America’s Most Haunted Places by Troy Taylor
America’s Most Haunted Places
by Troy Taylor
Ghost hunters almost inevitably become travelers. If you really want to see some impressive haunted sites, you are going to have to spend some time on the road. I love to travel and am at my most content while sitting behind the wheel of the car, on my way to the next ghostly place.
Because of my wanderlust, people often ask me (it seems sometimes on a daily basis) what I believe are the most haunted places in America. Of course, there are a number of ways to answer that…. there are the most active places, of which I can name a few that no one has ever heard of, or there are the most legendary haunted places, some of which have boasted no activity in decades but they remain a well-known spot.
Instead of trying to present some long and drawn-out discussion of places and trying to break them down versus a “good story” and real paranormal activity, I decided to simply name what are my favorite haunted spots and have chosen ten places which I feel fall into the category of “America’s Most Haunted Places”. They have been listed randomly below as I don’t want to be the person responsible for deciding which of these is the MOST haunted…
I’ll leave that decision up to you.
THE BELL WITCH CAVE
The story of the Bell Witch is perhaps the most famous case in the annals of haunted history and perhaps the oldest documented haunting in America. The case involved spectral creatures, disembodied voices, poltergeist activity and even resulted in the death of one of the principles in the case, John Bell.
The story of the Bell Witch began in 1817 when the Bell family, prosperous farmers in Tennessee, began experiencing strange phenomena in their home. First, the house was plagued with knocking and scratching sounds. Blankets were pulled from the beds. Family members were kicked and scratched and their hair pulled. Particularly tormented was Betsy Bell, who was slapped, pinched and stuck with pins. The tormenting spirit soon found a voice and from that day on, was seldom silent.
The spirit identified itself as the “witch” of Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bell family, with whom John had experienced bad business dealings over some purchased slaves. “Kate”, as the local people began calling the ghost was soon rumored to be making appearances, not only on the Bell farm, but all over the surrounding county.
The ghost became so famous that even General Andrew Jackson decided to visit. He too experienced the antics of the witch and his carriage wheels refused to turn until the witch decided to let them.
John Bell fell victim to bouts of a strange illness, for which “Kate” claimed responsibility. While he was sick in bed, the spirit cursed and poked him, never allowing him to sleep. One day, he took to his bed and never recovered. He was found senseless one morning and a mysterious bottle was lying nearby. Bell’s breath smelled of the black liquid inside, so a drop of it was placed on the tongue of a cat…. and the animal dropped dead. John Bell soon followed suit and “Kate” screamed in triumph.
She soon left the family but promised to return in seven years. She did come back and again plagued the family for two weeks. Before departing, she appeared at the home of John Bell’s son and made a number of predictions, which he recorded. The warnings proved true, reflecting the Civil War and the World Wars of the next century.
Located near the old Bell farm is what has become known as the Bell Witch Cave. The cave has no real connection to the story of the witch, besides being located on the Bell farm, although some in the area believe that it was to the sanctuary of the cave that the witch fled after leaving the Bell family.
The former owner of the cave, Bill Edens, reported that strange events occurred in the cave and in his home, which was built on a Red River bluff above the cave entrance. The current owners, Chris and Walter Kirby, still open the cave for tours and keep a running account of the weird events that continue to take place on the property. Bizarre sights and sounds, apparitions and anomalous photographs are among the things reported by both visitors to, and investigators of, the cave.
Located about one mile outside of Adams, Tennessee.
THE OLD SLAVE HOUSE (HICKORY HILL)
High on a windswept hill in southern Illinois stands a Greek Revival mansion called Hickory Hill. It has been known as many things over the years from plantation house to tourist attraction to a chamber of horrors for the men and women brought here in chains.
But above all that, it is known as the most haunted place in southern Illinois.
The house was built in 1842 by a man named John Hart Crenshaw, a wealthy man who owned vast salt tracts in the southern part of the state. In those days, it was legal in that region to lease slaves from states in the south to work in the salt mines. Crenshaw did just this, and in addition to it, paid men to kidnap free blacks and force them into slavery also.
