It's that time of year, when the days get shorter and darker and our thoughts turn to creepy stuff and scary ghosts. We set out to find some of the most authentically haunted sites nationwide, places you can visit this month and next.
Many sites considered haunted are private properties, or they are abandoned with “no trespassing” signs posted (which doesn’t always discourage urban explorers).
But the following selection consists primarily of sites that welcome the public for regular or at least occasional tours, plus a few places where you can even spend the night...if you dare.
The team at Roadtrippers came up with this list, consisting of former jails, industrial and institutional ruins, a house of ill repute, and even a country music nightclub. These sites’ management can’t make guarantees of ghosts, but they can -- and most do -- charge admission for the opportunity to see them. One charges to the tune of nearly $1,000 for private overnight access. Now, perhaps someone should develop a Pokemon Go-like app for ghost hunters to “catch” spirits.
San Francisco, Calif.
Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary housed Al Capone shortly after it opened in the 1930s, and a host of other gangsters and criminals did time there before it closed in 1963. The former maximum security prison, now a park, on the island known as The Rock is an iconic San Francisco tourist attraction. But not everyone is aware of its ghosts -- which, if you ask the National Park Service that runs Alcatraz, do not exist.
So there are no official ghost tours, but there are Alcatraz by Night tours ($25 - $43, March through November), when visitors can experience the big house in darkness, the way it was lived in by the inmates. The ghost lore centers around crying and moans in cell blocks A and B as well as isolation cell 14D, where an inmate was found strangled after a night of screaming that a creature was trying to murder him.
Also reported: soft banjo stylings attributed to Al Capone, bullet-like clangings in a tunnel used in an escape attempt, and more recently, a mysterious woman appearing in a photo.
Birmingham’s former blast furnace once produced pig iron from 1882 to 1971, turning out the steel that built an expanding country. Now operating as Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, it is America’s only preserved example of a twentieth-century blast furnace, and for a rusty old industrial site, it has a lot going on there this time of year.
From Sept. 30 to Oct. 31, sundown to after midnight, it becomes Sloss Fright Furnace, offering numerous experiences ($20-$44), from a furnaces tour to zombie-themed Outbreak 2.
The creepy lore presented by Fright Furnace centers around an early 1900s foreman nicknamed “Slag” who ran the furnaces’ deadliest graveyard shift with an iron fist (if you will), who lost 47 workers under his supervision, with many other injuries as well, before falling to his own death into melted ore. “Strange incidents” were already being cited in Slag’s time, and continued from then with assaults on workers.
In more recent years, many paranormal investigation teams and individuals have reported unexplainable activity at Sloss, from demon sightings to attacks. Much more of this ghostly history can be found here.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
This former institution for treating tuberculosis patients opened in 1910 and closed in 1961. As many as 64,000 consumption patients died there, and many of those bodies were then transported out through a tunnel to avoid other patients seeing them. It’s also called the body chute, and not surprisingly, it’s now said to be haunted, as are other parts of the hospital.
On weekends from March through August, the facility offers a number of experiences including paranormal guided tours ($25 each) and a 8-hour paranormal investigation ($100 per guest). Plus there’s a haunted house event with optional mini-tour ($20 - $60) on weekends through the end of October. Guests taking the private investigation tours can also opt to bring a sleeping bag to stay through the night for an additional fee, and proceeds from tours and events go to preserving the historic property.
Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels are a network connecting many Old Town/Chinatown basements and leading to the waterfront, created for expediently moving cargo. But some claim they were nefariously used from around 1850 to 1941 to trap and traffic over 2,000 people, who became slaves working on ships headed for China.
Such a history is bound to come with ghost stories, and the ones here include a prostitute who died in a fall down an elevator shaft, whose perfume can be smelled in the tunnels. To tour the Portland underground and learn more, there are paranormal and above/below ground ghosting tours ($12 - $26) on weekends and some other days, plus extended Halloween tours.
Santa Fe, N.M.
Once the summer home and later year-round home of Georgia O’Keeffe, the stunning landscapes of Ghost Ranch’s 20,000-plus acres now host an education and retreat center owned by the Presbyterian Church.
The story goes that cattle rustlers kept people away from this land by spreading a story that it was haunted by evil spirits, dubbing it “Rancho de los Brujos” (ranch of the witches), which evolved to Ghost Ranch. If other accounts are true, the pair of rustler brothers
were actually serial killers. The ghost stories surrounding them concern their victims, and there are also tales of monsters and “earth babies,” red 6-foot tall creatures from the red sand that howled like babies.
