Visit even the smallest of towns in the U.S. and you’re likely to hear some local ghost stories and discover a few haunted houses. But some American cities have gained the reputation for being particularly ghost-ridden thanks to their rich and often bizarre historical backgrounds. The following are ten of the most haunted cities to steer away from—or toward, if you dare—this Halloween.
10. San Francisco, CaliforniaSan Francisco’s rich cultural makeup, large immigrant population, and a history of natural disasters like earthquakes have helped it develop a reputation as a Mecca of all things haunted. Chinatown alone is home to countless ghost tours and creepy folklore, but the city also boasts a wealth of haunted hotels, mansions, and army bases. Of these, one of the most famous is the Queen Anne Hotel, which served as a school for girls in the 1890s and is said to be haunted by the ghost of its former headmistress, Mary Lake. There are also a number of stories concerning Mary Anne Pleasant, the so-called “Voodoo Queen of San Francisco,” who was a former slave and abolitionist who used a knowledge of the black arts to gain wealth and influence among the city’s elite. Even the trendy San Francisco Art Institute, which is rumored to have been built on top of a graveyard that housed victims of the 1906 earthquake, is said to be the home of several ghosts who have frequently been seen climbing the stairs to a tower that overlooks the ancient cemetery.
Most Haunted Place: Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island is one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks, but the former maximum-security prison is also home to some of the city’s weirdest ghost stories. Visitors to the island often claim to see apparitions walking the cellblocks, and sometimes hear voices emanating from what was once the cafeteria.
9. Key West, FloridaSunny Key West might not seem like the most probable setting for haunted houses, but this small beach community is home to some of the oldest—and downright creepiest—of all ghost stories. The city’s rich history of buccaneers and rumrunners provides the backdrop for a lot of these ghosts, like those that are said haunt Captain Tony’s Saloon. Before it was a bar, Captain Tony’s was supposedly the location of the island’s morgue, and the tree that grows through the building’s center is said to have been a major site for lynching pirates and other criminals, and many are said to still haunt the premises today. Other local ghost stories concern the writer Ernest Hemingway, who kept a home on Key West for some thirty years. Hemingway’s house, now a museum dedicated to his life and work, is said to house the novelist’s ghost. Some visitors and workers claim to see him walking the grounds, while others have heard the clicking of his typewriter coming from inside the main house.
Most Haunted: Robert the Doll
8. Athens, OhioAthens, Ohio is a small town that is home to the Ohio University as well as some downright strange ghost stories. This small, otherwise peaceful community has inspired stories of hauntings that include everything from a headless train conductor to pagan cults and the violent murders of livestock. Many claim that when plotted on a map, the city’s five major graveyards form the symbol of a pentagram, and strange rituals are at the center of many of Athens’ most famous ghost tales. A lot of these stories date back over a hundred years, when the town became associated with the Spiritualist movement of the 1800s. The most famous tells of Jonathan Koons, a poor farmer who was instructed by ghosts to build a “spirit room” in which apparitions would then manifest and communicate with him from beyond the grave.
Most Haunted Place: Athens Lunatic Asylum
There’s nothing creepier than a good old-fashioned insane asylum, and Athens has one of the most famous in the form of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, which operated from 1874 until 1993. The hospital held many violent patients, and is notorious for being the site of hundreds of lobotomies. Since closing, the hospital has been the at the center of numerous ghost stories, most of which are kept alive by the students at the university, which now owns the asylum grounds. The most famous of these concerns Margaret, a deaf-mute patient who supposedly escaped from her room, accidentally became trapped in an abandoned ward, and eventually died of exposure. Her decomposing body was found weeks later, and supposedly the stain that was left on the floor of the ward can still be seen today.
7. Portland, OregonPortland, Oregon has developed a reputation as the most haunted city of the Pacific Northwest thanks to its bizarre history and high number of ghost sightings. One of the city’s most famous haunted houses is Pittock Mansion, an ornate house that was built in 1914 by a wealthy businessman and his wife, both of whom died shortly thereafter. Visitors have claimed to have seen apparitions and heard footsteps coming from empty rooms, and doors and windows will sometimes open by themselves. Weirdest of all, a portrait of Mr. Pittock, the man who built the house, will inexplicably be found in different parts of the house, as though it can move itself from room to room. In addition to the Pittock house, other Portland haunted places include the Bagdad theater, a movie theater built during the roaring 20s that supposedly houses a number of spirits, and the Willamette river, where in recent years a phantom rowboat has been spotted by several people.
