Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut, and there isn’t a flesh and blood body connected to the footsteps down the hall? Or maybe it’s just a great marketing ploy for bed & breakfasts and historical societies because people enjoy the idea of a good haunting? Not everyone believes in ghosts, but the stories and histories behind many haunted homes can be just as enticing as their "spiritual" residents. Below is a short list compiled of famous haunted homes and buildings in America. Dim the lights, sit back, and enjoy some Halloween-flavored reading while learning a little history along the way!*
*Many haunted houses seem to get their start from murder or untimely death. Although we have not gone into graphic details here, please note that if you search the names of the haunted homes in this article, some sites go into much more, sometimes gruesome, detail.
ALCATRAZ ISLAND - San Francisco Bay, CA
The History: Not a house per se, but people "lived" there. Alcatraz started as a military fort in 1850. It was used as a military prison and then a federal prison after 1934. In 1963, the prison was closed due to the cost of operations. As a prison, Alcatraz had a reputation of being a hard place to live, where prisoners were "shut away" rather than rehabilitated. Punishments could be harsh, such as restricted diet, solitary confinement, and hard labor. There were the now infamous solitary cells like the "strip cell" and the "hole" that even made the most hardened prisoners think twice about breaking any rules.
The Haunting: This place was generating ghost stories even before being shut down. Guards retell odd tales of ghosts attacking inmates or making noises. Today, there are still many haunting "hot spots" on the island. There is the utility corridor where three escapees were gunned down; this doorway is now welded shut but many say there is the sound of clanging against the door; perhaps something, or someone, wants out? There are also reports of running in the corridors, voices in the cells and medical ward, and screams from the dungeons and isolation units.
How to see it: Tours are available of the island and complex. Depending on the time of year, you may have to use a different ferry system to get to the island.
DRISKILL HOTEL - Austin, TX
The History: Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened this hotel in 1886. The hotel was grand and luxurious, funded by his success as a cattle baron. In 1888, the family lost its fortune due to drought and a cold winter that killed most of the cattle. The hotel then changed from owner to owner with the most recent change of hands in 1995.
The Haunting: Driskill is claimed to still wander the hotel, puffing cigar smoke and turning lights on and off. There is also the ghost of a small girl, the daughter of a Senator who was left unattended and fell to her death while playing with her ball; she can still be heard bouncing the ball today.
How to see it: The hotel is open to guests today and offers all kinds of luxury and pampering.
FRANKLIN CASTLE – Cleveland, OH
The History: Hannes Tiedemann, and his wife, built the house in 1865. Unfortunately, they lost four children in a short amount of time leading to some speculation of unnatural deaths. The house architecture aids in the mystery of the house as there are secret passageways and hidden rooms throughout. There are also rumors of Tiedemann having affairs that led to jealousy and, ultimately, murder. One of the most tragic tales is that of Tiedemann hanging his niece to put her out of her misery from insanity or to punish her for her promiscuity.
The Haunting: Past residents have heard a small child crying and heard footsteps in the corridor. There is also claim of a "woman in black" who can be heard choking in the tower room. Lights can be seen swinging around, and some objects have been moved or thrown.
How to see it: Today the mansion houses a private club restricted to members and their guests. It was rumored, at one time, that they would eventually start giving tours of the building.
HECETA HOUSE - Yachats, OR
The History: Built in 1894, the house accompanies a lighthouse on the Oregon coast. Many families, over time, occupied the house, which included a post office, school, and the light house. But it is only the keeper's house that has tales of hauntings.
The Haunting: The ghost who haunts the house is named Rue, a woman from the turn of the century. Many believe she is the mother of a child who fell off the cliffs, and she is said to be an extra caretaker of the house. She makes it known if she is displeased with any activity in the house. One of the more humorous accounts was of her screaming in the middle of a card game. She didn't want people playing cards in her house!
How to see it: This house is now a bed and breakfast. It also has guided tours from its’ interpretive center. Although the current owners don't play up and advertise the presumed presence of a ghost, they have said that guests have told them of strange encounters.
