The Best *Actually* Haunted Homes In The Country

There are two kinds of people: Halloween people and Christmas people. Some of us are super into family and cocoa and fireplaces, and the rest of us are into playing dress-up and feeling our bodies freeze up with abject terror. To the latter group: Your time has come. It is imperative to make the most of the month. Let’s get the pumpkins carved, the candy purchased (because you have to eat at least five bags by the time kids actually show up at the door), costume out of planning stages into manufacture, and outings planned.

A visit to a corn maze is debatable, but a haunted house is a must. Sure, there are those faux hauntings in strip malls with disaffected youth making minimum wage to put on greasepaint and get punched by drunk people unprepared for jump scares, but that’s weak sauce. You need 100 percent authentic spirits, preferably with some great backstory. And solid architecture never hurt anyone, either. Ambiance matters.

What follows are one dozen of the best-haunted houses in the country. We’ve already run back haunted attractions — today we’re talking about real hauntings. The (more) legit stuff. You can expect historical narratives with strained family relationships, doomed lovers, mysterious deaths, suicides, and even a person locked in an attic. And, yes, location, location, location. Burial grounds or GTFO.

The Winchester House (San Jose, CA)

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Look closely. You may see something.

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Once a daunting seven-story mansion, the Winchester House is still an imposing structure at its present four stories (Hey, earthquakes in California are a bitch). Unlike a lot of other haunted houses, which are filled with the menacing spirits of former residents, this home was arguably built for the ghosts. Rumor has it that this Queen Anne Style Victorian home was Sarah Winchester’s way of fighting back the ghosts of the people killed by husband William Wirt Winchester’s famous guns. After the death of her husband and infant child, legend says Sarah visited a Boston medium, who told her that she needed to leave New Haven, head west, and continuously build a home for both herself and the victims of Winchester rifles. Obviously, she could have just gotten a touch of wanderlust and been an early, yet inept house flipper, but the other version is more fun.

This isn’t just an architectural nightmare, it’s a legit haunted house named one of the “Most Haunted Places in the World” by Time. Many, many visitors to the house have spiritual sightings to relay. There have been multiple sightings of a man with coal black hair pushing a ghostly wheelbarrow or repairing the fireplace in the ballroom. How big of a bummer is it going to be if the afterlife involves continuing your handyman duties? Other incidents include being patted on the back or tapped on the shoulder when you are completely alone and hearing deep sighs.

Sighs make sense. If I was dead Sarah Winchester, I wouldn’t want people wandering around my labyrinthian home either.

Lemp Mansion (St. Louis, MO)

This is the classic haunted house set-up we all look for: multiple suicides. In 1870, the Lemp family was a symbol of wealth and power, as they owned — by far — the biggest brewery in St. Louis. They were rolling. But, it didn’t protect them from the swift decline of their empire. It all started in 1901, when Frederick Lemp, his old man’s fave and the heir apparent died mysteriously. Within three years, his father, William J. Lemp, went to his bedroom and shot himself in the head. They said he couldn’t deal with Frederick’s death. So, William J. Lemp, Jr. took over the company. In 1920, his sister, Elsa, the richest heiress in St. Louis followed her father’s example and killed herself. By 1922, the brewery was being sold at auction for a fraction of its value. But, despite the loss of their fortunes, the family held onto the mansion with an iron grip. William J. Lemp, Jr. shot himself to death 18 years after dear old dad. And, his brother Charles, a recluse who continued living in the family manse also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on the premises.

Now, the old Lemp family home is a hotel and restaurant, and staff members and guests have experienced strange occurrences. It’s not uncommon to catch sight of an apparition, hear voices, or see glasses levitating. The most haunted areas are the attic, stairway, and basement. The attic was home to William J. Lemp, Jr.’s illegitimate son, who suffered from Down’s Syndrome; he spent his entire life locked up there (which makes you feel a little less bad that William Jr.’s life sucked). His face is often seen peering from attic windows and he moves toys. And, in the downstairs women’s restroom, a man has been seen peeking over the stalls. As this was William Jr.’s personal area (complete with first free-standing shower in St. Louis), it’s probably him.

Seriously, he sounds terrible even in the afterlife.

The Myrtles Plantation (St. Francisville, LA)

If a family of suicides is a gimme for haunting, prepare yourself for a burial ground. No. Really. Currently a bed and breakfast, Myrtles Plantation was built in 1796 By General David Bradford — who was sort of hiding from the repercussions of his role in the Whiskey Rebellion. When he was pardoned, he moved his wife and kids down to the plantation and nothing much happened other than the usual profiting off the labor of people who were legally considered property. And, if that isn’t grounds for haunting all by itself, I don’t know what is. It wasn’t until the property had changed hands many times and was being divvied up among the heirs of Harrison Milton Williams, who bought the property in 1891, that ghosts were spotted. In the 1970s, the home was purchased by James and Frances Kermeen Myers and Frances wrote a book, calling it one of the most haunted houses in America.