He imprisoned the slaves in the attic of Hickory Hill, confined to narrow cells and manacles chained to the floor. According to his descendants, Crenshaw also took great pleasure in torturing and beating the slaves for the slightest infractions.
Eventually, his methods of procuring workers were discovered and Crenshaw retired from salt and slaves to become a farmer. It would not be until many years later people would begin to realize what sort of legacy he had left behind at Hickory Hill.
In the 1920’s, the house was opened as a tourist attraction and people came from all over to see the place “where slavery existed in Illinois”. It was not long, however, before tourists starting reporting that odd things were happening in the attic…. sounds of people crying and moaning, eerie whispers and cold chills that seemed to come from nowhere. Soon, people began saying that the house was haunted.
The legend of the attic was born a short time later when a local ghost hunter, named Hickman Whittington, declared that he was going to put the ghosts to rest. He spent a few hours in the attic and was in perfect health when he left…. then he dropped dead a few hours later.
The stories said that no one could make it through a night in the attic, and hundreds tried, only to run screaming in terror, long before dawn. Finally, in 1978, one man broke the record but the haunting continues. The owners of the house, and dozens of visitors, still report phantom voices and sounds, unexplained noises and cold spots that make the hair on your body stand on end.
Located near Junction, Illinois ( about 13 miles out of Harrisburg)
THE LEMP MANSION
Named by LIFE Magazine as “one of the most haunted houses in America” in 1980, this mansion continues to be one of the most active locations west of the Mississippi. The house was built in the 1860’s by the Lemp family, an eccentric brewing family who created what is known today as “Falstaff” beer.
The house has been marked with tragedy and suicide over the years and most believe this has been the cause of the haunting. In 1904, William Lemp, who was despondent over the death of his favorite son, committed suicide in the house. In 1920, his daughter, Elsa, also followed suit in her home. Then, two years later, destroyed after being forced to sell the failing brewery during Prohibition, William Lemp Jr. also took his own life, shooting himself in the front office. Then, in 1949, Charles Lemp also shot himself in the basement.
The Lemp family has now completely died out… but have they really left the house?
The mansion was sold and became a boarding house for many years, then in 1977, it was renovated and opened as a fine restaurant. During this time, workers began reporting strange events in the house… so strange that some of the workers walked off the job and never went back. Believe it or not, the strange activity has never stopped.
Over the years, there have been hundreds of reports of unexplained events, apparitions and the uncanny happenings in the mansion. Staff members and visitors alike have come to the expect weird things to happen in the house and they have almost become commonplace.
If you are hoping to visit a truly haunted place, try the restaurant here…. because this is one spot where you can expect to find both kinds of “spirits”.
Located in St. Louis, Missouri.
BACHELOR’S GROVE CEMETERY
This vandalized and overgrown cemetery is known as perhaps the most haunted place in the Chicago area. Located outside of the small suburb of Midlothian, it claims more than 100 documented accounts of paranormal activity which include ghost lights, inexplicable voices, apparitions, anomalous recording, sightings of unbelievable creatures and probably more ghostly photographs with no explanation that have been taken in any other single spot.
The cemetery dates back to the 1860’s when a small settlement of immigrants who were working on the IllinoisMichigan Canal was founded nearby. The settlement has long since vanished and yet the secluded graveyard remains.
Over the years, the site gained a horrible reputation as a dumping ground for murder victims, a place where black magic was practiced and where vandals have wreaked havoc on the stones and the graves. It became known as a terrifying place and some believe that the urban legendlike atmosphere of the place became the actual source for the tales of hauntings…
But, of course, this fails to explain the documented events that have not been explained!
Reputable witnesses to phenomena here abound, like two forest rangers who saw the ghost of an old man and a plow horse emerge from the small lagoon next to the cemetery. There are also the dozens of totally unconnected witnesses who have described a vanishing farmhouse, which has appeared on the road leading back to the graveyard since the 1950’s. These witnesses describe an identical house, yet in numerous different locations!
