Real-life haunts: 10 scary places to visit in America
The season of spooky is upon us.
At ZOZI, we're always nerding out over historic ghost tours or haunted attractions (shameless plug: we've got lots of these—search for "ghost tours" near you!)
But with Halloween just around the corner, nothing raises the hairs on the back of your neck like a look at the country's most creepy locales.
From ghost towns to abandoned hospitals, former prisons to legitimately haunted homes, the U.S. is filled with destinations that’ll give you a good shiver (or full-blown panic attack). For those with a spine of steel, check out these places that could star in their own horror flick.
1. Hart Island, New York City
It's the largest mass grave site in the U.S., but many New Yorkers don't even know this place exists (more backstory here). Technically part of the Bronx, Hart Island was once a Civil War prison camp, a missile base, psychiatric hospital, tuberculosis sanatorium, and today, final resting place of New York’s unidentified deceased. It’s currently run by the New York State Department of Correction, and visits to the small island are tightly restricted. So while you can't technically visit this one, we did find a drone's-eye view.
2. Essex County Jail Annex, New Jersey
Prisons are scary places, but abandoned prisons are next level. The Victorian-style Essex County Jail Annex was built in 1873, shut down in the 1970s, and thoroughly abandoned in the 1990s. It’s since been left to decay—remnants like shotgun ports and tear gas modules in the ceiling serve as eerie testaments to a harrowing past. Today, its only visitors are vandals and thrill seekers.
3. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia
Allegedly haunted by spirits dating back to the Civil War, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, later more diplomatically named the Weston State Hospital, was built in 1864 and served as home for people with mental illnesses for 130 years—thousands of whom died during their stay. Paranormal tours of the facility are available, including an eight-hour overnight tour with ghost-hunting guides.
Yeah...we're over here like...
4. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
This place makes Alcatraz look like the Four Seasons. The rap sheet of Eastern State Penitentiary is a bleak one: Here, guards locked inmates in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, soaked them in freezing water in the middle of winter, and strapped them down in “mad chairs” for days without food as punishment. Only meant to hold 250 people, more than 1,700 prisoners were tortured in its dark depths from 1829 until it was shut down in 1971. Ghosts of criminals are said to lurk in the prison, which is now a National Historic Landmark. Cringe.
5. Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky
It’s quite possible this general area was haunted long before the hospital's establishment: Waverly's history of paranormal activity stretches back so far, even the Native Americans wouldn’t enter the woods where the sanatorium was later built. In the 1930s, the sanatorium was home to tuberculosis patients from all over the country. Tens of thousands never returned home. Those who have since visited report seeing and feeling the presence of “lurking spirits.”
6. Linda Vista Hospital, Los Angeles
This now desolate hospital was built in the early 20th century to take care of railroad workers who got injured on the job. It’s since been used as a set location for many TV shows and movies such as "Insidious: Chapter 3," "Criminal Minds" and "True Blood," which speaks to the caliber of film genre this place tends to attract. Crew members have reported seeing darting shadows dancing across the walls and even a little girl haunting the former surgery room.
7. Clinton Road, New Jersey
An entire road that’s haunted? We'll take the detour, please and thank you. This 10-mile stretch outside New York City is said to be the spookiest road in America, twisting and turning through a lonely stretch of woods that has "Blair Witch Project" written all over it. Sparsely populated and downright eerie, drivers have reported seeing sites of satanic rituals and chilling apparitions such as phantom pickup trucks, ghosts and red-eyed creatures.
8. Bannack, Montana
Things get even spookier when you broaden the haunted horizon to entire towns. The American West is riddled with gold rush villages that popped up and faded away in a matter of decades, and Bannack—known for more robberies, murders and holdups than almost any other town in the West—is one of the country's creepiest. Visit at the end of October for the Bannack Ghost Walks and live reenactments of spooky events in the city's brief 100-year history, which ended when the last few residents peaced out in 1970. Greet the specters of Henry Plummer, Joe Pizanthus, Cyrus Skinner, Doctor Glick, Mattie Silks and more as you meander through town with a flashlight after dark.
9. Bodie, California
A classic American ghost town, Bodie has stood untouched for more than 150 years. Parts of it look like people just got up and left in the middle of whatever they were doing: Some of the restaurants have set tables as if guests are expected to show up, and shops are still stocked with supplies from a century ago. It all makes sense, we guess: The entire place is supposedly protected by a curse. Try to make off with anything from the town, and bad things will follow. Park rangers say every month they receive anonymous letters containing small artifacts, the writers profusely apologizing for taking them in the first place.
10. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar, New Orleans
To round out our selection, how about a bar haunted by the ghost of a pirate? Dating back to 1772, the watering hole is rumored to harbor the stolen booty of Pirate Lafitte, who used the joint as an outpost for his smuggling operation. Staff members swear they’ve seen Lafitte’s ghost staring at them with red eyes, leaving a faint scent of tobacco in the air.
We draw the line at ghosts with red eyes. We're never going there either.
Want more paranormal thrills? These spooky destinations around the world will have you shakin' in your boots.
Postcript: Just for fun—Halloween history 101
Come Halloween weekend, a historic 171 million Americans (including us!) will be partaking in the greatest excuse ever to dress up like Hodor or Harley Quinn and run around town like it's a completely normal thing to do. But we'll bet five mini Snickers bars a good chunk of those 171 million cavorting characters have no idea where these glorious ghoulish customs originated from in the first place.
Going door to door for candy, braving long lines at seasonal costume superstores, hanging fake cobwebs with plastic spiders in your windows...many of today's secular traditions trace back to an ancient Gaelic festival called Samhain, which celebrated the end of the harvest season. The Celtics, from the United Kingdom, northern France and Ireland, believed spirits returned on the eve of winter to damage crops and roam among the living, so they dressed in masks and animal skins to avoid being recognized by the ghosts, and even left food and wine for them.
By 800 A.D., Christianity had spread, and Samhain merged with “All Saints Day” or “All Hallows Eve,” the Church’s holiday to commemorate saints and martyrs. When Irish and English immigrants eventually came to the United States in the 19th century, so did their hodgepodge mix of “Halloween” traditions.
Contrary to its lighthearted, contemporary meaning, the phrase "trick-or-treating" actually comes from the Medieval English ritual of “souling,” where impoverished people visited wealthy homes to receive handouts of pastries called "soul cakes." In return, they offered prays for the souls of the homeowners' deceased relatives.