Despite the name, the Ghost Ranch is now in the business of education, adventure, retreat, and wellness, emphasizes the O’Keeffe legacy, and does not offer ghost-themed tours.
Moundsville West Virginia Penitentiary
A Gothic prison that operated from 1876 to 1995, Moundsville today offers a host of tourist programming including numerous Halloween seasonal attractions. Tours include 3-hour investigations ($30) and overnight investigations-- overnight “ghost adventures” are $65 per person and a private paranormal investigation for 1 - 20 people is $950.
The jail’s history includes an infamous 1979 prison break that led to more murders, a 1986 riot with some deaths, and its ghost stories include apparitions of inmates as well as a “shadow man”, plus noises, voices, and cold spots.
St. Augustine Lighthouse
St. Augustine, Fla.
St. Augustine is America’s oldest city, and the 1874 lighthouse is its oldest brick structure. Its Dark of the Moon tours ($20 for kids and $25 for adults), with only glow sticks lighting the way, began as Halloween tours but are now held year-round on weekends. Private tours are also available.
Spooky lore told on the tour involves a lightkeeper who fatally fell from scaffolding, and the children of the superintendent of the lighthouse construction who had an accident playing on a supply cart--two survived but two of them drowned. A tour guide reports seeing a shadowy figure as well as furniture moving and having arm hairs pulled out and an ankle grabbed.
The Goldfield Hotel
Once one of the most lavishly appointed hotels in the state, the circa-1907, 150-room hotel has been out of business since WWII ended, but it still stands in the nearly deserted desert settlement of Goldfield (pop. 400).
Virginia Ridgway, a shopkeeper from across the street, has held free tours of the hotel since the early 1980s, and describes seeing people all over the place in the hotel when she first began visiting it in the 1960s--people that no one else could see. The aging Ridgway recently passed on her keys to another antique shop owner, Malek DaVarpanah, who will continue showing it to paranormal activity tourists and the otherwise curious.
Ohio State Reformatory
If this circa-1886 Old World-styled prison looks familiar, you probably recognize it as Shawshank. The reformatory predictably has some dark true tales to inspire ghost hunts, such as prisoners murdering other prisoners, a prison farmer and his family getting murdered by inmates, and the warden’s wife’s death in a shooting accident soon followed by his fatal heart attack in the prison.
A wealth of events at the prison are funding its restoration. Ghost hunts are offered for $70 or $2,400 for a private hunt of 30 people or less, as well as Paranormal Penitentiary ($20 - $45), a live action nighttime game experience from Sept. 23 through the end of October.
Bobby Mackey’s Music World, the nightclub named for its classic country singer owner, has been around since 1978. It also bills itself as“The World’s Most Haunted Honky Tonk” and has a well called Hell’s Gate.
Mackey says the site was once a slaughterhouse, and the ghost stories point to a famous local murder and a dancer named Johanna who is said to have worked on-site in its previous roadhouse incarnation, then killed herself in her dressing room. Bobby Mackey’s offers private paranormal investigations and private tours by appointment, conducted with its own paranormal tour team called Gatekeeper Paranormal.
Bachelors Grove Cemetery
An abandoned historic cemetery in the suburbs of Chicago, Bachelors Grove endured severe damage in the 1960s by vandals who disturbed graves and removed caskets and bones.
Today the Grove and surrounding area are famous for unexplained sightings of apparitions, including a farmer with his horse-drawn plow emerging from the pond, and glowing orbs. Some of the most commonly observed ghosts and more history of the graveyard are detailed here.
For those who find it, self-guided tours and ghost hunts are free.
This circa 1890 Victorian brick building was once the Dumas Brothel, serving Butte’s miner clientele, and featured handy tunnels to ensure client and employee privacy and safety. When it closed in 1982, it was the longest-established business of its kind in the U.S. Now the Historic Dumas Brothel Museum, its 42 specialty rooms are still intact from its days as a house of ill repute.
Dumas is said to be haunted by, among others, its former madam Elinor Mott, who committed suicide in 1955 when a lover was going to take her away from Dumas.
General tours are $8 and hours, like the museum, a bit erratic, so call ahead.