Perhaps the most famous ghost of the cemetery is “the White Lady”. She is an apparition who has been seen on nights of the full moon, walking the confines of the graveyard and carrying an infant. Also, well known are the mysterious balls of light that have been seen racing up and down the dirt track to the cemetery. A number of people have described encountering these enigmatic orbs… too many people for them all to have been lying.
So, what is it about Bachelor’s Grove that makes it so haunted? The vandals, the black magic rituals, or perhaps the location itself? No one knows for sure, but it is definitely one of the most unsettling places that I have ever had the occasion to visit.
There is no doubt about it that battlefields mark some of the most haunted locations in America. The trauma, the terror and of course, the extreme loss of life which occur on them can keep spirits from resting in peace. Battlefields are also candidates for different types of hauntings, from wandering ghosts to residual images, which are not ghosts at all, but returning images which appear over and over again.
The Civil War left a number of haunted battlefield in its wake, from Antietam to Stones River, Chickamauga and others, but without a doubt, the most haunted of these places is Gettysburg. Both the small town and the battlefield itself have numerous haunted spots.
The Battle of Gettysburg took place from July 13, 1863 and more than 50,000 men (and one woman) lost their lives here. In the years that have followed, hundreds of people have documented their experiences and encounters with the inexplicable in Gettysburg and on the battlefield.
Some of the most haunted places include Gettysburg College; the Farnsworth House; Little Round Top, where a headless rider is seen; the Devil’s Den, haunted by ghostly soldiers and strange apparitions; Spangler’s Spring, where a woman in white is said to haunt; the Culp Farm, where phantom footsteps are heard; and there are dozens of others.
Many of the witnesses to these events have been ordinary tourists and even park rangers, who lend an air of credibility to any reports. In addition, there are numerous tales told by the men who came to the battlefield to film the movie, “Gettysburg”, several years ago. Apparently, many of the soldiers who came to the location were not just re-enactors!
If you have a taste for history, and are looking for a haunted place to visit, mark Gettysburg somewhere high on your list.
The penitentiary known as “the Rock” was the prison of all prisons. Outlaws and bad men like Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly found it the end of the line for their criminal careers. For many years, the fog-enshrouded confines of Alcatraz confined the notorious criminals from the rest of the world. Since it was closed down in 1963, many believe that it now imprisons their ghosts!
The island which holds Alcatraz prison rises above the waters of the San Francisco Bay. It was a barren and largely avoided place until the U.S. Army built a fort there during the Civil War. The Native Americans in the region believed that it was a place of evil spirits. After the Civil War, the fort was turned into a prison and was used to hold military convicts up until 1933, when rampant crime in America forced a need for many new prisons. Alcatraz became known as an escape-proof, maximum security prison, where only the most hardened convicts were brought.
Guards with machine guns insured there were no escapes, although over the 29 years of its operation, many attempts were made. The bloodiest attempt came in 1946 and ended with the deaths of three inmates and two guards and eighteen other men were wounded. The prison was finally closed down by Robert Kennedy in 1963 and today is open as a tourist attraction and maintained by the National Park Service.
The reputation of Alcatraz continues on, although in a different way. It is no longer famous for its earthly occupants, but for its ghostly ones! There are dozens of places inside the old prison which are rumored to be haunted, including the old warden’s house, the hospital, the laundry room, and the Cell Block C utility door where several convicts died in the escape attempt of 1946.
The most haunted area however, is D cell block, or the solitary confinement wing. Many refuse to go there alone and it is said to be intensely cold in certain cells.
Whoever, or whatever, still lurks on Alcatraz can be heard, seen and felt and those who travel there in search of a haunting are rarely disappointed.
The deserted village of Dudleytown, while largely forgotten today, is believed by many to be one of the most haunted places in New England. It is felt that the place could be a concentrated area of negative energy, which may explain why it was abandoned and cursed many years ago.
Dudleytown was first settled in the mid-1700’s as a farming community, despite the fact that the soil was too rocky and that the overhanging hills made the valley too shadowed for anything to grow profitably. Soon, came the strange deaths… and whispers of curses.