Allegedly, the plantation is home to at least 12 ghosts, and many people say that there were at least one dozen murders on the premises, though records only show evidence of one. William Drew Winter was shot by a stranger before he staggered inside looking for help. He managed to climb 17 stairs before slumping and expiring. Visitors and employees report hearing his dying footsteps. There is also the legend of Chloe, a slave who wore a green turban to hide an ear that her owners, the Woodruff’s, had removed as a punishment. She fed the family a cake with poisonous oleander extract in it, and it killed her owner Sara and her two daughters, who are now trapped in a mirror. People often spot the trio in the mirror or discover finger and handprints when there hasn’t been anyone around to leave them.

Sorry, slave-owning southern women, your eternal restlessness is deserved. No sympathy from us.

Franklin Castle (Cleveland, OH)

Built in the 1880s by a grocer-turned-banker, this High Victorian home is a landmark on Cleveland’s west side. The home’s original builder, Hannes Tiedemann, is another hard luck tale of a rich man with crap luck. He built this fab house, and a huge number of his immediate family members went on to die in it. Among the casualties were his mom, 15-year-old daughter, and three infant children. To distract his wife from the endless funereal arrangements, Tiedemann pulled a Sarah Winchester and kept construction going round-the-clock. It worked … until she died, too. Womp womp. After Tiedemann sold the property, it became a German cultural center, and the haunting stories picked up.

Does the name Hans Holzer mean anything to you? Paranormal researcher? Author? Amityville Horror? There was a time when he was the ghost hunter. During his heyday, he paid the Franklin Castle a visit. His big discovery at the time was a 13-year-old girl name Karen, who he believed to have been murdered and then staged to look like a suicide in the expansive home’s third floor ballroom. It may be Karen who is the home’s famous lady in black, or it could be one of the home’s many previous female residents. She has been spotted since the 1960s, as have crying children, cold spots, unexplained fog, and disembodied faces. It’s a haunted house classic; you honestly expect Scooby and the gang.

Joshua Ward House (Salem, MA)

One of the first brick homes in Salem, this three-story Federal-style house includes the oldest surviving staircase by famed Salem woodworker and builder Samuel McIntire. Sadly, when everyone was putting thought into how to build the grand home, they may have overlooked where they built it. No. Not Indian burial ground. This time, it’s a case of building it on the site of a notorious witch killer’s home. Joshua Ward House is erected on the former foundation of Sheriff George “The Strangler” Corwin’s home. Corwin was a sadist with a fondness for coaxing out witch confessions by tying the women’s necks to their ankles until blood gushed from their noses. And, he liked to top off hours of torture by crushing prisoners to death with a large rock. You build a house on top of the place where this monster lived, murdered, and died, you are asking for some paranormal goings-on.

The house has three primary ghosts: Giles Corey, The Strangler himself, and a female accused of being a witch. Corey was tortured and killed on the premises, and people give him credit for cold spots, kicking over trash cans, pulling books from shelves, and melting candle wax. The Strangler often chokes guests with invisible hands. Ghost hunters tell stories of having their air cut off until they see stars and pass out. And, the woman accused of being a witch, the most famous ghost on the property, has been spotted a number of times and caught on film. The house is now a boutique hotel, so you can spend the night and wait to be choked out if that’s what you’re into.

Ferry Plantation House (Virginia Beach, VA)

The current Ferry Plantation House was built by slaves in 1830, after the site had previously been home to the third Princess Anne County courthouse, the first brick one in the county. Then, the site was home to the Walke Mansion, which was destroyed in a fire. Now, the Federal style, three-story home includes bay additions on each end added in 1850 and a two-story porch added in the 1950s. The home was named not for a doomed family, but for the property’s proximity to the region’s first ferry service. And, no, it was not a haunted ferry.

Though there isn’t a huge backstory at the property, there are a surprising eleven ghosts. Visitors report seeing the spirits of people who died in an 1810 shipwreck at the ferry landing, a former slave named Henry who seeks vengeance, Sally Rebecca Walke sobbing for her dead lover, a lady in white tumbling down the stairs where she broke her neck, and artist Thomas Williamson, painting at the top of the stairs. But, most people want to see The Witch of Pungo. Grace White Sherwood was a midwife and farmer who lived in the region in the 1700s. She was, unfortunately, gorgeous and opted to wear pants over dresses — it was enough to prompt her neighbors to accuse her of running with the devil. The town finally conspired to put her behind bars, where she died, before being placed beneath the soil at the Ferry Farm. Other than potentially hanging out with Satan, she seems rad.

