Halloween is nearly here and for most of us that can only mean one thing…choosing how to best go about scaring ourselves silly.
This time of year is just crammed with opportunities for haunted houses, ghost stories and child-friendly spookery, but what about the REALLY scary stuff? The places with reputations so frightful that even the bravest would think twice before even considering staying the night?
For scare-lovers looking for a bit more history to their hauntings than the local haunted house can offer, here’s a list of the top 20 most haunted places in America to get you shaking in your boots this Halloween.
1. Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Widely considered a turning point of the American Civil War, more than 50,000 men were killed, injured or missing following the battle of Gettysburg that was fought over 3 days in July 1863 and culminated in what is widely regarded as the bloodiest day of the war. Many of the fallen soldiers found little peace even after their death, as fields and gardens became temporary burial sites, with the bodies eventually being transferred to a permanent resting place over the year that followed the battle.
The bloodshed was not limited to the battlefield: many retreating Confederate soldiers were killed on the streets of the town itself and most of the nearby homes, schools and churches became makeshift hospitals to deal with the huge numbers of wounded. Many of these buildings now report hauntings and there have been countless ghostly sightings on the battlefield itself.
Gettysburg Battlefield is now a National Park, with free entry and tours available. Serious ghost-hunters should be sure to check out The Devils Den area, which has the highest incidence of unexplained incidents: sounds of gunfire, a vanishing man on horseback, and a mysterious and dishevelled man who has appeared unexpectedly in numerous photos and been inexplicably absent from the photographs in which visitors have posed with him!
2. Villisca Axe Murder House, Villisca, Iowa
This house in small-town Iowa is the site of one of the most brutal and notorious murders in American history. One June morning in 1912, all six members of the Moore family — including their four children — as well as two young girls who had stayed the evening at the family’s home, were found bludgeoned to death.
The murder weapon, an axe belonging to victim Josiah Moore, was found in the home, but the killer remains unknown to this day.
In 1994, The ‘Murder House’, as it is known, was restored to its original state and is open for day and night-time tours. Psychics and paranormal investigators have confirmed the presence of spirits in the house and visitors have reported orbs, falling lamps and moving objects. For the fearless and curious it is even possible to stay the night in this chilling and tragic, historical house.
3. The Bell Witch Cave, Adams, Tennessee
For four years the Bell Witch violently terrorised the family of farmer John Bell with phantom creatures, voices and extreme physical abuse.
Widely assumed to be cursed, John was often bedridden with strange illnesses, from which he eventually died. His tormentor was publicly and self-confessedly known to be his neighbour, Kate Batts, with whom he had once quarrelled with in business dealings. After John’s death, the witch’s attention was turned to his daughter, Betsey, whom she threatened mercilessly should she dare to marry her true love — a local man named Joshua Gardner.
After Betsey conceded to the witch’s wishes, the spirit disappeared, vowing to return once again in seven years. She did indeed return and renewed her onslaught for a further two weeks before disappearing once more.
Many locals in this town near Clarksville, TN believe that the Witch has never truly left the area and that her spirit still enters this world through the tunnels and caverns of the Bell Witch cave. Visitors to the cave have reported sightings of misty apparitions, sounds of rasping breath and — most terrifying — repeated physical incidents where visitors to the cave say they have been forced to the ground by an invisible weight and held down, unable to get up until the spirit chooses to release them.
Cave tours are available every day, or go for one of the candle-lit night time tours for a really scary treat worthy of number three on the top 20 most haunted places in America!
4. The Sultan’s Palace, New Orleans, Louisiana
Local legend in New Orleans tells of a bloody massacre that occurred at this haunted place, the house at 716 Dauphine St. not too long after the arrival of a mysterious Sultan and his harem of wives, eunuchs and slaves back in the 1800s. Although the neighbours could hear the sounds of lavish parties and sordid happenings emanating from the house each night, outsiders were never allowed to enter the property. One morning, however, a passing neighbour noticed blood trickling down the front steps and alerted the police. What they found inside the ‘palace’ was unfathomable brutality: every member of the household had been butchered — many flayed and dismembered — and the ‘Sultan’ was found buried alive in the courtyard with just one clawing hand protruding from the freshly-dug grave.
