Even avowed skeptics can't resist the allure of a good ghost story or the spine-tingling thrill of a haunted house or historical site. Whether we're out to prove that the supposed haunting is a hoax or we're hoping for an other-worldly encounter with a spirit that has long since passed over to the other side, we're fascinated with haunted houses, séances and ghost stories of every kind.
Ghost stories and tales of hauntings are so common in nearly every culture that devotees of the paranormal often group ghostly visits into categories, including classic hauntings, in which spirits interact with the living world by rattling windows, turning doorknobs or appearing briefly to us as misty figures, and residual hauntings, in which spirits seem oblivious to the modern world as they reenact a traumatic scene as though caught in their own endlessly repeating loop.
Countless haunting stories have been told throughout the centuries, and many historic homes, inns and even entire towns play up their ghostly legends to the delight of locals and tourists alike. The 10 famous hauntings we've listed here are sure to reaffirm the conviction of true believers and test the confidence of even the most cynical. Do you believe in ghosts? Read on...and you just might.
10: The Ghost of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, began her fateful marriage to the king in January 1533. Three years later, after she failed to produce a son, Boleyn was put on trial for the trumped up charges of adultery and incest. On May 19, 1536, she was beheaded on the Tower Green, a grassy plot within the Tower of London.
Today, her headless figure is said to drift from the Queen's House (built on the Tower grounds four years after Boleyn's death) to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where her remains are buried. In some accounts, her form is intact, but her face is averted as she leads a ghostly procession down the aisle of the chapel to the altar. Tower sentries have reported encounters with the misty figure of a woman wearing a cloak with an empty hood, and some tower visitors have glimpsed her pacing the Tower Green with her head beneath her arm.
While the Tower of London is the site most famously haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn, her spirit does not seem to be confined to its walls. Each year on the anniversary of her execution, Boleyn's tortured soul is said to visit her birthplace, Blickling Hall in Norfolk. She arrives in a ghostly carriage pulled by six headless horses and driven by a headless coachman. When they reach the front door, she carries her severed head inside and roams the halls until daybreak.
More peaceful sightings of Boleyn have been reported at Hever Castle, her childhood home, where she often appears on Christmas Eve, crossing a bridge on the castle grounds.
For the site of the next famous haunting, we travel to a hotel in the States that inspired one of the great horror stories of our time.
9: The Stanley Hotel
Stephen King and his wife spent a night at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Co., in late September 1974. Because the resort was to be closed for the winter the very next day, the writer and his wife were the only guests in the sprawling hotel, which King would later describe as the archetypical setting for a ghost story. Legend has it that King stayed in room 217, where he saw the spirit of a young boy in distress, but according to the writer's official Web site, it was a vivid dream of his own 3-year-old son running terrified through the corridors that jolted King awake that night and helped to inspire his classic horror story, "The Shining."
According to some accounts, King and his wife put their suitcases in room 217 after checking in, then left the room for dinner. They returned to find all their belongings neatly put away -- but not by any living member of the hotel staff. But despite the famous link between room 217 and one of the scariest novels of all time, many visitors believe room 401 actually boasts the most paranormal activity. Guests staying here have reported hearing the sounds of children running and playing in the halls when no children were present, the feeling of blankets being pulled tight across legs and feet, and even the sensation of the bed gently shaking as they slept. The ghosts of F.O. Stanley and his wife Flora, who built the hotel in 1909, are said to frequent the bar and billiards areas and the ballroom, where Flora's piano sometimes plays all by itself.
While alleged ghost sightings at the Stanley Hotel are certainly frequent, they don't seem to be particularly threatening or violent, which may help to account for the popularity of the ghost tours still led by the management of this stately hotel.
Most visitors to our next location come for its Civil War history, but whatever your reason for visiting, it's hard to set foot in Gettysburg, Pa., without hearing of a famous haunting or two.
8: Ghosts of Gettysburg
Gettysburg, Pa., is best known as the site of the bloody Civil War battle that took place here from July 1 to July 3, 1863. More than 163,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were involved in the Battle of Gettysburg, and more than 51,000 of them were dead, wounded or missing by the time the fighting ended. Given the rich history of the town and its surrounding area, it should probably come as no surprise that so many hauntings and ghost sightings have been reported.