HICKORY HILL HOUSE - Equality, IL
The History: This house was built in 1842 by an evil man named John Crenshaw. Although it was illegal to own slaves in the state of Illinois, it was legal to lease slaves from slave states to work in salt mines. John Crenshaw took advantage of this fact and leased slaves from nearby states to work in his salt mines. Most horrific of all, it is said that he would kidnap free African Americans and force them to work in his mines and eventually sell them into slavery. All the slaves were kept in the upstairs attic in horse stall-like cells that opened to one large corridor. John Crenshaw had a particularly nasty reputation for cruelty and abuse.
The Haunting: The house opened as a tourist attraction in 1930, and many claimed to hear the desperate rattling of chains and muffled cries from the attic. The house had the sinister reputation that no one could spend a full night in the dwelling without leaving in fear. In 1978, a reporter named David Rogers was the first to spend a whole night in the house.
How to see it: Currently, the house is protected by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and is closed to the public.
LEMP MANSION - St. Louis, MO
The History: This house was purchased by William Lemp around 1864 to use as a residence and office for the family brewery. William's father had used a family recipe/method to create a lager beer. This beer quickly became popular and William's father abandoned his grocery store to become a full-time brewer. The beer continued to be made by the family until 1922, when family mishap and prohibition forced them to shut down and sell for good. The mansion itself has a sorrowful history with one brother dying under mysterious circumstances, and three other men of the family committing suicide inside.
The Haunting: With three suicides and a questionable death, one can easily guess where the idea of ghosts haunting the mansion could have arisen, but the family’s tragic history of tales doesn’t end there. A rumor existed that William Lemp had an illegitimate son who suffered from Down Syndrome and was kept hidden in the attic his whole life. He is now said to be seen haunting the mansion. Tales of haunting first started after 1949 when the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Strange knocking and footsteps throughout the mansion scared the tenants away, so the house started to run into disrepair. In 1975, the mansion was saved and renovated and turned into a restaurant and inn. All types of sights and sounds have continued and are still reported today.
How to see it: Spend the night, or take a tour if you're too scared. The mansion is a bed and breakfast that offers tours and a restaurant for those who don't want to spend the night. They also host a Halloween Party and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater.
LIZZY BORDEN HOUSE - Fall River, MA
The History: As with so many haunted homes, this story begins with a murder. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered by ax in their home. Their eldest daughter, Lizzy, was tried and later acquitted of the murders. However, she was ostracized from the community for the rest of her life. Some consider that she had a split personality. Even those close to her recall erratic and violent behavior. And, of course, there was the creation of the rhyme: “Lizzie Borden took an ax; Gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done; Gave her father forty-one!”
The Haunting: There is a strange woman who tucks guests into bed, and a woman, perhaps the same one, can be heard weeping in the night. Objects move on their own and electrical equipment, such as lights and cameras, experience some interference. Many claim the most active room is Lizzy's old bedroom - which you can stay in, if you dare.
How to see it: The home is now a bed and breakfast. You may spend the night, take a tour, or even spend a weekend at Ghost Hunter University!
MYRTLES PLANTATION - St. Francisville, LA
The History: This home was built by David Bradford in 1794, but stories of hauntings didn’t start until the 1950's. The house had a long history with many different owners. There is only one recorded murder, that of William Winter in 1871. However, there are many tales that are told about the home to justify the hauntings. Most seem to be fabricated tales, but many say that’s because the house is so haunted, some kind of explanation needed to be made.
The Haunting: Among the haunting activity is the ghost of a young woman in a green turban, who some believe to be the ghost of a slave killed for poisoning the head mistress and her two daughters. Others claim the woman is not a young slave but an older, unknown woman. There is also a little girl who has appeared, as well as a frustrated piano player who continuously practices the same cord over and over on the old piano.
How to see it: You can dine in the restaurant, take a tour or spend the night.
VILLISCA AX MURDER HOUSE - Villisca, IA
The History: On June 10, 1912, the Moore family and two overnight guests were brutally murdered. The ax murder of two adults and six children horrified the community and its story still horrifies people today. Regardless of the unprecedented effort of police, detectives, and neighboring departments at the time, the case remains unsolved to this day.
