In the spirit of the Halloween season, we thought we’d brew up some spooky fun by visiting historic American destinations known for their haunting good times. Some are special holiday events, while others offer ghostly experiences year ‘round. These 13 are among the most popular in the nation.
Haunted Haight Walking Tour
In 1967 more than 100,000 young people packed into San Francisco’s Haight Asbury neighborhood for the “Summer of Love,” three months of counter culture activities. Today, personable guide Tommy Netzband leads a two-hour evening walking tour through his longtime neighborhood. Founder of the San Francisco Ghost Society, Netzband gives a mesmerizing dialogue about its macabre history. There is also a chance to see outstanding Victorian architecture. Tour participants report that the time passes too quickly.
Haunted Haight Walking Tours, www.hauntedhaight.com, 415-863-1416
The Stanley Hotel
In 1903, F. O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, followed his doctor’s advice and came to Estes Park. When his tuberculosis greatly improved, he decided to move here and open a summer resort. The Stanley Hotel, which opened in 1909, now has 138 luxurious rooms that welcome guests year round. It also offers breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountain National Park. One of its many notable guests, author Stephen King, was inspired to write The Shining while staying here. In fact, half the book was written in room 217. Many guests and staff members report having paranormal experiences and management encourages the hotel’s haunted reputation.
The Stanley Hotel, www.stanleyhotel.com, 512-853-9826
Ghost Talk Ghost Walk
Savannah is often rated the most beautiful city in America. The colony James Oglethorpe built around 24 green squares in 1733 is now part of the largest urban historic landmark district in America. It’s also ranked as one of the most haunted cities in America. Learn more about the ghosts reported to lurk amidst the Spanish moss by joining walking tours offered by several different companies. The oldest, Ghost Talk Ghost Walk, began in the 1980s as a preservation tour and it’s been featured on many television programs. A tour highlight is the childhood home of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of America, where tales of the friendly ghost of General Gordon are shared.
Ghost Walk Ghost Talk, www.savannahgeorgia.com/ghosttalk, 800-563-3896
New Orleans is a city known for its haunted history and outrageous parties so there is no place better to head for a spine-tingling Halloween celebration. Take a guided tour to one of the city’s historic cemeteries; unfortunately, muggers hide behind many stones and prey upon unsuspecting tourists so it’s best to travel the graveyards in large groups. Join one of the many haunted tours that explore the French Quarter and learn the history behind the spiritual practices at one of the Voodoo shops in the area. Don’t forget to select your favorite disguise at one of the city’s costume shops before joining one of the city’s many Halloween costume parties.
One of the biggest celebrations occurs every year on Frenchman Street in the Marigny. Throngs of partygoers, including locals and tourists, take to the streets donning elaborate costumes. If you want to escape the crowds, duck into one of the many jazz clubs along the street. The Hotel Monteleone, known for its haunted rooms, hosts an annual Halloween ball in honor of its supernatural guests of honor. New Orleans also has a number of Haunted Houses in the area set up each year by different non-profit groups. Be sure to check out the fear factor before heading inside a haunted house tour. Some are suitable for children, such as “Boo at the Zoo,” while others appeal to extreme thrill seekers looking for a truly frightening experience.
New Orleans, Louisiana, www.neworleanscvb.com, 800-672-6124
The Witch House, home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Witchcraft Trials of 1692. As a local magistrate, Corwin invested the claims of witchcraft in Salem and neighboring communities. Today, Witch House tours blend information about seventeenth-century lifestyles, furnishings and architecture with fascinating anecdotes about the Salem Witch Trials. Held at Witch House every October, Haunted City is six nights of eerie tales. Costumed actors perform startling new stories in this unique centuries-old setting.
Witch House, www.salemweb.com/witchhouse, 978-744-8815
After the Sauk Indians were massacred by other tribes 365 years ago, this area 90 miles north of Detroit was considered haunted. Even French missionaries wouldn’t stay here. Piles of Sauk skulls and bones are found at a place on the Saginaw River called "Skull Island" even today. Water Street earned its reputation as "Hell’s Half Mile" in the mid 1800s when 5,000 lumberjacks arrived every spring after the log drive. Today, the restored downtown district is dotted with antique shops, boutiques and restaurants. Bay City’s history of digging up graves – even whole cemeteries – leads to ghost stories aboard trolley tours year round.