In one famous story, two women stopped to look through the window of a craft shop in the town late one evening after the stores had closed. Instead of crafts, they saw a woman dressed in black, sitting in a rocking chair, apparently keeping vigil over the body of a man on a cot. The room was otherwise empty. The next day, the two tourists returned to the shop to find it filled with crafts. They asked the shopkeeper if perhaps there had been wax figures on display in the store the night before. Of course, there were not, and the shopkeeper was surprised when the women described a door visible in the previous night's scene that was entirely hidden behind a pegboard in the modern-day store. As it turned out, the shop was in the historic George House, where the body of Union Major General John F. Reynolds was held after he was killed on the battlefield on July 1, 1863.
Hundreds of ghost sightings have also been reported on the historic battlefields just outside of town. In an area known as Devil's Den, where Confederate sharpshooters took refuge in an outcrop of large boulders, visitors have reported encounters with a ragged-looking man who has come to be known as the "Phantom of Devil's Den." In multiple accounts, he appears out of nowhere, saying, "What you're looking for is over there." He vanishes the moment tourists turn their heads to look in the direction of his outstretched arm.
Was the site of our next famous haunting designed to confuse spirits or to welcome them? No one knows for sure, but the question fascinates tens of thousands of visitors who visit the Winchester Mystery House every year.
7: The Winchester House
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif., was under construction 24 hours a day for 38 years, from the time Mrs. Sarah Winchester bought the original six-bedroom farmhouse until her death in 1922. As the story goes, the grief-stricken Mrs. Winchester, suffering from the deaths of her husband and their infant daughter, consulted a medium, who told her that her family was cursed. Sarah's late husband, William Winchester, had been heir to the Winchester rifle fortune; the medium said that the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles would forever haunt Sarah unless she built them a house -- and continued building it for as long as she lived.
By all accounts, Mrs. Winchester took the advice of her medium to heart. The management of the Winchester Mystery House estimates that 500 to 600 rooms were built by Sarah Winchester's foreman, although just 160 of those rooms remain, thanks to Sarah's habit of asking workers to tear down or abandon rooms the moment they were completed. Throughout the bizarre home, many of the 40 staircases lead to absolutely nowhere, doors open to 8-foot drops, and the number 13 repeats throughout, from the number of panes in a window to the candles in a chandelier, to the steps leading to the 13th bathroom.
The home has remained open as a tourist attraction since 1923, and both visitors and longtime employees report paranormal activity within the house and its grounds. Workers alone in the house after hours hear breathing in empty rooms or feel someone's breath on their necks. Some report hearing the sounds of construction, such as a hammer tapping or a screw turning and dropping to the floor. Visitors feel cold spots, hear piano music or catch glimpses of a woman in white at an upstairs window or seated in the dining room.
According to the Winchester Mystery House Web site, several tour guides tasked with cleaning out a basement area reported seeing a mustached man in white coveralls pushing a wheelbarrow. No one recognized the description of the worker until one day, during a behind-the-scenes tour of the home, a visitor pointed to a photograph hanging in the gardener's tool shed of some carpenters who had worked on the home more than 80 years before. "I saw that man in the basement," she said, indicating a man with a mustache and white coveralls. "He had a wheelbarrow."
If that story doesn't give you the shivers, read on for the spooky tale of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.
6: The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
Raynham Hall is one of England's best-known haunting sites thanks to the Brown Lady, a spirit allegedly captured on film in a 1936 photograph published in Country Life magazine. The famous photo depicts a figure on a staircase, with the wooden stairs clearly visible through her ghostly form. The spirit is believed to be that of Lady Dorothy Walpole Townshend, the wife of the second viscount of the Raynham estate, who lived at Raynham Hall from 1713 until her death in 1726.
According to the Mysterious Britain Web site, the first reference to the ghost of Lady Dorothy was recorded in 1835, when Christmas guests witnessed an "aristocratic looking" lady in a brown dress on the main staircase. Her face glowed with an "unearthly light," and there were only dark sockets where her eyes should have been. In other accounts, the Brown Lady carries a lantern, and her face, illuminated by the lantern's eerie light, is identical to a portrait of Lady Dorothy that hangs in the home.
The Ghost Database Web site reports that the Brown Lady even disturbed the sleep of King George IV, who stayed at Raynham Hall while he was still Prince Regent. He awoke in the middle of the night to find "a little lady all dressed in brown, with disheveled hair and a face of ashy paleness" standing by his bedside. Perhaps not surprisingly, he left the hall at once, refusing to spend another moment there.