The Haunting: The most common account seems to be of children's voices in the house. Things will also move unexpectedly, and lamps won't stay lit regardless of there being no breeze in the home.
How to see it: Tours of the home are available through the Olson Linn Museum. They also offer night tours, but these must be arranged in advance.
WAVERLY HILLS SANITARIUM - Louisville, KY
The History: Although this is not a house, it has such a grand reputation for being haunted, we thought to include it. Waverly Hills opened as a hospital for tuberculosis patients in 1926. Tuberculosis was a dreaded killer of the time, and most of the patients who entered the hospital would die. It is estimated that at the height of the epidemic, a patient died every hour. This large complex had a long tunnel nicknamed the "body chute" where the bodies were transferred to a train at the bottom of the hill. It was covered so patients would not be disheartened by seeing the number of dead being removed from the hospital. Because Tuberculosis was not well understood, there were many experiments that occurred. Some of the experiments were beneficial, but others were brutal and led to tales of mistreatment. In 1982, the hospital was shut down under allegations of abuse.
The Haunting: The tales of hauntings started after the hospital was shut down and fell into disrepair. Transients, vandals, and kids would break into the facility. Stories began to spread of small children playing in the halls, lights going on when there was no power, doors being slammed, voices crying out, and various other ghoulish goings-on. One specific spot of activity, room 502, is on the floor where the mentally ill tuberculosis patients were housed. This room was the nurses’ station where two nurses committed suicide on separate occasions for reasons unknown.
How to see it: There are tours run by the Waverly Hills Historical Society. Tours must be arranged as this is a private site and trespassers will be prosecuted. Overnight tours can also be arranged in advance.
WHALEY HOUSE - San Diego, CA
The History: This house was a home, granary, court house, theater, ballroom, billiard, school, and polling center. Before the house was built, criminals were hanged on the site. Once built, the house had the tragic history of one of the Whaley girls committing suicide inside.
The Haunting: There are many ghosts in the Whaley House. There is "Yankee Jim" who was one of the criminals hanged at the site. He now stomps around the house with a heavy step and even the first family, the Whaley's, reported hearing him in the house. Thomas Whaley, the first owner of the house, has been seen lingering around the upper landing. Thomas' wife, Anna, also wanders the downstairs and the garden. There are a few other apparitions, and even a little fox terrier ghost dog that is seen on occasion!
How to see it: This house is now a museum and is open for tours on most days.
The WHITE HOUSE - Washington D.C.
The History: The White House became the home of our presidents in 1800, with President John Adams being the first resident. There have been many presidents and first ladies in the home, and some have decided not to leave.
The Haunting: President Abraham Lincoln is the most popular ghost with the most sightings. The first to see him was First Lady, Grace Coolidge. He has also been spotted by guards and guests. Other presidents who like to make an appearance are President Benjamin Harrison, President Andrew Johnson, President John Tyler, and President Andrew Jackson. First Ladies who have made appearances include Abigail Adams and Dorothea Madison. There is also the apparition of a black cat, which has been said to be seen before national tragedies, such as the stock market crash of 1929 and before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
How to see it: You can still visit the White House today for a tour.
WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE - San Jose, CA
The History: Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law of Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the Winchester rifle, began the construction of this house in 1884 and kept the project going until her death 38 years later. The legend says she constructed the house continuously to confuse the bad spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. In the end, it had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces, and various oddities, such as doors leading to a sudden outside drop or staircases leading to the ceiling.
The Haunting: Some of the ghosts are said to have been invited by Sarah Winchester, as she is said to have held a séance with them every night to determine the construction for the next day. Reports of footsteps, doors closing and opening, cold spots, and other paranormal behavior have been reported. Some skeptics in the ghost hunting world, however, believe the mansion is more of an oddity than a true haunting ground.
How to see it: The mansion is open to tours. You can select a standard tour and see 110 rooms and their various oddities and details, or you can go on a behind-the-scenes tour and see how the house functioned.
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