By Sara Coughlin
Just about every city and small town in the U.S. has a
haunting to call its own. There are even haunted houses you can rent for a very spooky weekend trip. Of course, not all spooky places are created equal. For every former-sanatorium-turned-exploitative-tourist-trap, there’s a lesser-known historical home with a majorly creepy backstory.
With that in mind, we set out to find places in America with stories that match their scary reputation — and then some. These spots and their haunting pasts did not disappoint. From wine-stealing colonial ghosts to a hurricane-predicting spirit, these stories are best read on a dark and stormy night (hopefully with friends or a teddy bear nearby).
Click through to discover 11 of the nation’s greatest ghost stories. Happy Halloween!
Welcome to Death Week. This week, we’ll attempt to unpack our feelings, fears, and hang-ups about death, dying, and mourning. We’ll do our best to leave no gravestone unturned.
The Molly Brown House Denver, Colorado
Molly Brown (yes, of
Titanic fame) and her husband, mining engineer J.J. Brown, purchased their summer home on Pennsylvania Avenue after coming into substantial wealth. At first, they adored the property, building additions and living there, on and off, for decades.
But, with time, the couple grew apart, spending less time in the house in turn. By the time Molly died in the 1930s, it had fallen into disrepair. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the house was restored as a museum and historical landmark. Ever since, strange things have been happening the Brown’s old home.
Neither Molly nor J.J. died in the house, but museum tour guides and visitors have
noticed signs of their spirits nonetheless: the smell of J.J.’s pipe, cold spots, and blinds that open on their own. If that wasn’t enough, people have reportedly seen actual entities in the rooms, too, including a woman in a Victorian dress with a penchant for moving the furniture. Photo: Seth McConnell/The Denver Post/Getty Images.
Red Onion Saloon Skagway, Alaska
When it first opened in 1898, the
Red Onion Saloon was a bustling brothel, warmly welcoming thousands of visitors to the area’s gold fields. It enjoyed a brief period of success before experiencing a decline. The prostitutes left for larger venues and the clientele went with them — but, it would appear that some of them actually stuck around.
The Red Onion is now open to the public as a museum and quite a few visitors have reported encounters with
ghostly fog, mysterious reflections, and, most often, the spirit of a prostitute named Lydia.
She’s been noticed throughout the building, in the sound of footsteps in the hallway and the lingering smell of perfume. But it seems like Lydia enjoys the madame’s old room most — she’s been seen going through the motions of watering the plants, which, when checked later, have actually been damp. Though the way she died remains a mystery, it’s been said that she’s particularly hostile toward male visitors.
Photo: John Greim/LightRocket/ Getty Images.
Black Diamond Mines & Park Antioch, California
Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve plays host to two very unfriendly female ghosts, Mary and Sarah, from the 1800s — they even share the nickname “The White Witch,” though they have very different backstories.
First, there’s Mary, who worked as a nanny in the nearby coal-mining town of Nortonville. She cared for several families’ children, all of whom died from mysterious illness under her watch. The townsfolk suspected she was a witch and swiftly hanged her. Since then, many have reported seeing a bright, white apparition floating around the entrance to the mines. She never looks exactly the same, but witnesses agree on why she’s there — to protect children from the hazards of the mines.
Second, Sarah Norton was killed suddenly in a carriage accident, but had specified before her death that she didn’t want any kind of funeral. The town held a service for her anyway, though they were met with some serious spiritual resistance. Each time they tried to hold Sarah’s funeral, a bizarrely strong storm would whip up, as if out of nowhere. She was finally laid to rest in the public cemetery, and there have been reports of a similarly bright, white apparition seen hovering over the gates to the cemetery ever since.
Photo: Phillip Bond / Alamy Stock Photo.
Woodburn Mansion Dover, Delaware
Built in 1798,
Woodburn Mansion has its fair share of ghosts, who all seem to have one thing in common — they love a good drink.
first of these apparitions appeared only 25 years after the house was built, when a visitor asked his hosts about the “other guest” in the house, whom he’d seen on the staircase only moments ago. He described the man he’d seen and his hostess told him he had just described her late father, Charles Hillyard III, who’d built the house.
Hillyard was known to enjoy his liquor, and past owners have left full decanters of wine at night only to find them empty in the morning. Of course, this isn’t all Hillyard’s doing — several
other spirits, all wearing Colonial fashions, have been caught stealing wines from the cellar.
If we’re being honest, these ghosts seem like they’re a pretty good time.
Photo: Visions of America/UIG/ Getty Images.
St. Augustine Lighthouse St. Augustine, Florida
Part of the
nation’s oldest port, the St. Augustine lighthouse just might be the home of hundreds of ghosts. Pirates’ souls have been said to hang around after being buried behind the tower, and more than one light keeper has been seen haunting his old stomping grounds.
Current staffers have described the smell of cigar smoke hanging in the air inside the tower. And it is said that former keepers Peter Rasmussen and Joseph Andreu were both known to enjoy a smoke now and then.
But the most well-known (and perhaps the most tragic) lighthouse ghosts are by far the daughters of renovator Hezekiah Pity. The family lived in the lighthouse in the late 1800s while Pity did repairs on the building.
