Nights are getting longer, shadows growing taller, and there is a biting chill in the air. Halloween has come and gone but the chill of late fall lends itself just as easily to tales of spirits and demons. Most of the stories are half-baked… but every once in awhile a friend shares something that seems too bizarre to be invented whole cloth. These are the tales that cause a shiver to travel down the spine.
Some of the scariest stories have at least a kernel of truth — unexplained occurrences, brutal deaths, and undeniable terror. It’s enough to give even the skeptics pause.
As we go through the list of supposedly “true” tales, you might be tempted to remind yourself that ghosts aren’t real. Share your own favorite ghost stories in the comments below.
The Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane
The Peoria Asylum, previously known as Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane, closed in 1967, but one patient remains. Manuel Bookbinder, also known as “Old Book”, was a patient at the asylum until 1910. While he was there, he would assist the crews who would bury unclaimed patients that had died in their care. It was said that he would lean against the elm trees surrounding the asylum and weep loudly at each burial. Even after his death, he was sighted at the future services, weeping against the old elms. To this day, visitors claim to hear his screams amongst the remaining trees.
The Hotel Del Coronado
When Kate Morgan checked into the beautiful Hotel Del Coronado on Thanksgiving Day in 1892, she was alone, apparently waiting to meet a man who would never show. After waiting for him for five days, she killed herself with a gunshot to the head. The hotel, located south of San Diego, is still active, and Kate Morgan’s presence is often felt by visitors. Televisions turning off and on at random, flickering lights, unexplainable breezes and whiffs of perfume and frequently reported, especially surrounding her third floor guest room. Some visitors have even claimed to see a woman in Victorian garb wandering the halls, doomed to stay alone at the hotel forever.
The Brown Lady, said to be Lady Dorothy Walpole, was “captured” on film by Captain Hubert C. Provand and his assistant in 1936 while on assignment for Country Life magazine. While photographing the grand staircase at Raynham Hall, they supposedly caught the flickering image of a woman in a brown dress. It is said that Walpole died in 1726, and while the official cause of death is smallpox, it is rumored that she was pushed down the stairs by her vengeful husband, Charles Townshend, who had kept her locked up away from her children for years after discovering an affair.
According to legend, she roams the hall looking for her five children. Whether or not the image is a hoax or a true rendering, the story is a deeply tragic one. Anyone else getting major Crimson Peak vibes?
Near Chicago’s Resurrection Cemetery, the ghost of Resurrection Mary is seen as a vanishing hitchhiker. According to the legend, Mary was attending a dance with her boyfriend sometime in the 1930s, and while they were on the drive home they argued, and Mary left her boyfriend to hitchhike home. Somewhere along Archer Avenue near the cemetery Mary was struck and killed in a hit and run accident. In 1939, a man named Jerry Palus claims to have spent the evening dancing and kissing Mary at the Liberty Grove and Hall before she disappeared into the cemetery. Ever since then, there have been various reports (specifically in 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1989) of a quiet young woman in a white dress being picked up by drivers after a narrowly avoided collision, before being asked to let out near the cemetery, where she subsequently vanished.
Stanisław Warszycki is a prominent figure in Polish history and folklore, and sightings of his ghost have been reported all over the country for centuries. Warszycki was a nobleman and military commander until his passing in 1681. A notoriously cruel man, the legend says that Warszycki sold his soul to the Devil to ensure the completion of the fortress Danków, and the Devil came to drag him to Hell before he was even dead. He is mainly seen at the castles at Ogrodzienic (where he was said to have a “cave of torture”) and Olsztyn, with clanging chains and black hounds. Whether or not he was actually taken to Hell alive, vestiges of his cruelty remain.
A figure of Hispanic folklore, La Llorona or “The Weeping Woman”, has a deeply tragic past that has popped up in fiction (NBC’s Grimm) and in horror stories for years. Once a woman named Maria, she was rejected by her husband for a younger woman, and after pining away for him, drowned herself and her children in a Mexican river. When she reached the gates of Heaven, her children were missing, and she was sent to wander the Earth looking for them for the rest of eternity as punishment for her terrible crime. It is said that those who hear her wails are marked for death, similar to the Gaelic legend of the banshee.
The Aokigahara Woods, also known as “The Suicide Forest” and “The Sea of Trees”, lies at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, and has a truly disturbing history. Aokigahara follows only the Golden Gate Bridge as the second most popular suicide location in the world, with anywhere from 10 to 30 people killing themselves there every year since the 1950s. The dense woods are supposedly haunted by the angry spirits known as yūrei, it is said that once you enter the forest, it is exceedingly difficult to leave. Throughout the entrances of the forest, there are signs begging people to turn back with warnings like “Your life is a precious gift from your parents.”
It is said that Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, haunts the grounds of the Tower of London, where she was executed in 1536. After her beheading, her ghost has been seen all over England, but the most famous sighting was in 1864, when Major General J.D. Dundas and his regiment was stationed at the Tower. From his window, Dundas saw a guard shouting at the figure of a woman, before the ethereal figure rushed towards him, causing the guard to pass out. However, some sketchier reports are a bit more upsetting, as others have reported that her ghost has her severed head tucked under her arm.
Everyone’s seen The Amityville Horror films, so it’s easy to forget the true stories behind it. On November 3, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., murdered his father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters in their home in Amityville, Long Island, New York. The following year, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the old DeFeo home, and almost immediately some very strange and terrifying things began to happen inside the house. Despite having a priest bless their new home, they began to manifest strange and bloody flu symptoms, horrifying physical transformations, and a voice demanding that they “get out.” The final straw was when George woke up in the night to see his wife levitating across their bed and hearing their children’s beds slam upstairs, while he himself was completely immobilized by some unseen force. After just 28 days in the house, the Lutz family fled, leaving everything they owned in the house.
Eventually, allegations surfaced that the Lutz’s story was all invented “over many bottles of wine,” though there are still some who contend that the original story was true. One thing is for certain, though, the Amityville horror house’s most recent residents, who lived there for almost 15 years, never experienced any spooky happenings.