For a Haunted Good Time
It was a dark and stormy night...
America is filled with spooky little hidden corners and old colonial towns accompanied by legends, ghost stories and the like. Old spirits, energies, tales, impressions or whatever you want to call them—even inhabit our wide open spaces or nearby.
So if you're itching for a little rush of adrenaline and a few bone-chilling history lessons this Hallow's Eve, or any time of year for that matter, you may want to look into one of these American "haunts" (pun intended).
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The Black Warrior-Tombigbee Lake system is home to six beautiful lakes on the Tombigbee River. On March 1, 1858, a fire destroyed the Tombigbee River steamboat Eliza Battle on the river. The disaster was the worst in the river's history. Sightings of the ghostly burning ship permeate Alabama folklore.
Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve is our largest National Park and home to the abandoned town of Kennecott, where the Kennecott Copper Corporation (later the Kennecott Minerals Company) mined the richest known concentration of copper in the world. The company processed nearly $200 million worth of copper from 1911 to 1938, when as many as 600 people worked in the company mill town and in the mines. Persistent stories of hauntings, especially along the old railroad tracks, are common.
The Prescott National Forest surrounds the once notorious mining town of Jerome and the Jerome National Historic District. Jerome is the home of the reportedly haunted Grand Hotel, originally a hospital built in 1926. Since the 1930s, people have reported ghost sightings there - the old nurses called one vision, in particular, Clyde or Scotty. Groups of adventurers can reserve nearby Playground Group Campsite for late October.Tonto National Forest
If you don't get enough of Halloween, mark your calendars for the annual "Halloween in July," when the Tonto National Forest's tubing concessionaire, Salt River Recreation, encourages tubers floating the Salt River to capture the Halloween spirit by dressing up as goblins, witches and cartoon characters.
Within the Eureka Springs Historic District is the 1886 Crescent Hotel, reportedly haunted by former owner Dr. Norman Baker, who died in 1958. The hotel embraces its legends with ghost tours and spooky productions in its 4th floor theater. If you prefer to stay somewhere with a less eerie reputation, try Dam Site Lake or Dam Site River campgrounds on Beaver Lake, less than 10 miles from Eureka Springs. Still, there are lots of dark, spooky caves in the area.
In the late 1800s, Sam Lewis and his wife ran sheep up on the Kern Plateau of the Golden Trout Wilderness—a favorite area of Mrs. Lewis'. When she died, Lewis had her body cremated and spread her ashes there. By the 1920s, people began to report strange happenings in the area. More recently, campers and backpackers have reported odd goings on: their stuff rearranged in the morning, noises, a woman's voice, glowing entities and the like. The less skeptical among us can only attribute these happenings to Mrs. Lewis herself.
The Army built the Old Post Hospital in 1864. During the 1890’s, the Spanish American War filled it beyond capacity with wounded soldiers, many of whom died there. Word has it their ghosts still haunt the closed building, which sits within the Presidio of San Francisco.
And for more creepy thrills, venture into dark corners of the infamous Alcatraz Island and the prison that once held some of the worst hoodlums in American history, like George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Al Capone and the Birdman of Alcatraz. It's also said that Native Americans once avoided the island entirely, believing it to be cursed.
Limited to just a few hundred visitors, the Alcatraz Night Tour offered by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy includes special topics, tours, and activities not available during daytime hours and the darkness adds a spooky feel.
The town of Ironton is just one of the many ghost towns and mining haunts in southwest Colorado, and was a major transportation junction between Red Mountain and Ouray, in addition to having some of its own mines. Settled in 1883, it had 300 buildings in roughly three weeks. Ironton had a peak population of more than 1,000 and had two trains arriving daily from Silverton. Ironton suffered the same fate as many other Colorado mining towns when the silver market crashed. The town lived into the first part of the 20th century but then faded away. Ten minutes south of Ouray on Highway 550, the town site can be found approximately 1/3 mile down a gravel road (walk or take a high clearance vehicle) or via a groomed Nordic-ski trail in the winter.
