American history is rife with violent tales: grisly murders, massacres, tragic accidents and suicides litter the historical landscape. These kind of tragedies are apt to give rise to tales of horrifying hauntings; American folklore is chock-full of ghosts and ghouls. Many of these supposed specters are associated with violence, tragedy or unsolved crimes. Some of the places associated with these ghost tales have become well-known across the nation—and some are all the more terrifying because there’s at least some grain of truth buried in those ghastly yarns.
9. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
As far as spooky places go, you can’t get much more terrifying than an old asylum. Although many former asylums have been converted since their closure, others are abandoned—but almost all are rumored to be haunted with the ghosts of those patients who died in care there. The Trans-Allegheny Asylum, in Weston, West Virginia, has been mostly vacant since its closure in the mid-1990s, although a few small museums did operate during the early 2000s. These days, you can take a historic tour or a ghost tour during the evening. If you’re really up for a challenge, take the intensive, 8-hour ghost hunt on a Saturday night. The site also served as a post for soldiers during the Civil War, so in addition to the rumored spirits of hundreds of mentally ill patients, Civil War ghosts have also been reported to haunt the facility.
8. Moundsville Penitentiary
Like asylums, places where prisoners were held are often purported to be full of ghosts. The old Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia is one such supposedly haunted jail. These days, the former prison is a tourist attraction, used to host an annual Halloween attraction, but that’s not the only spooky thing going on here. Unexplained noises, voices, cold spots and even reports of a “shadow” man have given Moundsville a reputation as one of the most haunted prisons in America. Operating between 1876 and 1995, the facility had a violent history: 94 prisoners were executed and 36 were murdered by their fellow inmates. One such case was that of R.D. Wall, who was butchered in October 1929. In 1986, 3 inmates were killed during a riot. With stories like that, is it any wonder there’d be a few vengeful spirits still wandering here?
7. Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area
Gold was discovered in Sumpter, Oregon, in 1862, and between 1912 and 1934, 3 gold dredges operated in the valley district. The dredges weren’t overly sophisticated machines, but that didn’t make them safe. Two people were killed working on the dredges—though neither of them were “Joe Bush.” In 1918, an oiler named Christopher Rowe was greasing winch gears, when the gears started turning and Rowe was sucked in. When that dredge was dismantled to build the new No. 3, the gears were moved—and some say Rowe’s ghost moved with them. But reports of haunting didn’t pick up steam until the 1940s, when workers claimed that “Joe” would move tools and eat forgotten lunches. Some also report the ghost causes lights to flicker and doors to open and close. “Joe” is even said to leave wet footprints on the deck of the dredge.
6. Myrtles Plantation
When Europeans arrived in America, Native Americans had been living on the land for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the new arrivals didn’t have much respect for that and often built right over important cultural sites—including burial grounds. Myrtles Plantation, in St. Francisville near Baton Rouge, is one building rumored to be right on top of a Native American burial ground. It’s also one of the scariest haunted houses in America, supposedly the home of no less than 12 ghosts. Legend says that up to 10 murders occurred in the house, but only the murder of William Winter is on record. Along with Winter’s ghost, other spectral residents include a young Native American woman, the spirits of a former owner and her 2 children, a murdered slave woman, at least 1 Civil War soldier and a young girl who died in 1868, who reportedly practices voodoo on unsuspecting guests.
5. Huntingdon College
The Red Lady of Huntingdon College supposedly haunts the former Pratt Hall on the Montgomery campus, and her story is one many of us can relate to. According to legend, a student named Martha arrived to begin her studies at Huntingdon at the behest of her father. Originally from New York, Martha didn’t really want to go to Alabama. The other girls thought she was stand-offish and rude and Martha was unable to make any friends. Embittered, depressed and lonely, Martha committed suicide by slashing her wrists. The student who found her claimed to have seen red flashes of light shooting out of the room as she approached. Today, students say the date of Martha’s death is marked by red flashes of light from the room, and the ghost returns to haunt the building.
4. Lizzie Borden House
The murders of Andrew and Abby Borden in 1892 caused a scandal across the nation. No one knows for sure who committed the crime, but the prime suspect was Lizzie Borden, Andrew’s daughter. The Bordens were butchered with an ax—as a popular ditty went, Lizzie “gave her mother 40 whacks.” Lizzie was acquitted at her trial, but no one else was ever charged. Today, the Lizzie Borden House, where the murders took place, is a bed and breakfast. Daily tours will take you to the rooms where Andrew and Abby were found, as well as to the basement where the ax was supposedly left by the murderer. Ghost hunters say the house is a hotbed of paranormal activity and the owners have a number of ghost cameras set up throughout the house. Some report seeing various players in the crime, including the ghosts of the victims and Lizzie.
3. Villisca Ax Murder House
Another famous ax murder case, also unsolved, occurred in the town of Villisca, Iowa, in 1912. Six members of the Moore family and 2 hapless house guests were bludgeoned to death on night in June. Several people were tried, but no one was ever convicted of the crime. The house where the murders took place is reported to be haunted: former tenants claim that they’d seen the shadowy figure of a man standing at the foot of their beds, swinging an ax, and to have heard the sound of children sobbing. Closet doors open and close, clothes are thrown out of dressers and shoes have been reported to fill with blood and move around the room. The house, which is now a museum, has been investigated by many ghost hunters, some of whom claim to have recorded a man saying things like “I killed 6 kids.”
2. Queen Esther’s Town Preserve
Many bloody battles were fought in the early days of America, making colonial history ripe for ghosts like Queen Esther. Legend says that Queen Esther, learning of her son’s death, rallied 500-plus villagers and raided a farm, killing at least 2 people in September 1778. A 200-man military force engaged the fierce Iroquian warriors of the village. The Iroquian women and children were caught and executed, and Esther was lynched. Today, near Athens, Pennsylvania, some say you can hear the screaming of the victims. Hunters report seeing a young woman weeping in an oak tree. She disappears and, after the sighting, weapons will fail to fire. Some people believe this is the spirit of Queen Esther trying to prevent more deaths. Others say Esther left a curse that would bring great misfortune to any settler who tried to live on the land where the massacre took place.
1. The Bell Witch Cave
Although the Bell Witch might be one of the most famous stories in American paranormal folklore, nobody is quite sure who—or what—the “witch” was. Some accounts say the witch was a poltergeist, while others think it may have been the curse of a neighbor placed upon the Bell family in Adams, Tennessee. Still others say the neighbor was the witch herself. Whatever the case, the Bell family was tormented between 1817 and 1824: family members were pinched and prodded, animals were spooked for no seeming reason and unusual noises were heard. Eventually, John Bell died, but the witch went on tormenting the family; even today, Bell family descendants claim to be cursed. Although the Bells no longer own the farm property where the haunting took place, a nearby cave, called the Bell Witch Cave, is reputedly haunted and reports of paranormal activity continue to this very day.