Halloween is perfect time to raise the dead. While you can creep yourself out at hundreds of manufactured haunted houses, why not go for the real deal. These truly scary locations are steeped in history while all are home to legendary tales and infamous spirits. But adventurers beware. From a former insane asylum to cursed battlegrounds, these spooky sites are not for the faint of heart.
1. St. Louis Cemetery
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a town steeped in mythical traditions like witchcraft and vampires. Numerous cemeteries dot the landscape but the St. Louis Cemetery is the oldest in the city. Here, visitors will discover ornate above-ground tombs and mausoleums, winding footpaths and crumbling memorials. While many ghosts are rumored to call this place their home, Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, reigns supreme.
2. The Winchester Mystery House
San Jose, California
With mile-long hallways, staircases to nowhere and doors that open into walls, this mysterious maze-like Victorian mansion in San Jose boasts160-rooms. The home was originally built by Sarah Winchester, the wealthy widow of William Wirt Winchester (son of the manufacturer of the Winchester repeating rifle). Sarah tragically lost both her daughter and husband to illness and later sought help from a spiritual advisor to overcome her depression. The medium warned Sarah that the Winchester family had been struck by a terrible curse, and would be haunted by the ghosts of the many deceased killed by the Winchester rifle. The only way to appease the dead according to the medium, was to build a house for the lost souls... and never stop building. For 38 years, construction on the house continued for 24 hours a day, until Sarah died. Today, visitors to the home will want to look out for the many unlucky number 13's featured in the house design as they roam the haunted halls.
3. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
This former state hospital for the mentally insane is part history site, part hotbed of paranormal activity. Ghosts of Civil War soldiers and former patients are said to be walking through the two and half miles of hallways. Visitors claim to see things move or feel the presence of spirits. The largest hand-cut stone building in North America, this mammoth granite structure was constructed in 1858. The asylum originally housed 250 residents at a time, but at its peak in the 1950s, more than 2,000 patients called this place home. Trans-Alleghany stopped treating patients in 1994, but brave thrill seekers can roam the halls on any number of special guided tours including a night-time flashlight ghost hunting experience.
4. Stepp Cemetery
Only two dozen or so crumbling grave markers remain in this famously haunted cemetery in Indiana. Legend has that it was founded by a cult called the Crabbites, who sacrificed small animals and participated in sex orgies. Another story holds that a mother of an infant who died was so distraught that she went to the cemetery and dug up the child's body after it was buried. Grieving, she took her own life. Visitors claim to have seen her ghost, dressed in black, weeping over her daughter's grave, near the site of an old stump that has since rotted away years ago.
5. Moundsville Penitentiary
Moundsville, West Virginia
It is estimated that one thousand inmates died while being incarcerated at this fearsome, Gothic style prison. Some died of natural causes or from inmate violence, but over the course of the penitentiary's history, 94 men were put to death since the first executions began in 1899. Less than 500 inmates were housed in the facility when it opened in 1866. But by the 1930s, its population was exceeded 2,400. Today, many ghosts are said to be lurking the halls, but the most famous is the Shadow Man. Visitors have also claimed to see the ghost of a maintenance man who was stabbed to death by prisoners in the basement for snitching to prison guards about inmate activity. Historical tours begin just after sun set, leading guests through the haunted prison by nightfall.
6. Gettysburg Battlefield
As the site of one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles, Gettysburg stands the test of time as one of the most haunted places in America. Over 50,000 soldiers from the Union and Confederate armies were killed and their ghosts are still seen and heard today by tourists to the field and town. Visitors also claim to hear the thunder of canons, gunfire and screams and moans of the battle's victims. Devil's Den, a rock formation where dozens of bodies and limbs were discovered after the war, is a popular spot for tourists seeking a ghostly encounter in this historic area.
7. The Stanley Hotel
Estes Park, Colorado
As the infamous locale where Jack Nicholson went crazy in "The Shining," this hotel is a hot spot for paranormal activity. The Paranormal Research Society of ‘Paranormal State’ fame came for a field trip, while TAPS from “Ghost Hunters” has experienced phenomena around the hotel site.
Well known spooks include a young boy who makes his presence known in room 1211 and a young man who just likes to hang out in closets and bedrooms. The hotel’s owner, Mr. Stanley, makes his presence known by appearing to visitors in the lobby and billiards room, while his wife Flora entertains guests by playing a piano. The hotel offers ghost tours, so next time you visit Colorado, bring a camera. Who knows? Perhaps a friendly spirit will appear for a picture.
8. St. Augustine Lighthouse
St. Augustine, Florida
The ghosts of this haunted lighthouse are rumored to make their presence known by appearing as creepy shadows and making unexplained noises. Legend has it that the daughters of the Superintendent of Lighthouse Construction drowned, and continue to haunt the building ever since their untimely death.Three other people have passed away in the lighthouse from illnesses, while a keeper named Joseph fell to his death. Visitors have claimed to see shadows high up in the tower, while others hear the daughters laughing and giggling at night. The eldest girl is also fond of appearing before guests donned in the clothing she wore on the day of her death.
9. The Myrtles Plantation
St. Francisville, Louisiana
Built over an ancient First Nations burial ground, this plantation is known for its ghostly inhabitants. Rumor has it that ten deaths have occurred on the site. One of the most famous involves a slave named Chloe, who was supposedly killed by fellow slaves after an ill-fated attempt to poison another house mistress. Visitors have reported seeing ghostly children on the verandah, a curly-haired woman who mysteriously appears and disappears, and odd hand prints that mysteriously appear in mirrors. One visitor reported a cold spot hovering over her bed while a rattling closet door kept her awake. If you want to get some sleep while visiting Myrtle Planation, you might have to tell the ghosts to keep it down.
10. Bell Witch Cave
The site where John Bell and his family were tormented by a ghost now known as the Bell Witch is open to brave visitors who wish to explore the spirit world. The legend varies, but most accounts claim that Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bell family, believed she was cheated out of property in a land purchase. Kate continued to torture the entire Bell family, physically abusing the youngest daughter Betsey, and cursing John. Visitors claim that any object taken from the site is cursed, while many have reported encountering a violent force while on the property. Technology doesn’t work there either, with cameras mysteriously malfunctioning when users try to capture an image.