Ever since, residents and visitors to the building, which was renovated and divided into apartments in 1966, have reported disembodied screams, the thumps of what sound like body parts hitting the ground in the dead of night, and the wafting aroma of incense and faint tinkling of music. A figure in Oriental clothing — presumed to be the ghost of the sultan himself — has been sighted and known to wake residents in their beds at night before vanishing into thin air.
As private residences, this beautiful french Quarter building that was once ‘the Sultan’s palace’ is not open to visitors, but the curious can delve deeper into its enigma on The Ghosts of New Orleans Tour.
5. Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville, Kentucky
The Waverly Sanatorium was opened in 1910 after an epidemic of tuberculosis raged through Jefferson County. The reported numbers vary hugely between sources, but in its 51 years of operation as a hospital, a conservative estimate of deaths within Waverly’s walls would be around 9000, including both patients and staff. After its closure as a hospital, the building was repurposed as a geriatric institution. This only served to add to the chilling atmosphere of death and despair, as the facility was awash with rumours of mistreatment and patient experimentation, which eventually resulted in its closing down in the 1980s.
Lit up rooms and wafting cooking smells near the former kitchen are regularly reported, despite the building being without power, and its kitchen and cafeteria lying in ruins. Although ghost stories from this site are many, the most well-known centres around room 502, believed to be haunted by the ghost of a nurse who was found to have hanged herself in 1928 after becoming pregnant outside of wedlock. Four short years later a second nurse jumped to her death from the rooftop patio, and with no motive or evidence of suicide, it is rumoured to be a result of her being assigned to the nurse station in Room 502. Visitors in the years since have reported a shadow of a uniformed nurse in the room, and a voice demanding them to “get out”.
The experts on the Waverly Sanatorium must surely be the local Louisville Ghost Hunters Society, who have investigated the site at length. Slamming doors, moving objects and electromagnetic field readers in literal meltdown, have all been par for the course.
Public tours and night-time investigations are extremely popular so make sure to book well in advance, and from this year onwards guests will also be able to arrange overnight stays at the sanatorium.
6. Saint Augustine Lighthouse, St. Augustine, Florida
Although the structure has been changed several times over the centuries, there has been a tower on this site near Jacksonville, FL since the 16th century. The current lighthouse dates back to 1824 and was home to the lighthouse keepers and their families up until the 1960s. Eventually deemed surplus to requirement, the lighthouse was sold off and was later left in ruin by an unknown arsonist.
With so many years of rich history behind it, you would expect that this (now restored) building would earn its spot in the top 20 most haunted places in America; and you would be correct.
Among the ghostly residents are several lighthouse keepers who have refused to leave the tower, and the inexplicable scent of cigar smoke that often wafts through the building is credited to two of these. The most well-known ‘occupants’ however are the two daughters of Hezekiah Pity: in 1873, they were both drowned when a builder’s cart they were playing in broke loose and careened off into the bay. To this day they can be heard laughing together in the tower, and there have even been reports of the mysterious appearance of a girl in a blue velvet dress and hair ribbon — the very same that fifteen-year-old Eliza was wearing the day she died.
You can learn all about the history and ghosts of the Saint Augustine Lighthouse on one of their public tours, or try their Dark of the Moon tour and conduct your very own paranormal investigation!
7. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) revolutionized the incarceration system when it introduced the idea of separate confinement back in 1829, but solitary confinement wasn’t the only form of punishment used on prisoners in the world famous prison — the torture procedures carried out left inmates brutalized both physically and mentally, and suicide and murders were commonplace.