Bay City, Michigan, www.tourbaycitymi.org, 888-BAY-TOWN
Known as North Tarryton from 1874 until 1997, the village of Sleepy Hollow is about 15 miles north of New York City. It is the home of Sunnyside, home of Washington Irving, and Philipsburg Manor. In 1750 Philipsburg Manor was a farming and trading center owned by a family of Anglo-Dutch merchants. Now a National Historic Landmark, the living history museum features a stone manor house filled with 17th and 18th century period furnishings plus costumed interpreters reenacting farm chores of the era. Every Halloween Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow lives and the Headless Horseman still rides at Philipsburg Manor. Lit by candle lanterns and bonfires, the site is a haunted landscape for four nights of insanely popular family fun. Enter the site through the ghastly gallows. Then see the goblins come out to greet the Headless Horseman! Wander the grounds at your own pace while ghouls, witches, pirates, ghostly apparitions and characters from folklore come eerily to life.
Philipsburg Manor, www.hudsonvalley.org/philipsburg, 914-631-3992
Kit Carson Trail Ghost Walk
The legacy of western explorer Kit Carson is remembered on the Kit Carson Trail, a 2-? mile walking route through Carson City’s residential homes district. A painted blue line and bronze medallions along the sidewalk mark the route for self-guided walking tours. More than 60 Victorian houses, churches and museums are included. A podcast edition can be copied from the Website and pasted into iTunes. This program gives 90 second anecdotes from each attraction. Of special interest is John Wayne’s voice at the Krebs-Petersen house where he filmed his last movie, The Shootist, in 1976.
Kit Carson Trail Ghost Walk, www.carson-city.org, 800-NEVADA 1
Ghosts of Newport
Newport was founded in 1639 by a small group from Boston who began building ships for use in maritime trading. The settlement prospered in part because they welcomed Jewish and Quaker traders not accepted in other communities. By the mid 1700s Newport was at the peak of its maritime prosperity, but the Revolutionary War ended that. The area was revitalized when affluent Americans began building summer homes here in the 1830s. By the late 1800s Newport was the place to be if you were ultra-rich. Today, Ghosts of Newport conducts 90-minute evening strolls that explore the haunted secrets left behind. Graveyard crypts of famous (and not so famous) residents date back to 1692.
Ghosts of Newport, www.ghostsofnewport.com, 866-33GHOST
To many, Charleston is the quintessential southern city. It’s noted for cobblestone lanes, antebellum homes behind wrought iron gates, manicured gardens, magnificent waterfront views, fine southern cuisine, and, some say, a haunted heritage. Several tour companies help visitors learn the city’s ghastly and ghostly secrets. Be prepared for stories of para-natural experiences at many sites in the historic downtown, including St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and Cemetery, East Bay Street and the Wagner Building (now Southend Brewery and Smokehouse,) Battery Carriage Inn and Dock Street Theatre.
Charleston, South Carolina, www.charlestoncvb.com, (800) 868-8118
Appalachian Ghost Walks
Appalachian Ghost Walks, an award-winning tour company, offers nine tours in the southern Appalachian Mountain regions of Tennessee and Virginia. One of the most popular tours visits Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, which was founded in 1779. Take a ghost walk here to find out about Andrew Jackson and Kate Bell, also known as Bell Witch, who was featured in the movie “An American Haunting.” Other Tennessee tours visit Blountville, Erwin, Greeneville, Rogersville and Johnson City.
The Virginia tour explores the Highlands around Abingdon. All of these cities are within 100 miles of each other. Owner Stacey Allen McGee can plan “spook and save” packages, which combine ghost walks with the region’s cultural and scenic attractions for any size group. Special All Hallows Eve tours run through October 31 while Ghost of Christmas Past tours are available November 1 until December 31.
Appalachian Ghost Walks, www.appalachianghostwalks.com, 423-743-WALK
Los Colores del Muerto
In Mexico, the end of October marks a celebration known as “Day of the Dead.” This centuries old tradition has also moved into south Texas. Port Isabel is especially known for its colorful “Los Colores del Muerto” celebration. On Saturday, October 27, the three Museums of Port Isabel – The Port Isabel Historic Museum, Treasures of the Gulf Museum and Point Isabel Lighthouse – will give guided tours and hold special programs. Learn the history of this region by hiking through the cemetery, viewing decorated altars, listening to folk songs and watching a play at the outdoor theater in front of the museum.
Port Isabel Day of the Dead, www.portisabelmuseums.com, 956-943-4602
West Virginia Penitentiary Tours
The 11-acre West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville housed the state’s most dangerous inmates from 1866 until the 1990s. Today, tours of the ugly concrete and steel structures include tales about the violent men who called this place home and a chance to view a vintage electric chair. A surprisingly popular monthly event is a ghost hunt, which begins at 8 p.m., with an hour-long tour of what was once America’s bloodiest prison. A qualified paranormal investigator then helps visitors begin a search for ghosts that ends at 6 a.m.
West Virginia Penitentiary Tours, www.wvpentours.com, 305-845-6200