One man fell to his death while building a barn; another woman was struck by lightning; Indians kidnapped and killed a local family…. and there were other who did not dies, but went insane instead. A woman named Mary Cheyney met and married the famous publisher Horace Greeley, only to commit suicide one week before her husband was defeated in the presidential election. One man went away to New York on business, only to return and find his wife had gone insane and spoke of strange creatures and ghosts.
Eventually, the town was abandoned and was lost to the forest. Today, only stone walls and foundations remain… but does the curse still linger? There have been hundreds of reports of strange phenomena in Dudleytown, from bizarre incidents to apparitions and unexplained photographs. Some people claim to have carried rocks back from the place, only to be cursed with bad luck, as if the negative energy of the place may have somehow seeped into the stone.
Is Dudleytown really as haunted as many people claim? I have a feeling that it is and I think you will share those feelings should you ever have the chance to visit there. Believe me, the place isn’t easy to find, but it is well worth the visit.
Located in Litchfield County in northwestern Connecticut.
THE WINCHESTER MANSION
This strange and forbidding mansion, located in northern California, is known as the “house that ghosts built”, and while it may not as fearsome as its reputation suggests, merely the story behind the house rates its inclusion on our list.
The mansion was built by a woman named Sarah Winchester in 1884. Prior to that, she had been living in New Haven, Connecticut when her husband and child died within months of each other. In an attempt to contact her loved ones, Sarah contacted a medium, who told her to build a house where all of the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles could reside. As long as she started building, and never stopped, the spirit would leave her in peace.
Sarah moved to California and bought an eight-room farm house, which she began turning into the sprawling mansion which exists today. Workmen came and went 24 hours-a-day for the next 38 years. She spent more than six million dollars and ended up with a house of more than 700 rooms, 950 doors and 10,000 windows. She had a room built for seances, where she would receive building plans from the spirits, and to keep evil spirits from entering the house, she added false doors, staircases to nowhere, blind passages, and secret tunnels.
Sarah died in 1922 and tours have been guided through the house since 1923. Many people claim to have encountered lingering ghosts there and have reported organ music, whispering voices, slamming sounds and even the apparition of a tiny, gray-haired lady who many believe is Sarah herself.
Even those who are not hunting ghosts, cannot pass up the chance to see this strange architectural oddity. Located in San Jose, California.
THE WHALEY HOUSE
The house, located in southern California, is the only house in the state which is recognized by the government as an official haunted house.
The house was built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, who rented a portion of it out as a repository for county records. The house soon became the center of a power struggle between San Diego residents. The house was located in Old Town and people in New Town wanted the records stored in their part of the city. One day, while Thomas was out of town, New Towners broke into his house, terrorized his wife and daughter, ransacked the place and stole the records.
Almost a century later, when the house was purchased by the county and restoration started, strange things started happening. Workmen talked of doors and windows opening by themselves, phantom footsteps and disappearing tools. Visitors also complained of cold spots, creaking sounds and strange lights appearing, along with the ghosts of Thomas Whaley and his wife making frequent appearances. People have also reported the ghost of the Whaley dog, their little girl and infant son. The ghosts in the house who are outside the family include that of an old man, a woman, and a little girl who once lived next door and who was killed when she ran through the back yard and into a clothesline.
The house was actually been scheduled for demolition several times but has been saved and reopened as a historic site. There have been dozens of paranormal investigations conducted here and many strange photographs and unexplained recordings have been obtained.
Located in the Old Town part of San Diego.
THE MYRTLES PLANTATION
From a mirror that is said to hold the spirit of a ghost to phantom children who play on the verandah, the Myrtles Plantation may have more ghosts than any other place in America!
Since it was built in 1794, no less than ten murders have been committed here and there are so many bizarre occurrences that have been documented at Myrtles that it has become a favorite spot for ghost hunters and curiosity-seekers alike!
The Myrtles was built in 1794 by General David Bradford. The residents and the owners of the house, who have changed several times over the years, recall the many ghostly tales and stories that have been passed on from generation to generation. In a book that was published about the Myrtles in 1900, the author claimed that if every light in the house was darkened, the Myrtles would receive a visitation by one of its spirits.
It has been said that the lights have never been all turned off since….