In this huge and desolate labyrinth of concrete walls and chambers, it’s easy to imagine the horror of incarceration at ESP, and many report that there are many inmates that, even after death, have never really left the prison. The most common incidents are of sourceless cackling and voices, and visitors have even witnessed the presence of shadowy figures and ghostly faces appearing on the walls.
Tours and ghost hunts are available daily, but each Halloween the Penitentiary also goes one step further with its Terror Behind the Walls attraction. If you want to be scared witless then — deep inside the walls of one of America’s most genuinely haunted buildings — ESP offers the most frightening and immersive haunted house experiences in the country.
8. Mount Misery Road, West Hills, New York
Although named by settlers in the 1600s on account of being a particularly difficult, steep and rocky stretch of the local trade route, Mount Misery Road seems a fitting moniker for this area which has suffered more than its fair share of tragedy over the centuries.
Things got off to a bad start when the native tribes of Long Island first warned the new settlers of evil spirits at work in the area. This cursed hill was later home to an insane asylum which burned to the ground in the 1840s, killing most of its residents. Even after the hospital was rebuilt, reports of burning smells and eerie screams were often heard, and the new hospital succumbed to its own devastating fire just five short months after construction.
Reports are numerous of a mysterious woman in white, encountered on the road after dark and known to jump out in front of unsuspecting drivers. Some say that her white gown identifies her as a victim of one of the hospital fires, though her behaviour could also suggest she is the tortured soul of a woman named Mary who was killed on the roadside. The list of traffic accident victims that still roam Mount Misery Road is astounding, but there is none more incredible than that of the local traffic cop, still at work long after he was shot in the head. He will often pull cars over and it is not until he walks away — revealing that the back of his head is nothing but an empty shell — that the driver realises that the officer they have encountered is, in fact, a ghost.
Mount Misery Road is located in the West Hills County Park near Melville, NY. If you decide to take a road trip to this haunted place this Halloween, make sure to check out Sweet Hollow Road while you’re at it: running parallel to Mount Misery, it shares many of its ghosts as well as countless hauntings of its very own.
9. Myrtles Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana
Another centuries-old residence with a history full of death and plethora of spectral occupants, Myrtle’s Plantation is probably most famous for one particular hanger-on: Chloe.
Chloe was a slave forced into relations with her owner and — after being cast aside for another girl — sought to poison the family with a birthday cake filled with crushed oleander flowers. Although her exact intentions are often questioned, she succeeded in killing the master’s wife and two daughters and was hanged by the other slaves desperate to be disassociated from her crime. Her story became a legend when a photograph taken by Myrtle’s owner in 1992 captured the figure of a slave girl standing between two of the plantation’s buildings.
Guests staying at Myrtles, which is now a bed and breakfast, have often seen Chloe’s ghost wandering the grounds at night, and some visitors have even been awoken in their beds to find the figure of a slave girl staring at them from the side of the bed. The victims of Chloe’s wrongdoing are also said to be trapped in the house; held inside a mirror where they can sometimes be seen reflected out at passers-by, and forming inexplicable hand prints on the glass when no-one is around.
Mystery tours of the property, northwest of Baton Rouge, are held on Friday and Saturday evenings and of course, you can also choose to stay the night here at one of America’s most haunted guest houses.
10. Whaley House, San Diego, California
Often credited as being the MOST haunted building in the USA, the Whaley house sure has a history behind it to give the claim some weight.
Built in 1856 on the site of the local gallows, the home was visited by the spirit of the infamous thief Yankee Jim Robinson — who had been hanged there just a few years prior to construction — from its very early days. At 6 feet 4 inches, Yankee Jim made some heavy footsteps even after death, as reported by the original Whaley family who often heard disembodied footfalls on the upper floors.
