Even those who don’t believe in ghosts must admit that tales of the supernatural can be particularly gripping, and certain places just have a general eeriness about them. Throughout the United States, numerous graveyards, old homes, prisons, and hotels have collected their share of ghost stories, often passed down for generations. Some places even play up their lore, offering ghost tours or Halloween attractions. America’s scariest spots include places where horrific crimes took place, a cave where it’s said a malevolent witch lurks, and a graveyard where some say a buried skull can still be heard screaming underground. Read on, if you dare.
Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast
Fall River, Massachusetts
This is the house where Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother were murdered with an ax in 1892. Though Borden was acquitted of the infamous crimes, she became an outcast in her hometown of Fall River, where many continued to believe she had viciously murdered her own parents in cold blood. The home is now a bed and breakfast, offering overnight stays and tours.
The Stanley Hotel
Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel is a sprawling and gorgeous hotel, boasting 142 rooms and views of the Rocky Mountains. It is here where author Stephen King, while on vacation with his wife, Tabitha, came up with the idea for his novel "The Shining." The book tells the story of a family who comes to The Overlook, a similar Colorado hotel, to be its winter caretakers, only to learn the hotel is haunted by malevolent spirits. Following the popularity of "The Shining," rumors of real-life hauntings swirled, leading the hotel to offer ghost tours. However, The Stanley Hotel does not appear in the film by Stanley Kubrick. Rather, the exteriors of the fictitious Overlook are actually The Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon, in the 1980 horror classic.
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St. Louis Cemetery
New Orleans’ beautiful cemeteries are popular sights to see among the Big Easy’s myriad tourist attractions. The St. Louis Cemetery is the oldest among them, dating back to the 1700s. The tombs and plots were not buried in precise rows and columns, giving a labyrinthian feel to the cemetery. Some claim the cemetery is haunted by several ghosts, including voodoo legend Marie Laveau and Henry Vignes, a sailor whose landlord cheated him out of his burial plot and whose spirit now has no place to rest. The New Orleans cemeteries are currently closed due to the pandemic.
The Villisca Ax Murder House
The Villisca Ax Murder House makes no attempt to hide its grim past. In the summer of 1912, an unknown intruder broke into the house and murdered Josiah and Sarah Montgomery Moore, and their children — Herman, 11, Katherine, 9, Boyd, 7, and Paul, 5 — as they slept. Also killed were sisters Lena and Ina Stillinger, ages 12 and 8, who had spent the night at the Moore house following church activities earlier that day. The killer was never apprehended. Today, guests can book tours or overnight stays in the home.
Located on an island in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was a maximum-security prison from 1934 until 1963, holding some of the country’s most notorious and dangerous prisoners. Today, Alcatraz is one of California’s most popular tourist attractions. Popular ghost stories include the legend of Cell 14-D, a solitary cell used for punishment that is always cold, and an inmate who was found dead after screaming during the night about a creature that wanted him dead. Others claim to have heard cries and moans throughout the prison, as well as a mysterious banjo, rumored to be played by the ghost of infamous inmate Al Capone.
The Lemp Mansion
The Lemp family made their fortune in lager. John Adam Lemp, who moved to St. Louis from Germany in 1838, aged his beer in the cave system below St. Louis, and founded an extremely successful brewery. Despite their wealth, the family’s tragic history has led many to believe that the mansion where they lived is haunted. John Adam Lemp’s son, William J. Lemp and his wife, Julia, lived there. They had eight children. One of them, Frederick Lemp, passed away due to heart failure at only 28, while Lemp as well as three of his children — two sons and his youngest daughter — all died by suicide. The last surviving son, Edwin Lemp, asked his caretaker to destroy all of his art, papers and heirlooms upon his death, and his caretaker obliged. Today, guests may visit the mansion’s restaurant and bar, or take a tour of the property. Ghost tours are available.
West Milford, New Jersey
This winding road is rumored to be haunted by a variety of spirits, likely due to its bizarre history. This road is where one of hitman Richard "Iceman" Kuklinski’s victims was found in 1983, ultimately leading to his arrest. Combine that with the remains of an ill-fated zoo and the rumors of a drowned boy’s ghost, and you’ve got yourself a spooky roadway, flanked by woods that get especially dark at night.
Winchester Mystery House
San Jose, California
Following the death of Winchester Repeating Arms Co. treasurer William Winchester, his widow, Sarah, inherited a fortune. Having lost both her husband and infant daughter to illness, she moved with her sister and niece from Connecticut to California in 1884 and purchased a home in the Santa Clara Valley. With her extreme wealth, she added onto the home obsessively, at one point raising it to seven stories. (Due to earthquake damage in 1906, today’s house is only four.) The property contained over 150 rooms, with many architectural oddities. Rumors persist that Sarah Winchester’s own belief in ghosts — specifically those killed by Winchester guns — led her to endlessly build the house to appease or seek refuge from the spirits. Though this rumor is disputed, the legend persists, and the house offers Halloween tours that play it up to this day.