While reports of the Brown Lady have tapered off since the famous photo was taken in 1936, Lord Charles Raynham, a descendant of the Townshend family, told the BBC in 2009 that he knows Lady Dorothy is still there, and he's "glad she's around."
Would Lord Raynham be as welcoming to the ghostly inhabitants of the next stop on our tour? We're guessing maybe not.
5: Eastern State Penitentiary
Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 and served as a prison until 1970. It was then abandoned until 1991, when a non-profit organization determined to preserve the historic building held a Halloween fundraiser to raise money to create a daytime tour program. Since then, a the fundraiser has been held every year, and today, the prison's annual "Terror Behind the Walls" tour is one of the most popular haunted attractions in the country.
But are there real ghosts at the Eastern State Penitentiary, or is the terror manufactured for the benefit of tourists? According to the Penitentiary's official Web site, the first tales of mysterious visions and eerie appearances were reported by officers and inmates as early as the 1940s, and the strange sightings increased after the prison closed.
One of the most widely known stories from the prison involves a locksmith named Gary Johnson, who was hired to remove an old lock on Cell Block 4. The locksmith reported that after he removed the lock, he was overcome by a force so strong he could not move. In a version of Johnson's story recounted on Ghosteyes.com, "tormented faces appeared in the cell, ghostly swirls spun around and one form seemed to draw the locksmith to it." Tourists, employees and volunteers continue to report hearing shouts, whispers, laughter and weeping throughout the penitentiary cellblocks, where prisoners were once held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.
Approximately two dozen paranormal investigations take place at the former prison in a typical year, and the ghost hunters nearly always find evidence of paranormal activity, from mysterious voices to unexplained images captured on camera.
The next famous haunting on our list surrounds an exhibit that seems to carry its ghosts with it from place to place. But are the ghosts of the Titanic Exhibit real or imagined? Read on.
4: The Titanic Exhibit
It's been 100 years since the Titanic and 1,500 of its passengers sank to a watery grave. Divers have since recovered numerous artifacts from the site of the wreck. Have the spirits of those lost souls somehow survived, as well?
Since 1994, an exhibit of Titanic artifacts managed by RMS Titanic, Inc., has traveled to major cities around the world. In multiple locations, the local staff, volunteers and visitors to the exhibit have reported experiencing strange phenomena and eerie sensations as they view the authentic artifacts. During the exhibit's 2008 stay at the Georgia Aquarium, a team from Roswell Georgia Paranormal Investigations even captured voices on a digital voice recorder and reported the presence of a young crew member, an elderly woman and an older gentleman in various areas of the exhibit.
One Atlanta volunteer reported feeling a hand move over her head and through her hair. And while viewing a replica of the ship's first-class quarters, also in Atlanta, a 4-year-old boy repeatedly asked, "Who's that lady?" and "What is she doing?" The adults with him saw only a dress laid out across a loveseat. At the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, volunteers and members of the staff reported the distinct smell -- and sometimes even the appearance -- of cigar smoke in the vicinity of a cigar holder recovered from the ship.
An actor who played the role of a uniformed ship's officer at a permanent Titanic exhibit in Orlando, Fla., also reported the smell of cigar smoke and was startled one night to see the reflection of a real-life Titanic officer when he looked into a mirror in a replica of the ship's veranda café. When the actor yelled, "Who's that?" the mysterious officer smiled and walked away.
Our next haunted destination plays up the controversial story of a former slave named Chloe, but it's the less famous spirits of the Myrtles Plantation that really make our hair stand on end.
3: The Myrtles Plantation
The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, La., is described on its official Web site as "one of America's most haunted houses." But just who or what is responsible for all the haunting?
The best-known Myrtles Plantation ghost story is that of Chloe, a slave on the plantation in the early 19th century. As the legend goes, Chloe became the mistress of plantation owner Judge Clarke Woodruff. Fearing that she was losing his affection, she baked a cake for his daughter's birthday, adding a small amount of poison in an attempt to sicken the children just enough that she could miraculously nurse them back to health and therefore be assured of her master's continued attentions. Of course, the plan went horribly awry. According to legend, two children and their mother died of the poison, and Chloe was quickly found out and consequently hanged from a tree on the plantation.
Today, Chloe is said to appear frequently between two trees outside the home, and she is credited with many mysterious goings-on inside, from misplaced earrings to moving furniture. However, historians have questioned whether she ever truly existed. At the very least, the story of the poisoned children is untrue, as the deaths of the children (and their mother, one year earlier) from yellow fever are well documented.