The Whaleys endured their share of tragedies — the death of their 18-month-old son from scarlet fever, a fire which destroyed the general store they had opened adjacent to the house, and the suicide of daughter Violet — and their spirits appear to have remained in the house alongside their own original spectral resident. Sightings of parents Thomas and Anna Whaley have been reported, and the second floor is often said to leave visitors with a feeling of deep sorrow, attributed to the lingering presence of Violet, who stayed in solitude on that floor in the years leading up to her suicide. Even the long deceased family pets can sometimes be seen chasing one another around the kitchen.
The Whaley house opened to the public as a museum in 1960, and night-time tours for number 10 on the list of top 20 most haunted places in America are available to give guests an insight into the lengthy history of the houses occupants — both living and dead.
11. The Lincoln Theatre, Decatur, Illinois
The Lincoln Theatre, in Decatur, just west of Springfield, stands on the site of The Priest Hotel, which burned to the ground in 1915, killing two men and leaving several other guests unaccounted for.
The varying descriptions of the apparitions sighted over the years would suggest that The Lincoln Theatre is home to a whole host of spirits but the most well-documented is that of ‘One-armed Red’: a stagehand from back in the 1920s so devoted to the theatre that he not only died here but chose to never leave.
Investigators who have spent time in the theatre after dark have witnessed some very strange events: clearly discernible footsteps have followed reporters up the iron spiral staircase near the stage despite their living companions remaining within sight below; shadowy figures have appeared in photographs where there should have been no one present, and one investigator was even struck in the head by a dime, thrown through the air from no apparent source.
12. Jerome, Arizona
Established in 1876, Jerome, north of state’s present-day capital, Phoenix, was once a prosperous mining community. Although its population has slowly dwindled (now standing at around 400), it retains many of its original buildings, including the jail and the now abandoned mine. As the quintessential ‘Wild West’ town, Jerome is steeped in unsavoury history, especially in the Crib District, where numerous ladies of the night met violent ends at the hands of drunken punters. Visitors to this historic alley often report an unsettling feeling and the presence of strange shadows that run along the walls at night.
The most well-known of the Crib District’s victims is Sammie Dean; a 1930s high-class prostitute found strangled to death and now known to roam the town hunting for her killer.
A visit to this strange ‘ghost town’ comes highly recommended — find out the history and investigate for yourself the hauntings of ‘the wickedest town in the West’ on the tours available through Tours of Jerome.
13. The Cuban Club, Tampa, Florida
Founded in 1902, the Circulo Cubano de Tampa was built as a social hangout for Cuban immigrants. Although the original building burned down in 1916, it was rebuilt to include a ballroom, library, cantina, theatre and even a pharmacy. At one point it even boasted a gymnasium, bowling lanes and a pool. The club was apparently so popular that many of its regulars chose to stay on to enjoy the amenities in their afterlife, and there have been numerous incidents of mysterious piano playing and sightings in corridors and even the elevators.
The most active of these spirits would seem to be Jimmy — a little boy who tragically drowned in the club’s pool and has since communicated with various tour groups through flashlights. He has been sighted on several occasions, dressed in a 1930s bathing suit, and will sometimes offer an invitation as a whisper in visitor’s ears: “will you come play with me?”
14. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, New Orleans, Louisiana
One of the oldest surviving structures in New Orleans is the ‘Blacksmith Shop’ operated by smugglers Jean and Pierre Lafitte back in the late 1770s. Generally assumed to be a base from which they made negotiations and deals, it is also rumoured that Jean stashed his gold inside the fireplace and that his ghost remains in the building to protect the hoard.
On a regular basis, visitors to the site — now a bar popular with both the living and apparently the dead — often catch sight of a strange man in its darkened corners, who watches the patrons and vanishes abruptly once noticed. The piano is known to play on its own, and invisible hands will occasionally grab at drinks or even at the drinkers themselves.
Lafitte’s is probably the ideal spot for a Halloween tipple and New Orleans is home to a wealth of other ghostly tales to boot. Why not join one of the nightly ghost tours or even the New Orleans Haunted Pub Crawl — you never know who else might join you for a drink…
15. The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado
Best known as the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining, this grand hotel has a paranormal history to rival its fictional counterpart — The Overlook Hotel — and has been host to numerous investigations and ghost hunts over the years.
