Whether you're a believer or not, America's towns are filled with true ghost stories passed down through time. From haunted fortresses and historic military spots to grisly tales of suffering and death, we've collected the country's most chilling real ghost stories.
Moundsville, West Virginia
During its more than 100 years in operation, the Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia was one of America's most violent correctional facilities and the final stop for almost 1,000 criminals. The prisoners lived in cramped quarters, which led to riots. Many men were hung or killed in the electric chair, while others were murdered by other prisoners. The prison closed in 1995, but according to some, the tortured spirits are still behind bars and in the bowels of the prison and may be seen or heard on a tour.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Weston, West Virginia
Once known as the Weston State Hospital, this asylum was home to thousands of people with mental illness, starting in 1864. Hundreds of people died here before the facility closed in 1994. Spirits are said to haunt the building and grounds today, dating back to the Civil War era when the asylum's grounds served as a military post. Paranormal tours of the facility feature 2-hour visits to the asylum's 4 main hot spots. The more intense Ghost Hunt is an 8-hour overnight paranormal adventure with experienced ghost-hunting guides.
Villisca Axe Murder House
On June 10, 1912, the old white frame house at 508 E. 2nd Street became a grisly crime scene. The heinous murder of Josiah B. Moore, his wife, their 4 children and 2 young girls who were overnight guests rocked the small town of Villisca, IA, and the murderer was never identified. Over the years, residents of the home reported visions of a man with an ax, children crying and unexplained paranormal activity. In 1994, the home was restored to its original condition with no indoor plumbing or electricity. These touches add to the chilling ambience during a lamplight tour from April through November or an overnight experience available by reservation for groups.
Jerome, AZ, is a former copper-mining town with a paranormal reputation that dates back to the Wild West. The town is now home to just 400 residents (down from 15,000 in its heyday), but legend has it there are plenty more ghostly residents from the days of mining accidents and shoot-out gunfights. One well-known spirit is the working girl Sammie Dean, a prostitute who was strangled by a customer in the old Crib District. Her beautiful spirit roams the alleys looking for her killer who was never found.
Cuban Club, also known as Circulo Cubano de Tampa, can be found in Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood. In 1917 this spot was a popular hangout for Cuban immigrants who enjoyed the ballroom, outdoor band shell and cantina with a stage and dance floor. Today the compound, protected by the National Historic Register, hosts concerts and special events and is the setting for many ghost stories about spirits playing the piano and riding the elevators.
Built in 1771, Fort Mifflin is the country's only Revolutionary War battlefield that is still intact. There are 14 restored buildings on the grounds on the Delaware River and reportedly plenty of spirits from the past. Amongst the ghosts said to haunt the fort are a screaming woman whose cries are so loud that the Philadelphia police have been called to investigate, only to find no one there. Other characters in the local ghost stories include a faceless man wandering around the fort, a tour guide dressed in revolutionary garb and numerous children and dogs.
New York, New York
SoHo is one of Manhattan's hipster havens with trendy shops and gourmet restaurants. But you may get more than you planned for at dinner at the Manhattan Bistro (129 Spring Street), a French restaurant with a notable ghost. Juliana Elmore Sands was killed in this building in 1799 when she was thrown into a well in the basement. According to some ghost stories, her spirit, often called the Ghost of Spring Street, manifests itself as vapor rising from the kitchen floor and causes front-of-house mischief with flying ashtrays and shattered dishes.
Moon River Brewery
The Moon River Brewery brought its beloved beers to Savannah in 1999, but the building is one of the oldest in town, dating back to 1821. In its original incarnation, it was the City Hotel, a high-end hotel with a history of violence during the Civil War. Men were killed in the hotel during heated skirmishes, including a Yankee who was beaten to death by locals in 1860. Some bar patrons today say they've seen bottles mysteriously fly through the air and have witnessed guests being pushed, touched and even slapped by unseen forces. One resident apparition, Toby, is said to skulk around the billiard room looking for the next great bar brawl.
The Sultan's Palace
New Orleans, Louisiana
The house at 716 Dauphine Street is a classic French Quarter beauty with classic wrought-iron balconies and a large courtyard. But in the 1800s, this residence was a house of horrors for the Sultan, a wealthy man with a depraved lifestyle, multiple wives and children and a harem of women and young boys held against their will. Neighbors complained about the mysterious habits of this man who had a predilection for partying, opium and torture. But the greatest mystery in the house was the Sultan's demise when he was buried alive in the courtyard after his family and harem were hacked to pieces in a bloodbath by an unknown perpetrator. Today, his angry spirit is thought to be responsible for the unusual noises, loud music and strong incense smells that waft from the home, as well as unwelcomed advances on past female residents who swear the Sultan is still up to his old tricks of groping female visitors.
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Toni Jo Henry has been the talk of the small town of Lake Charles since the 1940s when she killed a man in cold blood. Just as notorious were her stunning good looks. The former prostitute charmed a gentleman in a pickup truck to give her a ride while she was walking the highway with a friend en route to spring her true love from a Texas prison. It took 3 trials for a jury to convict the wily Toni Jo, who had charmed the courtroom and jail staff and divided the town over her presumed guilt. In 1942, this murderous beauty known as Tiger Girl was the first female to die in the electric chair in the state. Her spirit lingers in the courthouse today, and workers there swear they feel her presence, hear her screams and even smell her burning hair. Many believe that she tinkers with office equipment, locks doors and meddles with everyday office life at the courthouse.