As you’ve probably already guessed, it can be strange and daunting to interact with the supernatural world. If you weren’t lucky — well, "lucky" — enough to grow up in a haunted house where you were bedeviled by a poltergeist, then it’s possible to live an entire lifetime without ever encountering a ghost, haunt, or even a single mildly restless spirit. And honestly, where’s the fun in that?
But don’t fret, friends. We’ve lit a few candles, broken out the spirit board, and done the research to find you a few (allegedly) haunted places that you can actually visit to satisfy your desire for a brush with the macabre. From guided tours full of tales of grisly murders to strange architecture and Satanically blighted clearings, these are the places that should be at the top of your list when you’re planning a ghoulish road trip — and the best part is that even if you don’t encounter a ghost, you’re likely to find something pretty interesting at each one.
Bobby Mackey’s Music World
Let’s be real here with each other for a second: most allegedly "haunted" places are hugely disappointing. At best, you can hope for a spooky floating orb, or a translucent spectre, or — if you’re really lucky — you might get some mysterious knocking or a rattling chain. Bobby Mackey’s Music World, on the other hand, has an invisible cowboy that will beat the living hell out of you in the bathroom.
In addition to being a nightclub on the amazingly named Licking Pike Road in Wilder, Kentucky, that features live music, karaoke, and line dancing (a terrifying unholy trinity if there ever was one), Bobby Mackey’s has long billed itself as one of America’s most haunted places, and the cowboy ghost is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s the story of Pearl Bryan, for instance, whose decapitated head was was rumored to be used in a Satanic sacrifice, and of course, the Portal to Hell in the basement.
Bobby Mackey’s is open every Friday and Saturday, with $10 ghost tours every hour until 1:15. Take some free advice, though, and skip the mechanical bull. That thing’s supposed to be haunted, too.
The Winchester Mystery House
Under normal circumstances, inheriting a vast personal fortune is a pretty good thing, even if it comes at the cost of a loved one. Sure, you might be pretty upset about, say, losing your husband of nearly 20 years to tuberculosis, but one imagines that getting over $20 million in the process and an additional income of over $1,000 a day probably makes things a lot easier to deal with — especially if that’s in 1881 money, when most people could barely even understand the concept of having a million dollars.
That’s exactly what happened to Sarah Winchester when her husband, Wiliam Wirt Winchester, treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, died. Unfortunately, she was about to learn the lesson that the Notorious B.I.G. so eloquently put to music over a hundred years later: mo’ money, mo’ problems. Sarah’s problem? She was being haunted by the spirits of everyone killed with a Winchester rifle, which, as you might’ve surmised from her $20 million gun fortune, was a lot of people.
With that in mind, Sarah moved to San Jose, California in 1894 and spent the next 38 years constructing what would eventually become known as the Winchester Mystery House. The sprawling structure features over 40 bedrooms, leading to the story that Sarah slept in a different one every night in order to avoid the vengeful spirits of gunshot victims. There are also plenty of secret passages, including a cabinet that opens up to a corridor that runs through 38 different rooms. If that wasn’t disorienting enough, the endless construction also resulted in stairways leading to ceilings, stained glass windows hidden away from sunlight in the depths of the house, and multiple doors that open on sudden 15-foot drops, both inside and outside of the house itself.
To this day, there’s a debate on whether Sarah thought she was genuinely haunted or was just an extremely bad amateur architect with way too much money. But the Mystery House itself stands as a fascinating monument even if it doesn’t feature the restless spirits of a thousand murdered souls. Tours are available, including those lit only by flashlight at Halloween, just in case you need your Mystery House experience to be even more dizzyingly creepy.
The Queen Mary
If you want to combine the thrill of a luxury cruise ship with the fun of not actually going anywhere while also being reminded of the hellish afterlife that will rob you of even the peace of death, have we got a vacation destination for you: The Queen Mary, a cruise ship-turned-hotel, permanently anchored in Long Beach, California.
The bad news is that the claims of hauntings are even more dubious than most, with the usual gory specifics that you’d expect from a haunted hotel replaced with vague creepiness and sightings of a "lady in white," which is what you call a ghost when you can’t be bothered to spend more than three seconds thinking up a name. The good news for curious hotel guests is that the Queen Mary’s staff offers ghost tours that are longer and more thorough than the standard, non-spooky tour. Plus, the ship’s non-supernatural history — from late-’30s luxury liner to World War II troop transport and back again — is actually pretty interesting, even without getting into haunted creepiness.
Of course, the Queen Mary’s otherwise cheerful, welcoming website hypes up the ghost tours by mentioning dead sailors and "children who drowned in the ship’s pool," which is the sort of phrase that makes going for a fun, post-tour swim a much more depressing proposition.