It surely can’t be a coincidence that the room King and his wife stayed in — room 217, in which he awoke in the middle of the night, cold, sweating and with the almost fully formed idea for his next novel — was the site of a catastrophe back in the early days of the hotel and of which the truth has never been fully uncovered.
The official report was a gas explosion that blew the room apart when an employee entered with a lit candle. Other reports suggest electrocution during a lightning storm, while others say the blast — however it occurred — sent the room crashing to the floor below where guests were enjoying dinner. Although the chambermaid escaped with just injuries, the incident was reportedly the beginning of a string of paranormal events. Guests in Room 217 have reported mysteriously unpacked clothes, and even the presence of an unexpected ‘body’ in the bed.
For ghost hunters not ‘lucky’ enough to receive a key to this fabled room, there’s no need for disappointment: every single room in the hotel has had at least one report of an unexplained happening. Disembodied children’s laughter and footsteps are often heard in the corridors and green orbs have been said to appear regularly in photographs. Employees at The Stanley are convinced of the continuing presence of the hotel’s founder, Freeland O. Stanley, hovering behind front-desk staff on shift and of his wife Flora’s piano-playing in the dead of night.
Eager paranormal enthusiasts are able to request rooms with the highest records of activity in the hotel that is one of the top 20 most haunted places in America and nightly ghost tours are also available.
16. The Queen Mary, Long Beach, California
Larger, faster and more powerful than the Titanic, The Queen Mary was THE way to travel during her transatlantic heyday in the late 1930s. Transformed into a troopship after the outbreak of WWII, she contributed admirably to the war effort before resuming her original purpose as a luxury liner in 1947. As younger and better-equipped models began to dominate the market, however, she was eventually withdrawn from service and now spends her days as a luxury hotel and maritime museum; docked at Long Beach, CA.
More than 150 spirits are said to walk this ship and, although sightings have been made in almost every area, the engine room seems to be the epicentre of it all. A man in blue overalls is often seen walking in this part of the ship on a corridor known as ‘Shaft Alley’ and vanishing without a trace in front of the infamous Door 13: a watertight door which crushed to death two men in separate incidents.
Another particularly active area is the pool area in which — despite being closed for three decades — two ladies in 1930s swimsuits are often seen, as well as a little girl known only as “Jackie” who reportedly drowned in the pool and appears in various parts of the ship searching for her mother.
17. Moon River Brewery, Savannah, Georgia
The Moon River Brewery is a hotbed of alarming poltergeist activity. Originally a hotel constructed in 1821, it is one of the oldest buildings in Savannah and had a history of violent incidents occurring throughout the Civil War. Several men were killed in heated brawls during these years, not to mention the deaths here during the site’s stints as a makeshift hospital during Savannah’s various yellow fever epidemics.
The spirits found at this brewpub are of the particularly interactive variety; grabbing at patrons’ bodies with icy cold hands, trapping women inside the washroom stalls and even pushing people down the stairs.
Paranormal experts investigating the site report especially dark and unsettling energies; perhaps due to the violent altercations in its history, or maybe due to the horrific suffering of the yellow fever victims who perished here in their hundreds. If you’re brave enough to visit, Tara’s Tours offers a highly recommended Haunted Pub Crawl, where the spirits won’t just be those in your glass…
18. Calcasieu Courthouse, Lake Charles, Louisiana
Toni Jo Henry was a beautiful and notorious murderess who in 1924, became the first woman to be sent to the electric chair after standing trial at Calasieu Courthouse in Lake Charles, west of Lafayette.
Toni Jo was a prostitute who fell in love and married one of her clients, but after he was jailed for murder she herself became a killer when she set out to free him. She and a friend hitched a ride with a passing driver whose truck they sought to use as a get-away vehicle. They tortured and shot the unsuspecting man before dumping his body by the road. The duo was quickly caught however after bragging about their crime over drinks in a nearby roadhouse.