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Molly Brown House (Denver, CO)

Not all hauntings are angry dead people, sometimes the former residents of a property are pretty chill and just want to create some photo opps and move the furniture around. The Unsinkable Molly Brown is just such a spirit. If one is to believe Molly’s telling of it (why wouldn’t you?), she was on board the Titanic when it hit the iceberg. She was placed in lifeboat number six, which she personally rowed for seven and a half hours before reaching safety. For her spirit and energy, she was given her moniker. The home of the activist, socialite, and philanthropist incorporates a variety of styles, including Queen Anne.

Molly and husband James Joseph Brown purchased the home in 1894, though they traveled a lot and often rented it out. It was even a temporary governor’s home at one time. During the depression, it was run as a boarding house. No murder. No suicide. No burial grounds.

Regardless, the house hosts a number of spirits, including Molly and her husband. The smell of pipe smoke frequently pervades the attic and the basement. Though James Joseph was a lover of pipe smoking, Molly wouldn’t let him do it in the house. People guess that the smoke smell builds up in places he would go to sneak a bit of tobacco. Molly and James Joseph had a daughter named Catherine and her room is another site of paranormal activity. Her window blinds go up and down independently. Further, Molly’s mother has been spotted looking out of upstairs windows. Some people have seen a woman in Victorian clothing sitting calmly in the dining room. She hasn’t fled from cameras, allowing herself to be photographed. And, a male servant can be seen looking out of a mirror that hangs by the stairs. This is a nice Baby Bear level of haunted.

Morris-Jumel Mansion (New York, NY)

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It’s not surprising that Manhattan’s oldest home should also be considered the most haunted. Built in 1765 for British officer Roger Morris, the home wasn’t occupied for long. Morris peaced out of the Revolutionary War, abandoned the property, and ran back to England. Later, it became a popular tavern before being purchased by Stephen Jumel, a wealthy French merchant, in 1810. And, this is where it gets good. He had the nerve to bring his mistress (and later wife) Eliza Bowen Jumel to the house to live with him. High society shunned them cruelly. The rumor mill said Eliza was a former child prostitute. When her husband died, the gossips were just as malicious, telling stories that ranged from flu to cold-blooded murder. Without regard to the wagging tongues, Eliza took a new suitor mere months after Stephen’s death: Aaron Burr. Yep. Good old 77-year-old Aaron Burr. Three years later, he died, and she was one wealthy lady. She essentially went full Havisham, living in soiled clothes, embittered and haunted by the deaths of her past lovers.

Visitors who believe in the paranormal have seen five different ghosts regularly. There is a serving girl, a British soldier from the Revolutionary War, doddering Aaron Burr, doomed Stephen Jumel, and Eliza Bowen, as an elderly woman in a violet dress. There are also reports of a talking clock, and someone has seen a Hessian soldier emerge from paintings on the wall. Lin-Manuel Miranda has probably seen some of the apparitions because he wrote portions of Hamilton at the Morris-Jumel Mansion.

The Octagon House (Washington, DC)

The Octagon House was designed by Dr. William Thornton who is kind of a big deal, as he is the architect behind the US Capitol. Colonel John Tayloe was one of the richest Virginia plantation owners and he had the Octagon House built in Washington when George Washington suggested he do so. And it’s a good thing that he did because President and Dolly Madison moved in when the British burned the White House down in 1814. The Tayloes ultimately netted $500 in rent for the Presidential family’s six-month stay. In 1855, the family began renting the property out and it was a girls’ school and a home base for the Hydrographic Office of the Navy before being occupied by families once more. It served as the American Institute of Architects national headquarters from 1898 to the 1960s, when a new one was built.

Purported to be one of the most haunted homes in DC, the Octagon is the subject of many ghost stories. Employees of the current museum, curators, and members of the public all report supernatural happenings in the garden area, the third-floor bedroom, the second-floor landing, the third-floor landing, and the spiral staircase. In the 1800s, it was well established the African American slaves who once lived at the property would ring the servants’ bells loudly. The family cut the wires and the bells continued to ring. In contemporary times, people often mention seeing Dolly Madison (which is super weird since she only lived there for six months), and her sightings are frequently linked to the smell of lilacs. People also hear rustling, see a lamp swing itself, feel forced to avoid a spot on the floor, find tiptoe footprints in dust, speak to a deceased gambler shot to death on the premises, and observe lights turning on and off independently. It’s all pretty benign, but spooky just the same.