Most Haunted Place: Shanghai Tunnels
Portland’s coastal location established it as a shipping hub and port of call for sailors during the 1800s. This eventually led to the rise of a practice known as shanghaiing, wherein unsuspecting men and women were kidnapped from bars or hotels, shipped to the Orient, and impressed into slave labor or prostitution. Portland was notorious for this practice thanks to a series of labyrinthine underground tunnels that run beneath the city streets, which were used by the Shanghaiiers as a safe way to capture and transfer victims to the harbor without being seen. Today, the tunnels are said to be haunted by the ghosts of the people who were kidnapped, many of whom were never seen or heard from again.
6. Charleston, South CarolinaKnown as the “Holy City” for the church spires that dot its skyline, Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the U.S., and also one of the most haunted. Victorian mansions line the downtown area known as the Battery, which was a protective artillery installation during the Civil War, and it is here that many of the city’s most haunted houses can be found. Perhaps the most famous is the Battery Carriage House Inn, a hotel where people have reported seeing everything from strange lights, to the gentlemanly ghost of a student who died after leaping off the roof, to a headless torso that appears at guests’ bedsides in the middle of the night. Charleston is also known for a number of ghost stories that originated with the Gullah, a West African culture that populates parts of South Carolina and Georgia. The most famous Gullah horror stories usually center on Boo Hags, a type of blood-red vampire that wears human skin as a mask and feeds on its victim’s energy while they sleep.
Most Haunted Place: the Dock Street Theater
5. Salem, MassachusettsIn 1692, Salem, Mass. became the sight of a series of infamous trials after three local women were accused of using witchcraft to terrorize a trio of young girls. The trials soon escalated into mass hysteria, with townspeople vehemently accusing neighbors and acquaintances, almost all of them unmarried women, of being witches. Over 150 people were arrested and charged, and as may as 19 were eventually executed by hanging. Today, the town of Salem encourages its reputation as “Witch City, USA” and has one of the biggest Halloween celebrations in the country. Alongside the tourist shops and museums, though, stand several infamous ghost stories related to the witch trials. One in particular concerns Gallows Hill, the site of several hangings, which is said to be haunted by the spirits of the 19 people lynched for being witches.
Most Haunted Place: Joshua Ward House
Known as one of the most haunted houses in America, Joshua Ward House is built on the foundation of the home of George Corwin, the man who served as Sheriff during the Salem witch trials. Corwin is infamous for his role in the death of Giles Corey, a local man who was charged with witchcraft. When Corey refused to enter a plea in court, Corwin used an old English legal precedent and placed him under a board piled with rocks in order to coerce him into talking. Corey never relented, and was eventually crushed to death under the massive weight. To this day, many claim that Corey and Corwin, who is rumored to be buried beneath the foundation of his old home, haunt the Joshua Ward House.
4. Chicago, Illinois
Thanks to its famous great fire and history of gangsters and underworld criminals like Al Capone, Chicago has developed quite a reputation for being haunted. The city has a number of well known ghost stories that are whispered among the locals each Halloween, and perhaps none is more famous that the story of Resurrection Mary. As the story goes, Mary was a young girl who was hit and killed by a car while leaving a dance hall with her boyfriend. She was buried in nearby Resurrection Cemetery, and ever since she can be periodically seen wandering the streets in her white burial dress, still trying to find her way back home. Another famous story concerns what has come to be known as the “Devil Baby of Hull House,” a child born with scaly skin and a pointed tail who supposedly haunts the house once owned by famed activist Jane Addams.
Most Haunted Place: Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery
Rumored to be one of the prohibition-era gangsters’ favorite places to dump bodies, Bachelor’s Grove is an old and decaying burial ground that has been the site of countless stories about ghosts, spirits, and devil worship. Several headstones in the cemetery seem to move at will, and many claim that the spirits of the dead often materialize and walk the grounds at night. The most famous of these is the “White Lady,” the ghost of a young woman who is always seen in a white dress, often cradling a baby in her arms.