Some say our nation is still “haunted” by the events of the American Civil War, including the assassination of President Lincoln. After John Wilkes Boothe shot the President at Ford’s Theatre and fled the scene, doctors cared for the mortally wounded president across the street at the Petersen House where Lincoln later died. Obtain a free ticket to tour both the theatre and the house, or support Ford’s Theatre by purchasing a ticket for the History on Foot tour and join Detective John McDevitt (portrayed by a costumed actor) as he investigates the assassination. If you can’t make it to the district this Halloween, you can still view McDevitt’s eerie Metropolitan Police blotter entry from that night in April 1865, or look at some of the theater’s ghostly historical photos. If you are visiting DC overnight, try the historic Willard Intercontinental. People claim to see the specter of Lincoln's commanding general and President Ulysses S. Grant in the lobby, where in life he often enjoyed brandy and a cigar.
Mix multiple land uses, add a clash of different cultures and then bake it for 500 years. It’s the perfect recipe for ghost stories. You’ll sense them in the air at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Built in the late 1600s, the “Castillo” preserves the original walls of the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the U.S. They say you can place your ear against the limestone and shell (coquina) walls and hear the sounds of battle. Visitors reportedly catch the perfume of “Dolores.” The young wife of a Spanish captain posted at the Castillo, she went mysteriously missing circa 1784. Visit the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum (a Smithsonian affiliate) and ask about the “All Ghosts, No Gimmicks” tour.
De Soto National Memorial is the place where in 1539, Conquistador Hernando de Soto made landfall at the mouth of the Manatee River, a place with its share of haunted history and ghostly happenings. Shrouded trails and ghostly echoes sound through the mangroves along the shores of Tampa Bay—of the Tocobaga people, of Spanish pirates, Confederate guerillas and Florida’s cowboys—all who are part of the park’s history and folklore. What are the mysterious figures reported on the parks trails at night? Are they one of the parks many interpretive cutouts? Or maybe something more sinister? In one shape, form, or another there will always be opportunities at De Soto for a hair-raising good time.
Savannah's got a haunted heritage that perhaps stems from its rich, antebellum history or, simply, the creepy atmosphere; low-hanging Spanish moss, weeping willows and that dreamy, warm breeze. Stories of aggravated spirits and peculiar tales pervade this Southern town. Make sure to spook yourself silly at one of the historic cemeteries, visit one of the buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, or step back in time at Fort Pulaski National Monument.
In 1862, Union forces surrounded Fort Pulaski and asked for surrender. Confederate Colonel Charles Olmsted initially refused, and then later surrendered after a 30 hour bombardment by Union rifled cannons. Olmsted's decision to surrender haunted him for decades, but Olmsted was not the only one haunted by the events. Stories and legends of the fort now include unsubstantiated sightings of ghostly young men in Confederate uniforms.
The Loess Hills Scenic Byway traverses the unique windblown-silt bluffs above the Missouri River in western Iowa, through forest and prairie. More than 1,500 archaeological sites, ancient fossils in the area, the haunting courtship of Mallard Marsh swans and circling birds of prey overhead give the area a mysterious air. Stop at Historic Dodge House, a National Historic Landmark in Council Bluffs that is reportedly haunted by Civil War veteran and Union Pacific railroad builder General G. M. Dodge and his wife.
In fall when the leaves change to gold and red, spirits seem to fill the rugged landscapes of Daniel Boone National Forest. The spirits of Blackfish, Chief of the Shawnee tribe and Daniel Boone dwell along the Sheltowee Trace. Chief Blackfish captured Boone in 1778 and called him Sheltowee or "Big Turtle." The Sheltowee trail skirts the edge of Laurel River Lake, an area of spooky caves and reports of ghosts.
But Mammoth Cave National Park is perhaps the spookiest place in Kentucky - if not the spookiest of all the U.S. federal lands. The world's largest known cave system, with its vast chambers and complex labyrinths, emits a spine-chilling feeling not only because of its eerie atmosphere, but also because of all the secrets it holds. Stephen Bishop, Melissa and Floyd Collins are only a few names of ghosts who supposedly haunt this place.
The historic buildings, wharves and the reconstructed tall ship Friendship of Salem at 9-acre Salem Maritime National Historic Site tell the stories of the sailors, Revolutionary War privateers and merchants who brought the riches of the world to America - and with that much history lining the streets of any town, ghost stories are bound to follow. Not to mention Salem's notoriety for its Witch Trials of the late 1600s.
Minute Man National Historical Park preserves not only the battlefields and structures associated with the first battle of the Revolutionary War, but also the Wayside Home of Authors, where Nathaniel Hawthorne and other American authors once lived. One of Hawthorne's ancestors was a judge involved in Salem witch hysteria of 1692, more than a century earlier. The kinship with the judge influenced Hawthorne's writings such as the spooky "House of the Seven Gables" as well as chilling short stories. Hawthorne is also buried in Concord. The park celebrates the area's literary legacy with a Halloween storytelling event each year, when park rangers share traditional New England ghost stories in the barn behind Hartwell Tavern. Check the park’s schedule of events for details.