Fortunately for visitors, there's plenty of other paranormal activity at the Myrtles Plantation. According to the American Hauntings Web site, the home's then-owner Frances Myers claimed in 1987 to have been awakened suddenly by an old black woman wearing a green turban and a long dress. The woman stood silently beside the bed holding a metal candlestick in her hand. Myers pulled the covers over her head and screamed, then slowly looked out to find that the apparition had vanished. Other residents and visitors have reported seeing children playing on the veranda or floating outside the window of a game room, and the grand piano on the first floor plays by itself, stops when someone comes into the room and plays again when they leave.
Mysterious music is just one of the unexplained occurrences in the town of Tombstone, Ariz., the next famous haunting on our list.
2: Tombstone, Arizona
Tombstone, Ariz., is the quintessential Wild West town. Founded in 1877 by a silver prospector, the town still treasures its historic appearance...and its historic inhabitants.
The town's most famous location, the O.K. Corral, is just one of the reportedly haunted spots in Tombstone. Throughout the years, visitors and residents of Tombstone have claimed to see the apparitions of cowboys in gun-fighting stance at the Corral. In 2002, a cameraman working with the Ghost Trackers Organization was attempting to take a picture of the O.K. Corral sign when he noticed a tall dark figure rising from a park bench. Through his viewfinder, the cameraman watched the figure approach. He tried to take a picture, but the camera would not work. When he tried to get the attention of other crewmembers, the figure disappeared.
At Tombstone's Boothill Graveyard -- so named because many of the individuals buried there are said to have "died with their boots on" -- visitors often report seeing the ghosts of the individuals buried there. Notorious Tombstone resident Billy Clanton, who was shot dead by Wyatt Earp in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and buried at Boothill, is said to walk regularly between the graveyard and the town.
The Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone was a saloon, theater, gambling hall and brothel during the town's heyday. Although it was open for just eight years, it was reportedly the scene of as many as 26 murders. Years after it closed, town residents reported hearing music and voices coming from inside the building, but no one was ever found inside. In 1934, the long-empty building was reopened as a tourist attraction, and it remains a popular destination for ghost hunters and historians today.
For the final stop on our famous hauntings tour, we head to Kentucky, to a former sanatorium whose spirits evoke memories of the building's sad history.
1: Waverly Hills Sanatorium
The Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Ky., first opened in 1910 as a small two-story hospital for tuberculosis patients. As the TB epidemic spread, the need for a larger facility became apparent, and an enormous gothic style hospital was opened on the property in 1926. The hospital remained open until 1961, when TB was largely eradicated in the United States. Waverly then served as a geriatric hospital from 1962 until 1980.
While many TB patients survived their stay at Waverly, hundreds died there, and the spirits of many are said to remain. The deaths were so frequent during the TB epidemic that the hospital contains a tunnel through which the bodies of the deceased were lowered by a motorized rail and cable system to trains waiting on railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill. Not surprisingly, this area is said to be haunted by the spirits of those who passed through. According to American Hauntings, visitors have also reported children running through a third-floor solarium, men in white lab coats appearing and disappearing, an old-fashioned hearse delivering coffins at the back door, and the sounds of slamming doors and footsteps in empty rooms.
One of the most notorious ghosts at Waverly is that of a nurse who is said to have hanged herself in 1928 in room 502. Many visitors have reported seeing the figure of a nurse in white on this floor. A man in a white coat and pants is said to roam the cafeteria and kitchen areas, where the smell of food cooking is often present even though the cafeteria has not been in use since the hospital closed more than 40 years ago.
If this list of 10 famous hauntings has left you feeling curious about the spots on our list or hungry for more ghostly tales, check out the links on the next page for plenty of haunting resources to keep you in good spirits.