Can’t make it to the Winchester House this year? It’s one of several famous homes that are offering virtual tours now.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Between 1829 and 1971, this now-dilapidated building served as a prison, once home to the notorious mobster Al Capone. The crumbling building has not been renovated, and that’s intentional, as it preserves historical accuracy for tours and interactive learning opportunities. Every Halloween, a haunted-house fundraiser called Terror Behind the Walls is held, playing up the rumors that the old prison is haunted by its former inmates. This year’s fundraiser has been suspended, but night tours are available.
The Queen Mary
Long Beach, California
This retired ocean liner is permanently moored in Long Beach, where it now functions as a hotel with restaurants, bars, and educational opportunities. Rumors have long persisted that various ghosts haunt the decks, including a mysterious woman in white and a child who drowned in the ship’s pool. While most of these legends lack historical evidence, it doesn’t stop the ship from capitalizing on the lore via ghost tours and its annual Halloween event Dark Harbor, featuring multiple mazes, scare zones, and interactive activities. Unfortunately, the hotel is currently closed due to the pandemic.
The Shanghai Tunnels
A network of tunnels can be found beneath the streets of Portland, connecting several Old Town and Chinatown businesses to the Willamette River for the easy movement of shipments from the water to their final destinations. The tunnels get their name due to the term "shanghaiing," which refers to a shady practice in which men were kidnapped and forced to serve as sailors. Unsuspecting people were allegedly tricked into falling through trap doors into the tunnels below, where they were held in cages then pushed through the tunnels to their fates. Is it true? Well, there’s some debate there. People were forced into maritime vocations, but there’s not a lot of evidence to support that it happened in the tunnels. Still, rumors of hauntings persist and the tours are popular with Portland visitors, though they’re shut down at the moment due to the pandemic.
The Bird Cage Theater
In the late 1800s, the Bird Cage Theater functioned as a theater, bar, and gambling den. Here, miners and townsfolk (including the legendary Doc Holliday) were known to drink, carouse, play poker, and take in lewd vaudeville performances. In classic Wild West fashion, over 140 bullet holes riddle the building. Now a tourist attraction, the theater claims to be haunted by cowboys and saloon women, and offers daily ghost tours.
The Riddle House
West Palm Beach, Florida
This unassuming, two-story home was built in 1905. At that time, it was known as the Gatekeeper’s cottage, as it was occupied by the groundskeeper of Woodlawn Cemetery, located across the street. In the 1930s, a city official named Karl Riddle moved in, thus giving the home its namesake. Riddle’s nephew, John Riddle, later had the house moved to the Yesteryear Village history park, saving it from demolition. The local legend claims the house, once used as funeral parlor, is haunted by a man employed by Riddle who hanged himself in the attic, among other possible apparitions.
Seven Sisters Road
Nebraska City, Nebraska
The United States has many haunted roads, each one mired in similar legends of phantom cars and assorted victims wailing in the night. Seven Sisters Road is Nebraska City’s, and its legend is specific to its name. The tale claims that a man hanged all seven of his sisters from a different tree along the road after getting in an argument with his family. Those seven trees were later chopped down, but locals still occasionally claim to hear screams after sundown.
Some might argue that the scariest place to lay your head in Tonopah, Nevada, is its infamous Clown Motel. Yet it’s the Mizpah Hotel, built in 1929, that is rumored to be haunted by a woman in a red dress, supposedly murdered there by a jealous husband decades ago. Despite closing in 1999, it was renovated and reopened in 2011, now featuring 49 rooms, a bar, and a couple restaurants.
West Virginia State Penitentiary
Moundsville, West Virginia
The looming Gothic-style prison opened in 1876 and closed in 1995. During that time, there were 94 executions and 36 murders within its walls. Legends of hauntings surround the prison, with the most notable spirit being a featureless "shadow man" who stalks through its halls. Today, guests are welcome to visit the prison. It’s got Halloween attractions and several tours. Some of those are by day, while other, more ghost-focused tours are held at night. There’s even an option for an overnight paranormal investigation that begins at 10 p.m. and ends at 4 a.m.
Today a popular location for special events, the Felt Mansion was built in 1928 by Dorr Eugene Felt, inventor of the comptometer, an early mechanical calculator. The home was later used as a Catholic boys’ school and a law enforcement office before being restored. Local legend says the mansion is haunted by the Felts, who died shortly after the house was completed. The mansion is also near the woods where one of Michigan’s local legends is said to lurk. "Melon Heads" are a group of children with oversized heads who were, according to the legend, experimented on by a cruel scientist before escaping to live in the forest. There’s no evidence to support this claim, but it’s lore that’s been passed down to West Michigan teens for decades.
The Bell Witch Cave
In 1817, John Bell and his family lived on a farm in Tennessee where it is said they were terrorized by a mysterious witch. This alleged haunting became a topic of local conversation at the time and has persisted in area folklore today. The witch was particularly cruel to Bell and his daughter Betsy, but showed kindness to his wife and son. When Bell died, it was rumored that the witch had poisoned him. Typically, tours of the property are available, with special interest surrounding a cave where the witch purportedly lived when not wreaking havoc, but the property is currently closed due to the pandemic.