While we’re on the subject of California landmarks with interesting non-ghost history that also happen to be haunted, why not wrap up your spooky trip to the Sunshine State by swinging by San Francisco’s famous Alcatraz Island to see if Al Capone’s ghost shows up to play you a tune on his banjo?
As a national park, Alcatraz offers plenty of tours, but none of them are focused on hauntings. That said, you don’t have to look far to find something creepy. Alcatraz did, after all, specialize in housing the most notorious, brutal criminals that America had to offer during its 30-year tenure as an inescapable federal prison. For decades before that, it was a military prison, where inmates who probably weren’t all that stable to begin with were kept in downright hellish conditions. Unsurprisingly, a place that saw that much suffering and anger has a well-known reputation for ghosts.
The most prominent are the spirits of Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, and Marvin Hubbard, three murderers who were killed during an incredibly violent escape attempt. The prison literally called in the Marines to blow the escaping prisoners away with grenades.
That said, the ghoul that everyone wants to see is, of course, Capone. The famous gangster was once rewarded for good behavior by being allowed to play banjo in the prison band. In his later days, he would hide from other prisoners in the shower to practice his music. Some parkgoers have claimed you can still hear him plucking out some tunes to this day, but c’mon: a banjo playing gangster ghost? If Capone had any sense, he’d be getting booked at Bobby Mackey’s by now.
Route 322 and the bones of "Mad" Anthony Wayne
Who would’ve ever thought that someone who earned the nickname "Mad" Anthony would’ve had a little trouble finding a restful afterlife?
For those of you who aren’t up on your history, Anthony Wayne served as a general in the American Revolution. He became known for a fiery temper after he was blamed for a few humiliating defeats, including one where his British enemies snuck up on his camp without firing a shot, attacking with bayonets instead to keep quiet. After demanding an opportunity to clear his name, Mad Anthony adopted the whole "let’s stab everyone to death" tactic for himself on multiple occasions. That included one where — as he would later write in a report back to George Washington — he and his men set on their retreating foes with their own bayonets and "took Ample Vengeance." Capital letters are his, if you’re wondering.
Surprisingly enough, the hot-headed, stab-happy soldier actually died of natural causes in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1796. Thirteen years later, however, his body was dug up and his bones were boiled to remove any remaining flesh so that his son, Isaac, could return him to the family plot down the road in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Isaac decided that the best way to do this was to stuff as many bones as he could into his saddlebags and ride down a rough rode as fast as possible, leading to the legend that a few of Mad Anthony’s bones were lost along the way on what is now Route 322.
If you’re planning to find him yourself, this one’s a little time-sensitive: Mad Anthony’s spirit is said to haunt Route 322 only on January 1 each year. But hey, if you’re there in the summer looking for bones without ghostly interference and you keep driving past Radnor, you’ll eventually hit an amusement park called Storybook Land. While it’s not said to be haunted at all, it is a small theme park based on fairy tales, and is probably at least a little creepy.
Villisca Ax Murder House
One thing you really have to give to the Villisca Ax Murder House: they’re pretty up front about what went down there back in 1912. Here’s a hint: it was ax murders.
Specifically, it was the extremely gory murder of eight people in Villisca, Iowa, complete with the additionally terrifying detail that whoever it was that was wielding the ax waited all day in the house’s attic for the right time to strike. Despite the fact that there were plenty of suspects — including a relative who frequently threatened to kill one of the victims, and a man named "Blackie" Mansfield who would very suspiciously go on to commit some other violent ax murders a few years later — the crime remains unsolved to this day. And naturally, rumors of hauntings have been going pretty strong for over a hundred years.
But here’s the thing: not only can you visit the Ax Murder House, you can also book an overnight stay there with up to nine of your closest friends, assuming you’re the kind of person who likes to drag their closest friends to the site of mass murders. Keep in mind, however, that the house has drawn more than a few paranormal investigators to check it out over the years. Back in 2014, one of them was inexplicably driven to stab himself in the chest, which probably should not have come as a surprise to the people running a famously haunted place called the Ax Murder House. Either way, it’s probably best to check out the attic before you go to sleep, just in case.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Louisville, Kentucky’s Waverly Hills Sanatorium has the kind of imposing structure and creepy reputation you can only really get from a hospital — specifically one that was built to deal with a tuberculosis epidemic and later expanded because too many people were dying. Looking back, it’s downright Lovecraftian, but to be honest, it was actually pretty advanced for the time. The small, cramped rooms were necessary to house as many patients as possible. There was plenty of fresh air available for early cases. And even the Sanatorium’s infamous "body chute," in which deceased patients were spirited away in a secret tunnel behind the scenes, was meant to make things less morbid, not more.
The ghostly woman who walks around rattling chains and bleeding from her hands and feet, on the other hand, is what pushes this one over the edge.