One day, 13-year-old Eliza and 15-year-old Mary fell into the bay while playing on their father’s equipment, and they drowned to death. Anyone near the lighthouse at night can supposedly still hear the girls laughing and playing.
Photo: LadyVictoria/ Getty Images.
Griggs Mansion Saint Paul, Minnesota
Many, many people have called Griggs Mansion “home” since it was built in 1883, but very few have called it that for long. Even Chauncey Griggs, the man who oversaw its construction, only stayed for four years.
Today, the mansion is known as
the most haunted house in Saint Paul, and for good reason — residents and visitors have encountered apparitions of: a Civil War veteran; a thin, long-faced man in a black suit; a former gardener of the mansion grounds; and a child’s disembodied head.
Unexplained noises, flickering lights, shadowy figures, slamming doors, and more are regular occurrences at Griggs Mansion. Now do you see why no one’s stuck around?
Photo: Steve Skjold / Alamy Stock Photo.
The Abraham Curry House Carson City, Nevada
Abraham Curry, founder of Carson City and the original owner of this house, died suddenly — and with unfinished business. The house has been renovated and added onto since it was first built in 1871, but Curry’s spirit has remained. Although the
apparition people have seen since his death is very clearly Curry, there are a few theories as to why he isn’t at rest.
Legend has it that he left his wife with only a single silver dollar in her pocket when he passed, and he’s still looking for her to make sure she’s alright.
Curry died unexpectedly, and it’s
widely believed that sudden deaths can prompt hauntings. As the founder of the city, he was a prominent figure and probably left behind quite a few dreams for the community.
Whatever the reason for Curry’s haunting, we hope he passes on to the other side soon, for the sake of his spirit and anyone who passes by the house late at night.
Photo: Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NEV,13-CARCI,12-4
Fordham University New York, NY
Among the droves of
haunted universities in the U.S., Fordham stands out for the wide variety of spirits found in its dormitory buildings.
Finlay Hall, today an upperclassmen dorm, was once the university’s medical school. Students living in the lofted rooms have reported waking up to apparitions of medical students in lab coats staring down at them from above. Others have felt the sensation of choking or being toe-tagged while they slept.
The freshmen dorms of Queen’s Court is a veritable hotbed of ghostly activity, too. A Jesuit priest who is said to have died by suicide speaks to students. A dead girl’s doll, crying out for its mommy, has appeared multiple times in one room in particular.
Heads up to any incoming freshmen: Although Queen’s Court gets a lot of press,
Martyr’s Court is said to be the one with the most active spirits. Photo: Barry Winiker/ Getty Images.
Sumpter Valley Dredge Sumper, Oregon
Throughout its years of operation, the Sumpter Valley dredge has hosted the malevolent spirit of Joe Bush, the ghost of a man who may have
died while working on the dredge. This remains a point of speculation.
People who worked on the dredge, which shut down in 1954, knew to brace themselves for a visit from Joe when the power would go out. A junior employee would be left alone in the dark to wait for the dredgemaster to arrive and fix the power.
“There were no lights, nothing. They just sat in the dark and waited for Joe Bush to come by,” said one former employee. “[The dredge] never shut down, unless Joe Bush got into something,” another said.
Joe was also known to eat workers’ lunches, steal their tools, and
leave damp, bare footprints on the deck.
The dredge is now a historical landmark and holds tours regularly, though Joe finds ways to
interrupt the fun, often moaning and slamming doors on innocent tourists. Photo: Stephen Bay / Alamy Stock Photo.
Pawley’s Island South Carolina
As menacing as he may sound, the
Gray Man of Pawley’s Island actually seems pretty helpful. For the past two centuries, he has appeared on the beach just before destructive storms, a signal to the island’s residents to leave at once.
Those who heed his warning survive, and the people who actually witness his appearance even have their homes spared.
rarely speaks to those who see him. Instead, he simply stands on the shore, gesturing as if to say, “turn back,” as the storm kicks up. Photo: makasana/ Getty Images.
Middleway West Virginia
This final story, of an angry ghost who haunted one man’s house in the late 1700s, is a major cautionary tale.
One night in 1794, an unknown traveler came to Adam Livingston’s door seeking shelter. He stayed for a few days before he became incredibly, fatally ill — he asked Livingston to fetch a Catholic priest to perform his last rites. Livingston, an otherwise fine citizen, was a strict Lutheran and refused the traveler’s repeated pleas. The traveler died soon after that.
It was said that no candle near the man’s corpse would stay lit. Livingston was plagued with the inexplicable sounds of horses galloping outside, pots breaking against nothing, and, most alarmingly and incessantly, the sounds of heavy shears cutting away. He’d even find shapes cut into his sheets and papers.
After living with this spirit for years, Livingston called on an Irish priest, who anointed the house with holy water. Some of aspects of the haunting abated — for one thing, misplaced money reappeared at Livingston’s doorstep. But Livingston only felt completely free after holding a proper mass in his home.
Very few reports of the spirit have been made recently, but the people of Middleway will never forget to honor the requests of the dying.
Photo: Courtesy of Kilo22/ Wikimedia Commons.
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