Arguably, Canadian vocalist Gordon Lightfoot's haunting song makes the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald the most well-known shipwreck on the Great Lakes, but ghost legends and rumors surround dozens of Great Lakes shipwrecks. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a great place to learn about Manitou Passage history, one of "the busiest and most dangerous shipping channels on the Great Lakes." In October, join a ranger-guided beach patrol program and learn about the old U.S. Life-Saving Service whose members knew fall as "shipwreck season" or visit the ghost towns of North Manitou Island. Reservable camping is available through mid-October (after that it’s first-come, first-serve).
“Shipwreck Alley” in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is the graveyard of more than 100 ships that have fallen victim to Lake Huron’s murky fog, unpredictable weather and rocky shoals over the past 200 years. Thunder Bay collaborates with Alpena Shipwreck Tours to offer glass bottom boat tours through Shipwreck Alley (through mid-October). Many of the ghostly ships appear through the eerie green water as if they might rise and set sail into the foggy horizon.
The town of Vicksburg held the key to controlling the Mississippi River during the Civil War. As if the specter of the battle and the soldiers buried at Vicksburg National Cemetery within Vicksburg National Military Park were not enough, the park is also home to McRaven House, who some claim is "the most haunted house in Mississippi." McRaven, also known as Bobb House, is one of the oldest buildings in Vicksburg and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Most people know that the Ozarks are full of haunts and ghost stories. Each October the Ozark National Scenic Riverways presents The Haunting in the Hills with storytelling, traditional music and historical exhibits. Check the park special events page.
From June through October, the Bitterroot offers monthly Walks by the Light of the Moon based on Francis Hammerstrom's "Walk When the Moon is Full." During October's "Ghost Moon at Lake Como" walk, you'll meet historical Bitterroot Valley ghosts, and hear stories of their lives and untimely deaths.
This site near Ely is what ghost town explorers live for. The Belmont Mine and Mill were worked early in this century by the Tonopah Belmont Development Mining Company. Judging by the ruins, this fun little camp must have given the White Pine Mining District it's last breath of life. Silver-lead ore from this mine was processed at this mill and then shipped off to Eureka Nevada. For more information on this and other ghost towns in the area, visit elynevada.net.
UFO sightings helped Roswell become a household name, but Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge supports a wide variety of creatures that are native to Earth. The refuge offers Endangered Species Tours the first Saturday of every month from October through May, and touts 70 weird sinkholes that punctuate the landscape with odd geology and water chemistry. The sinkholes are 50 to 70 feet deep and 15 to 230 feet wide, some may be as old as 5,000 years, and they support unusual plants and animals. Nearby at eerie Bottomless Lakes State Park you can post up at camp and scour the night sky for unearthly visitors.Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Bat decorations are as common as jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night. Although the pretend bats may scare trick-or-treaters, real bats benefit all of us. They eat loads of insects (like mosquitoes) and some species act as pollinators. At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, bats benefit from the good publicity they get from rangers who dispel bat myths at nightly bat flight programs from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October. Read our Article on Bats: Heroes of the Night
The historic cemetery at St. Paul’s Church has gravestones dating to 1704, along with rumors that the ghost of British actor George Frederick Cooke, buried here in 1812, still roams fitfully. Naturally (or supernaturally?) the souls of those who died at or near these National Historic Landmarks: Dakota Apartments, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge are said to haunt these places. Be sure to visit African Burial Ground National Monument, where free and enslaved Africans were buried from the 1690s to 1794, and the General Grant Memorial to answer the age old question, “who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?”
On Howl-O-Ween, come to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge for an adventurous attempt to hear the haunting sounds of the refuge's captive red wolves. Learn about the life history and behavior of these endangered wolves at the only place in the world where they still exist in the wild.
As dusk creeps across the autumn sky and the afternoon breezes relax, for some wild critters across the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, the day is just beginning for others. Night life is awakening on nature's wild side and families are invited out for an afternoon and evening of Halloween programs and crafts about the animals active mostly at night, such as owls, bats, coyotes and other creepy crawlers.