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More Great Links
- City of Tombstone, Arizona. "About Tombstone." (March 4, 2012) http://www.cityoftombstone.com/
- Eastern State Penitentiary. "Real Ghost Stories." Sept. 6, 2007. (March 4, 2012) http://easternstate.org/contact/press-room/press-releases/real-ghost-sightings
- Eastern State Penitentiary. "Timeline." (March 4, 2012) http://www.easternstate.org/learn/timeline
- Georgia Aquarium. "Is Titanic Aquatic at Georgia Aquarium Haunted?" (March 1, 2012) http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/visitus/titanichaunting.aspx
- The Ghost Database. "The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall." (March 5, 2012) http://www.ghostdatabase.co.uk/articles/raynham/
- GhostEyes.com. "Eastern State Penitentiary." March 11, 2009. (March 4, 2012) http://www.ghosteyes.com/ghosts-eastern-state-penitentiary
- GhostEyes.com. "Titanic Exhibit." May 30, 2009. (March 4, 2012) http://www.ghosteyes.com/ghosts-titanic
- Ghost Trackers. "The Historic O.K. Corral in Haunted Tombstone, Arizona." (March 5, 2012) http://www.ghost-trackers.org/okcorral.htm
- Harred, Stephen. "Alleged Hauntings." Winchester Mystery House. (March 3, 2012) http://winchestermysteryhouse.com/allegedhauntings.cfm
- Haunted Earth's Ghost World. "Ghostly Hauntings Around Titanic Exhibits." June 23, 2011. (March 4, 2012) http://hauntedearthghostvideos.blogspot.com/2011/06/ghostly-hauntings-around-titanic.html
- Haunted Places to Go. "Haunted Tombstone Arizona." (March 5, 2012) http://www.haunted-places-to-go.com/haunted-tombstone.html
- Historic Royal Palaces. "A Queen is Executed." (March 4, 2012) http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/stories/AnneBoleyn
- Historic Royal Palaces. "Ghosts at the Tower of London." (March 4, 2012.) http://www.hrp.org.uk/Resources/Ghosts.pdf
- Keller, Phil. "Gettysburg, PA." TheShadowlands.net. (March 2, 2012) http://theshadowlands.net/famous/gettysburg.htm
- King, Stephen. "Inspiration for The Shining." StephenKing.com (March 5, 2012) http://www.stephenking.com/library/novel/shining_the_inspiration.html
- Lavigne, G. "The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall."
- Lynn, Natalie. "A True Haunted Gettysburg Story." (March 2, 2012) http://www.traversecityparanormal.com/A_True_Haunted_Gettysburg_Story.html
- Most Haunted Places in America. "Eastern State Penitentiary." March 11, 2009. (March 4, 2012) http://www.ghosteyes.com/ghosts-eastern-state-penitentiary
- Most Haunted Places in America. "Titanic Exhibit." May 30, 2009. (March 4, 2012) http://www.ghosteyes.com/ghosts-titanic
- National Park Service. "Gettysburg." (March 3, 2012) http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm
- Parkinson, Daniel. "The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall." Mysterious Britain & Ireland. (March 3, 2012) http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/norfolk/hauntings/the-brown-lady-of-raynham-hall.html
- Ruiz, Joe. "Paranormal activity at Georgia Aquarium's Titanic Exhibit." Ghost Theory. Dec. 16, 2008 (Mar. 3, 2012).
- Szkotak, Steve. "Titanic auction interest rises as 100th mark nears." Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Feb. 27, 2012. (March 5, 2012) http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/titanic-auction-interest-rises-1364302.html
- Smith, Ed. "The Vast History of Raynham Hall." BBC Norfolk. May 20, 2009. (March 3, 2012) http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/norfolk/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8058000/8058145.stm
- Smith, Nancy. "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm and Other Tales of the Ghostly Anne Boleyn." The Anne Boleyn Files. March 10, 2010. (March 4, 2012) http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/4859/the-ghost-of-anne-boleyn/
- The Stanley Hotel. "Stanley Hotel Historic Ghost & History Tours." (March 5, 2012) http://stanleyhotel.com/tours/
- Taylor, Troy. "The Legend, Lore, and Lies of the Myrtles Plantation." American Hauntings. (March 3, 2012) http://www.prairieghosts.com/myrtles.html
- Taylor, Troy. "Waverly Hills Sanatorium." American Hauntings. (March 3, 2012) http://www.prairieghosts.com/waverly_tb.html
- Taylor, Troy. "The Winchester Mystery House." American Hauntings. (March 3, 2012) http://www.prairieghosts.com/winchester.html
- Tombstone Web. "A Brief History of Tombstone." (March 5, 2012) http://www.tombstoneweb.com/history.html
- Waverly Hills Sanatorium. "About Waverly Hills Sanatorium - An Historical Place, Rich With History." (March 1, 2012) http://www.therealwaverlyhills.com/History/index.shtml
- Winchester Mystery House. "Media Relations." (March 3 2012) http://winchestermysteryhouse.com/mediarelations.cfm