The troubles that led to the haunting began when Sara Matilda, the daughter of David Bradford, married Judge Clark Woodruffe and they moved into the Myrtles. Sara Matilda had given birth to two daughters and was carrying a third child, when an event took place that still haunts the Myrtles today.
Woodruffe, had a reputation in the region for integrity with men and with the law, but was also known for being promiscuous. While his wife was pregnant with their third child, he started an intimate relationship with one of his slaves. This particular girl, whose name was Chloe, was a household servant who, while she hated being forced to give in to Woodruffe’s sexual demands, realized that if she didn’t, she could be sent to work in the fields, which was the most brutal of the slave’s work.
Eventually, Woodruffe tired of Chloe and chose another girl with whom to carry on. Chloe feared the worst, sure that she was going to be sent to the fields, she began eavesdropping on the Woodruffe family’s private conversations, dreading the mention of her name.
One day, the Judge caught her at this and ordered that one of her ears be cut off to teach her a lesson and to put her in her place. After that time, she always wore a green turban around her head.
What happened next is still unclear… For whatever reason, Chloe put a small amount of poison into a birthday cake that was made in honor of the Judge’s oldest daughter. The two children, and Sara Matilda, each had slices of the poisoned cake. Before the end of the day, all of them were very sick.
The other slaves, afraid that the Judge would punish them also, dragged Chloe from her room and hanged her from a nearby tree. The Judge closed off the children’s dining room, where the party was held, and never allowed it to be used again as long as he lived, which wasn’t long, for he too was slain by a murderer a few years later. To this day, the room has never again been used for dining. It is called the game room today.
Since that day, the ghost of Chloe has been reported at the Myrtles and has even been accidentally photographed by the current owner. A photo that she took of the house showed a shadowy figure in a turban standing near the building. Her spirit has also been seen in the house, perhaps seeking the ghost of the Judge who escaped her revenge.
But Chloe is not the only ghost who haunts this house…. the place seems to be infested with spirits from many different parts of the history of the place.
Two of the most tragic ghosts are those of the Woodruffe children who died from the poisoned cake. These small spirits have been seen playing on the verandah of the house, in the hallways, in the children’s dining room and strangely, have been reported on a hanging chandelier.
One spirit is that of a French woman who wanders from room to room and searches for someone she never seems to find. Another ghost only appears when a thunderstorm approaches. A young girl, with long curly hair and wearing an ankle-length dress, has been seen floating outside the window of the game room, cupping her hands and trying to peer inside through the glass. The grand piano on the first floor also plays by itself, usually repeating the same chord over and over again. Sometimes it continues on through the night. When someone comes into the room to check on the sound, the music stops and will only start again when they leave. In the French bedroom, a woman has been reported in a black skirt who dances to music that only she can hear. This ghost appears to be floating about a foot off of the floor.
The employees at the house often get the worst of the events which happen here. The Myrtles has been open for some time as a bed and breakfast, renting rooms in the house and in cottages on the grounds.
One day, a maid was mopping the hallway on the first floor when she came to a strange spot near the front door. She found that no matter how hard she pushed the mop, it would not enter an area on the floor…. it was roughly the size of a human body. There was nothing there and no reason for it… other than that it was the same place where a man had been shot and died right after the Civil War. The strange phenomenon lasted for a month.
Past owners also claim to have seen a woman’s ghost carrying a candle walking up the stairs. One night, a previous owner was talking with some guests on the front porch when they heard a sound that appeared to be a door slamming in the house. They looked and saw a candle, with no one holding it, slowly floating up the stairs as if it were being carried. They walked in to follow it and found the room to be icy cold.
The same thing had been reported by the five previous owners and some believe that it may be the ghost of Sara Matilda, searching for her husband.
The Myrtles continues to be one of America’s Most Haunted spots and new tales continue to be told there every year. For those who believe that ghost stories are a thing of the past, I invite them to travel down to Louisiana and experience for themselves what strange things can happen to those who allow themselves to experience the unknown.
Troy Taylor is the author of a number of books about ghosts and hauntings and the president of a national organization called the “American Ghost Society”. His web page of haunted places and ghost hunting information can be found at www.prairieghosts.com