Take a tour of the lighthouse or the haunted lighthouse keeper's home at Heceta Head, on the Siuslaw National Forest. The lighthouse is arguably the most photographed lighthouse in the world, and the lighthouse keeper's home operates as a bed and breakfast.
Why do so many ghost stories surround railroads? During October at Spirits of the Summit Tour and the Spirits of Staple Bend Tunnel. The "ghosts" will share, in their own words, the darker side of life, hardship and death on the Portage Railroad. Check the park’s schedule of events or enjoy the Summit Level and the Staple Bend Tunnel any time of year by hiking (or biking portions of) the Inclines Six to Ten Trail or the Staple Bend Tunnel trail, which both follow the APRR route of the 19th century.Gettysburg National Cemetery
Gettysburg National Military Park is the site of that famous three-day battle between the Confederate and Union armies - and the brutal deaths of thousands of men. Naturally, ghost stories abound here. And word has it, if you try to snap a photograph on the field at Gettysburg, your camera will either malfunction or you may capture the semblance of a specter that could haunt you for months.Independence National Historical Park
Some people call Philly "America's most historic city;" others claim it's America's most haunted. You won't hear about paranormal experiences from Independence National Historical Park rangers, but along the old city's cobblestone streets you might still get wind of ghostly tales. And of course, the "Spirit of '76" is always alive at Independence Hall (get tickets in advance), Carpenters' Hall, Old Pine Street Church and Cemetery, Christ Church Burial Ground, and the "ghost structure" marking Ben Franklin's home.
Visit the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site, where the morbid writer spent six of his most productive years. Relive spine-chilling tales like "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "Murders in the Rue Morgue." The park offers 45- minute house tours Wednesday through Sunday. Ask to see the creepy cellar that inspired "The Black Cat."
At Big South Fork National River, visit the Blue Heron Mine at night when the "ghost structures"—built by the Army Corps of Engineers—appear especially eerie. You can visit Blue Heron Mine in the fall or anytime year-round. Consider chugging there aboard the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, one of the "Ghost Railroads of Kentucky." The Railway offers fall trips that include the Blue Heron Ghost Train, the Trick or Treat Train or the scarier Haunted Hollow Express. Hear more hair raising tales at the park's Annual Haunting in the Hills Storytelling Festival. Campgrounds are available nearby.
Some claim San Antonio is one of the most haunted cities in America. As you might expect, ghost sightings concentrate around the Alamo, where hundreds of soldiers and Alamo defenders died without proper burial in 1836.
Experience a different kind of “spiritual” at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which preserves four missions from the Spanish colonial period of Texas. Three hundred years after their founding, the churches are active parishes where you can attend Mass on Sundays, and—from late October through early to mid-November—commemorate “Día de Los Muertos” or Day of the Dead. This tradition started when early Spanish friars used All Souls’ Day as a bridge between indigenous traditions and Catholicism.
All four mission churches set up altars or “ofrendas” for families to place photographs, personal items, and favorite foods of deceased loved ones. They also add decorations like candles, flowers and humorous skeleton figures, all to entice their loved ones back for one day of earthly delight. The visitor center at Mission San José will display an ofrenda to explain what visitors see in the churches.
Bryce Canyon National Park offers Full Moon Hikes throughout the year. Free tickets are required and distributed at the park (tickets are not available online). This is ideal UFO territory so watch the night sky for some extraterrestrial activity.
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park preserves battlefields where the Civil War “roared to its bloody climax.” Here, 15,000 soldiers died, most in unknown graves. Sightings of ghostly figures wearing Civil War-era attire are common. General Stonewall Jackson received his fatal wound at Chancellorsville—you can walk to the exact spot where he fell and the railroad station where he died (also known as the Stonewall Jackson Shrine). A link on the Stonewall Jackson Shrine web page opens a short video that tells the story of what happened. It’s no wonder that ghost hunters call this “America’s most haunted battlefield.”
Stinson/Share the Experience)
Visitors claim to see ghosts haunting the Old Faithful Inn and the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. What (or who) are the apparitions visitors claim to see? Could they be the gentleman guest who disappeared in 1890 after stepping outside to smoke a cigar? Or Mattie Culver, who died in the winter of 1889 and whose grave lies near a lovely picnic spot? Or the “ghost of the honeymoon bride,” who haunts the halls of the Old Faithful Inn even after a former innkeeper admitted he’d made her up? Watch these videos about the Old Faithful Area and see if you notice anything mysterious.