Through charm and cunning, Toni Jo came close to escaping conviction but was eventually sentenced to death at her third trial. Ever since her execution, the courthouse has been plagued by unexplained happenings — the switch for the office filing system will flip itself off without the presence of living hands, a husky female voice can often be heard muttering indecipherable words, and on the stair landing (assumed to be the exact spot upon which the execution took place) the sound of a woman’s scream has been reported, accompanied by the smell of burning hair.
The Lake Charles Visitor Bureau offers a free historic tour app where you can get access to a guided ghost tour of the historic district; including the story of Toni Jo and a few more of her ghostly neighbours.
19. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois
The last burial at Bachelor’s Grove was in 1965 and the stories of hauntings began at around the same time. Reports are that after the cemetery fell into ‘disuse’ it was plagued by vandalism which went as far as graves being opened, and bones were found strewn about the area. Rumours abounded of occult activities and it is considered likely that the high levels of paranormal activity (similar to other sites in the top 20 most haunted places in America) are the result of these disturbances.
One apparition seen repeatedly is that of a phantom horse and plough, driven by an old farmer, which emerges from a pond on the edge of the cemetery. Legend has it that the farmer became entangled in the reins when his horse was startled and he was subsequently dragged into the pond and drowned. The most frequently reported phenomena, however, is one which occurs so often that it is hard to regard with scepticism: the sightings of phantom cars on the nearby roadway. Countless drivers have reported passing a car that then vanishes in their rearview mirror.
Of all the strange occurrences at the Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, however, the one that is most intriguing is that of the disappearing cottage. Although there is no record of a house standing in the area, the reports from each witness are always identical: an old white farmhouse with wooden posts and porch swing. It is said to give off a welcoming light but no one has laid claim to ever having entered, as the building grows smaller and smaller the closer you get — eventually disappearing into nothingness.
For those intrigued by this legendary cemetery, maps are available (and advised, the cemetery can only be reached on foot). As part of a forest preserve, the site is free to visit during daylight hours, and permits are required for night-time visits.
20. Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
With a history stretching back to 1772, Fort Mifflin has served the United States in four wars: as a battleground, a prison, and as an ammunitions depot during the two World Wars.
In its early days during the American Revolution, Fort Mifflin suffered nearly total devastation from the cannons of the British Navy, killing nearly three-quarters of the men garrisoned there. The following year, in 1778, the first of the Fort’s spectral residents made her presence known and she remains to this day. Although never seen, her screams are so loud and so blood curdling that in recent years the Philadelphia police have been called out to investigate on numerous occasions, only to find no trace of a woman in distress.
Fort Mifflin fell into disrepair after being decommissioned in 1954 but is now restored as a historical site open to the public to learn about the Fort’s past and, occasionally, even brush up against those who once lived through it.
One apparition that is regularly sighted is ‘The Lamplighter’. Though his form is pale and watery, his pole and flickering light can be distinguished when he appears early each evening on the barracks balcony. Another regular and well-known occupant is ‘The Faceless Man’ — named as such because, though his figure is always clearly visible, his face remains obscured in darkness. He is thought to be a deserter who was imprisoned and eventually hanged at the fort and forced to wear a black bag over his head to mark his shame.
Fort Mifflin offers a whole range of ghost tours, including private investigations and sleepovers where visitors can take guided tours, workshops on paranormal techniques and carry out group investigations. For any aspiring ghost hunters, Fort Mifflin is a real ‘must-do’.
Visit One of the Top 20 Most Haunted Places in America this Halloween
Whether you’re interested in historic battle sites, frightening former jails or the scenes of the most gruesome and notorious crimes, it’s worth striking out this Halloween in search of a proper fright. At one (or more) of these top 20 most haunted places in America, you’re bound to come across the ghost, spectre or apparition that makes this a memorable and scary season.