Western Burial Ground
This cemetery, located at the Westminster Presbyterian Churchyard, is the final resting place of legendary author Edgar Allen Poe. Given Poe’s grim subject matter, he’d likely be pleased with rumors that his spirit haunts the graveyard today. Yet he’s not the only alleged specter. The very Poe-esque Skull of Cambridge is another local legend. A murdered minister was supposedly laid to rest in this cemetery, and his skull has never stopped screaming. Legend states the skull was entombed in concrete in an attempt to muffle the noise, yet it’s said that those who listen carefully can still discern the endless screams.
House of Death
New York City
The so-called House of Death can be found near Washington Square Park. An otherwise ordinary looking brownstone, it is said to be haunted by more than 20 spirits, including author Mark Twain, a mysterious woman, a child, and a cat. Though stories of hauntings have continued since the 1930s, it was the 1987 murder of a young child that gave the home its name. Joel Steinberg, a now-disbarred attorney, was convicted of beating a 6-year-old girl named Lisa to death in the home. The girl’s mother had paid Steinberg to find a proper home for the girl, but he instead illegally adopted her. A baby boy, who was found tied to his crib with twine, was rescued from the home. The case drew considerable media attention and the trial was televised, placing the home in a haze of infamy for years to come.
The Amityville Horror House
Amityville, Long Island, New York
In November of 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr., then 23, shot and killed his father, mother, and four siblings. DeFeo and his lawyer, William Weber, attempted to plead insanity, saying that voices in his head had led him to commit the murder, yet DeFeo was found guilty and remains incarcerated today. Following the murders, the DeFeo family home went up for sale and was sold to George and Kathy Lutz in late 1975. The Lutz family claimed to experience supernatural phenomena, including nightmares, cold spots, odors, odd sensations, and weird noises and visions, which were detailed in Jay Anson’s book "The Amityville Horror." Though the novel spawned numerous horror flicks, the veracity of the Lutzes’ claim has long been up for debate. Weber at one point claimed to have worked with the Lutz family on creating an elaborate hoax about ghosts in the home. The grisly DeFeo crime, however, was all too real. The home sold in 2017 for $605,000.
The Entity House
Culver City, California
The home featured in the 1982 horror film "The Entity" is a real home in Culver City, California. Back in 1974, the home was occupied by Doris Bither and her four children. Bither claimed that she was haunted by a mysterious entity that assaulted her on numerous occasions. She solicited the help of Dr. Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor, a pair of paranormal investigators, who claimed to have seen a green misty figure while investigating her claims. The supposed ghosts seemed to have calmed down after Bither moved out, and Bither later claimed that they were attached to her, not the home. Still, Taff wrote that Bither did talk about a woman who knocked on her door soon after she moved into the Culver City home and warned her that the house was evil.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Back in 1910, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium was built to house patients suffering from tuberculosis and apparently had an eerie tunnel for disposing of the deceased. By the 1960s, advancements in medicine meant fewer people had tuberculosis, and the hospital closed in 1961. Self-described paranormal enthusiasts Charles and Tina Mattingly bought the abandoned sanatorium in 2001. Some believe the hospital’s former patients still haunt the building, citing locks that turn by themselves and other general spookiness. These days, guests can go on paranormal tours or attend a less-scary Christmas laser light show. Funds from these events are intended to go toward renovating the building and turning it into a hotel and convention center.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Weston, West Virginia
Architecturally magnificent, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (formerly known at one point as the Weston State Hospital) is supposedly haunted by its former patients. It was built in the mid-1800s and designed for about 250 patients. Toward the mid-1900s, people were locked up for all manner of things, as mental illness was treated much differently mid-century. Thus, close to 2,400 patients ended up being crammed into the building, which unsurprisingly resulted in poor treatment. The hospital ultimately closed in 1994, and is now open for tours, including nighttime paranormal tours. Alleged hauntings manifest in odd noises and apparitions, according to those who claim to have experienced them.
Once a small, yet ordinary town, Centralia is now a desolate ghost town occupied by only a handful of people. In 1962, an underground mine caught fire. It proved difficult and costly to put out, so no one has. Fueled by coal, the fire has never stopped burning, and it’s predicted that 250 years may go by before it extinguishes itself. More than 1,000 residents were moved, yet a handful refused to leave their homes, despite health concerns over toxic gases. The residents who chose to remain fought with government officials for years, finally agreeing in 2013 that those who were still there would be allowed to live out their lives in Centralia. As of 2016, fewer than five remained. Most of the buildings have been demolished, and the desolation is eerie. One building that remains, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, is the site of an annual religious pilgrimage. Centralia is cited as an inspiration for screenwriter Roger Avary, who came upon the town while writing the film adaptation of the horror video game Silent Hill. (The road to Centralia, an old portion of Route 61, known as the "Graffiti Highway" for the colorful writing left by visitors, was recently covered over by local authorities to deter visitors during the pandemic.