Yes, it turns out that the consumption is not exactly a pleasant way to go. Decades of suffering and death before a vaccine was created — and the kind of medical experimentation that seems horrific in retrospect — have led to paranormal investigators to declare Waverly Hills as one of the most haunted places in America, an appelation that it shares with… well, almost everything else on this list. Waverlly’s ghosts, however, go the extra mile in creepiness, with both the chained, bleeding woman and The Creeper, a shadowy figure that skitters along walls and ceilings to terrify anyone who stays in the building too long.
But don’t let that stop you from visiting! After a 2001 renovation project, the Sanatorium offers both paranormal and historically themed tours, and a spoooooky haunted house that runs from late-September to Halloween every year. If you want to go the extra mile, though, you can book a stay overnight that comes complete with a guided paranormal investigation. That one, however, will probably not highlight the effectiveness of vaccines in fighting the TB epidemic. So take it with a grain of salt.
If you go looking for ghosts and haunted places in America, you’re going to wind up at a Civil War battlefield eventually. The most famous, of course, is Gettysburg: the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous address that presumably talked about all the ghosts on a second envelope that he never got around to reading during the speech. But only slightly less well known than Gettysburg — and far more interesting if you’re tracking down hauntings — is Chickamauga in North Georgia.
In 1863, it was the site of one of the war’s bloodiest battles, in which 36,000 soldiers were killed over the course of two days. From a historical perspective, it’s fascinating, with an initial Confederate victory that turned into a defeat and led to a siege at Chattanooga that one soldier called "the death-knell of the Confederacy." From a paranormal perspective, though, it’s got a few things that other famous battlefields lack.
There are the standard ghosts and spirits, including yet another "Lady in White" said to be searching for the remains of her beloved. But the real attraction here is Ol’ Green Eyes, so named for the glowing, fiery orbs that are said to peer out at tourists as it stalks the battlefield. Some legends go the easy route and claim that he’s the spirit of a soldier whose head was blown off with a cannonball — which might sound familiar to those Washington Irving fans among you. But others claim that Ol’ Green Eyes is more beast than man, a demon that predates the war and was drawn there by the massive amount of blood spilled at the battle. So really, that’s two ghosts in one.
Like most historically important battlefields, Chickamauga is maintained by the National Park Service, with guided tours, hikes, and a museum on-site.
On the one hand, Myrtles Plantation has hyped up its ghostly reputation in ways that are truly unbelievable, even by the standards of invisible cowboys and Al Capone’s ghost rocking a banjo solo in the shower. It’s like they were handed a list of suggestions and just decided to tick off every box. There’ve been rumors that it was built on a Native American burial ground and been appropriately cursed as a result. There are also stories about ghostly children showing up in the house’s windows, and claims that at least ten murders have taken place there, leaving the whole site riddled with ghosts.
On the other hand, despite the fact that it was a plantation in Louisiana — and therefore was, at best, the site of all the horrors that the antebellum South could muster — the claims of the supernatural seem to have been a bit exaggerated. There was, for instance, only one recorded murder at the Myrtles, when William Winter was the victim of the 1871 equivalent of a drive-by shooting. Visitors to the plantation have reported that you can still hear Winter’s footsteps on the stairway, an echo from when he stumbled in to die in his wife’s arms — which would be a pretty neat trick since he died outside on the porch.
All of this, of course, raises the question of just why anyone would want to enhance a place’s reputation to make it sound more haunted. But in what we can only assume is purely coincidental, the Myrtles is also a fully functioning Bed & Breakfast that bills itself (of course) as one of America’s most haunted places.
So yeah: maybe the ghost stories have been built up a bit in the name of tourism. But hey! At least there’s free WiFi!
The Devil’s Tramping Ground
Most haunted places explain their origin stories by pointing to past tragedies and restless human spirits. But Chatham County, North Carolina doesn’t have time to deal with a middleman. Instead, they’ve got a spot out in the woods where the Devil his own self comes up from Hell to dream up new wickedness for the world.
The Tramping Ground is a clearing where, as local legend has it, nothing will grow — undoubtedly due to the poison of wickedness and fiery hooves that Satan brings to his pacing — and where no man yet has managed to spend the night without waking up miles away. This would tend to ignore the fact that you can actually see vegetation growing in the clearing in most photos, that a reporter from Greensboro spent the night in the center of the clearing with his dogs, and that there are an awful lot of beer cans and graffiti nearby that suggest that the devil might be sharing his hangout with some local teens.
But that said, it’s still worth checking out. The chance of encountering the Devil is a lot more fun than trying to get some sleep in an ax murder house, and there’s probably some pretty good BBQ right down the road even if you don’t meet up with Ol’ Scratch.