-between places; an empathic jukebox coincidentally, or possibly not so coincidentally, plays to the mood of the crowd, always choosing exactly the right song for the situation. You might come here for drinks after stopping at the Orpheum Theatre about a mile away. It burned down in the 1900s, and while no deaths were officially recorded, people have shared stories of seeing the ghost of a young girl named Mary at the rebuilt theater ever since. During performances, her favorite seat is C5.
One If by Land, Two If by Sea, New York City
A carriage house once owned by vice president Aaron Burr sets the romantic—and, paranormal experts say, haunted—scene for this West Village restaurant. The most famous of its alleged 20 ghosts is Burr’s daughter, Theodosia. According to general manager Rosanne Martino, one longtime staffer often spotted the apparition of a woman in white moving about the mezzanine. And Martino has her own stories: “Several evenings I’d hear glasses tinkling as if two people were toasting each other in the vacant office next to mine, but when I went to investigate, no one was there.” While few diners ask about the haunted history, she adds that “there was a period in the late ’90s when women sitting at the bar with their dates would report that they had come into the restaurant with two earrings and had lost one while here—we never found the second earring.”
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, WV
A lunatic asylum is bound to be creepy, and Trans-Allegheny gave its former patients plenty of reason to want to come back for revenge. Treatment here meant being locked in cages, chained to walls, or given lobotomies or electroshock therapy. The overcrowded building was built for 250 people, but by the 1950s, it contained more than 2,400 patients who suffered from ailments ranging from epilepsy to alcoholism to “woman troubles,” as one building sign reads. The reportedly haunted asylum now offers daytime and evening paranormal tours, a haunted house every fall, and an annual Asylum Ball.
Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, Fall River, MA
Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her sleeping father and stepmother with an ax back in 1892. Many people believe her spirit, and those of her victims, still haunt her former home, now a restored B&B that embraces its macabre history. Guests sleep in the very rooms where the Bordens were murdered; search for their spirits on a ghost hunt; attend a séance to try to communicate with the deceased; and even eat the same breakfast Andrew and Abby Borden did before they met their gruesome end. Kitsch aside, many have reported unusual occurrences like the sound of phantom footfalls and unnatural gusts of wind, particularly while participating in the séances.
Kehoe House, Savannah, GA
In 1892, the wealthy Kehoe family built a Queen Anne–style mansion in Savannah’s Columbia Square for $25,000. As the story goes, they lived there happily with 10 children until the young twin girls died while playing in a chimney. Many staff and guests, particularly those who stay in rooms 201 and 203, have reported hearing children’s laughter and the sound of light footsteps running up and down the hallways. One guest even claimed to wake to feel a young child stroking her face. If it sounds like the antics of families staying next door, consider that Kehoe House has an adults-only policy.
Pittock Mansion, Portland, OR
Portland pioneers Henry and Georgiana Pittock spent five years building their dream house, but wouldn’t enjoy it for long. Georgiana died at 72 in 1918, four years after moving in; Henry followed in 1919 at the age of 84. After their heirs sold the house to the City of Portland, it became a public landmark, and strange reports began trickling out. The photo of Henry continues to move location; windows open and close; the smell of roses (Georgiana’s favorite flower) permeates a room with no flowers; and the apparition of an elderly woman appears. Other guests have reported feeling a supportive presence. Perhaps the former owners just loved the place too much to leave it.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville, KY
From 1921 to 1961, Waverly Hills treated tuberculosis patients, often using experimental and painful methods. More than 6,000 people died, whether from the disease or the attempted cures. Some deaths may have involved foul play, such as the possible murder (or suicide) of a nurse found hanging from a lightbulb wire in room 502. Visitors and professional ghost hunters have claimed to experience supernatural phenomena—particularly in 502—that include slamming doors, cold spots, and apparitions like a woman who appears to be running from the building with bloody, slashed wrists. See for yourself during a history or ghost tour or, if you dare, during an overnight stay.
Hotel Monte Vista, Flagstaff, AZ
The Hotel Monte Vista has been welcoming guests since 1926, and some have chosen not to check out. Among the ghostly residents: a bank robber who was shot and stopped at the hotel bar for a drink (he died before he could finish it); two prostitutes who met their end in room 306; and a long-term boarder with a penchant for hanging raw meat from his chandelier who died in room 220. A ghostly bellboy rings at room 210, calling, “Room service” and disappearing when the door is opened, and guests and staff have reported hearing phantom music and disembodied voices. The Route 66 hotel has hosted Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne, who reported his own ghost encounter.
Masonic Temple, Detroit
With more than 1,000 rooms, Detroit’s Masonic Temple—now a concert venue—contains more than meets the eye. It’s rumored to be riddled with hidden passageways, concealed staircases, and secret compartments beneath the floors. George D. Mason, who went bankrupt funding the construction, leapt to his death from the roof after his wife left him. A century later, he haunts the building, spooking security guards, who say they’ve seen his ghost climbing the steps to the top of the building.
The LaLaurie Mansion, New Orleans
While Madame Delphine LaLaurie played the perfect host, throwing lavish parties in her French Quarter house, her slaves suffered—chained, tortured, and mutilated in a hidden room upstairs. It was only when a kitchen fire broke out and neighbors tried to help evacuate the house that LaLaurie’s horrific secret was discovered. She fled, and the angry mob destroyed the house, which lay in ruins for years before it became a high school, a bar, an apartment building, and, briefly, the residence of actor Nicolas Cage. Signs of hauntings include the sound of screams from the empty house and the ghost of a young girl fleeing across the roof. 1140 Royal St.
Villisca Ax Murder House, Villisca, IA
On a June night in 1912, Josiah B. Moore, his wife, their four children, and two young girls who were overnight guests were bludgeoned to death with an ax. The case was never solved, and several spirits reportedly haunted the house, including a man with an ax and kids who can be heard crying in the night. The home—since restored to its original condition with no indoor plumbing or electricity—offers lamplight tours from April through October and welcomes overnight guests with the macabre desire to sleep where the family took their last breaths.
Queen Anne Hotel, San Francisco
Originally a school for girls when it opened in 1890, this 48-room Victorian hotel is believed to be haunted by the ghost of the late headmistress, Miss Mary Lake. Now guests who stay in her former office, room 410, might have their clothes unpacked for them or even awake to find that at some time in the night their blankets had been carefully tucked around them. The Queen Anne is a frequent stop on San Francisco ghost tours.