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Pittock Mansion (Portland, OR)

The Pittocks were one of Oregon’s most influential families when they built the mansion in 1914. Henry owned The Oregonian at the time, but he had started as a typesetter at The Weekly Oregonian before becoming the owner and publisher. In addition, he was involved in real estate, railroads, banking, silver mining, sheep ranching, and the paper and pulp industries. And, Georgiana was all about cultural organizations and charities — working with the Women’s Union, Ladies Relief Society, and the Martha Washington Home for single working women. By most accounts, they were a really decent pair, brining modernization to several industries in the Pacific Northwest without gutting resources for quick profit. Sadly, the pair didn’t complete the home until they had been married for 58 years, and Georgiana only lived in it for four years. Henry made it for five.

This is another case of a rather lovely haunting. People report Henry’s childhood picture moves around the home. It’s intended place is a bedroom mantle, but it can appear elsewhere within minutes during times when a person could not have moved it. A mysterious figure is also spotted in various ground floor rooms when the mansion is opened in the morning. And the scent of roses is commonly remarked upon; it was Georgiana’s favorite. Some people also hear heavy footsteps walking in and out of the rear entrance. And, an elderly woman has been spotted on the basement level. All in all, it seems like a friendly “hello” from the great beyond. Who’s not down with that?

Sturdivant Hall (Selma, AL)

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Constructed between 1852 and 1856, Sturdivant Hall was built for Colonel Edward T. Watts and designed by Thomas Helm Lee. Edward Vason Jones, who did some interior architectural work during the 60s and 70s called Sturdivant Hall one of one of the finest Greek Revival antebellum mansions in the Southeast. If you like that style, it is gorgeous. Once it was built, the Watts family only lived there for eight years before moving to Texas. They sold the house to John McGee Parkman, a local banker who was made the president of the First National Bank of Selma after the Civil War ended. Sadly, he was arrested after some speculating and was killed escaping prison. The house was then sold to a prominent merchant before going to the City of Selma. The purchase was made possible by a bequest from the estate of Robert Daniel Sturdivant, for whom the property is now named. He left the money to the city to open a museum, which is how the manse now functions.

Visitors and museum employees alike report seeing doors open independently and chairs rock without people in them. Latches on both doors and windows often undo themselves, setting off the home’s alarms. Frequently, the sound of footsteps can be heard on the second floor; when someone steps onto the staircase to investigate, the sounds cease. And, multiple men claim to have been pushed by invisible hands while they are on the upper level. There are a pair of little girls who reportedly stare out of an upstairs window, and passersby have reported smoke coming from this same window when there was no fire or problem within the room.

The primary spirit that haunts the home is poor John McGee Parkman, who is said to roam hallways and the grounds. People have seen him clutching the gunshot in his abdomen and shuffling along. This seems like a ghost you want to give a cuddly blanket and a place to have a lie-down, but he’s probably pissed and wouldn’t appreciate it.

Stranahan House (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

Frank Stranahan, like many other people, moved to Florida for his health. In 1893, he arrived in Fort Lauderdale and to take charge of the overland mail route between Lantana and Coconut Grove. He started the first post office in Fort Lauderdale, and it was a local landmark known for its trading post and ferry. He then started the first banking institution in the city and financed the construction of a road from New River to Miami. He was living his best life when he married Ivy Cromartie and used his amassed wealth to build her a lovely home. Sadly, he wasn’t able to maintain the upward trajectory of his early years. After the horror of the Great Depression was amplified by a damn hurricane, Stanahan was thrust into financial ruin, and he couldn’t take it. He chained a large iron gate to his ankle and leapt into the Intercoastal Waterway. But, people say that Frank’s ghost walked out of his watery grave and came home to rest.

Frank is believed to be responsible for strange apparitions and sounds, which include angry banging. On one occasion, a homeless man reported being chased off the property by an unseen man. Ivy’s spirit is also present, and visitors often smell the strong fragrance of aged perfume. Though the room is off limits most of the day, employees of the museum commonly find imprints on the bed in which Ivy died, as if someone has been sitting on it. A few years before Ivy died in the room, her father Augustus Cromartie died there; he also appears around the house from time to time, as do Ivy’s brother and sister and an Indian servant girl. There’s no bloody history marring this home. If anything, it’s a tale of extreme sadness… Though that doesn’t make a cold touch on your back when you walk through the attic any less terrifying.