Haunted Places to Visit
Certain places carry a vibe, driven by particularly gory, cultish or otherwise unusual history. Ghost tours can be cool because they tend to steer off the beaten tourist track. Enough people believe in ghosts to make me occasionally doubt my position that they don’t exist.
For believers and nonbelievers, here are 5 haunted places to visit on your next road trip to feed your paranormal curiosity.
Bisbee, an amalgam of hippies, old miners, shady loiterers and retirees, is weird enough on its own. Every time I visit I feel like I’m cavorting with the ghosts of bygone eras. The town is built into arid hills with enough shadowy nooks, uncertain history and believers to feed all kinds of paranormal activity. Resident ghosts include a prostitute, a miner and a martyr. The epicenter is the Copper Queen Hotel, the oldest, continually operating hotel in Arizona and home to a reported 16 ghosts (guests report incidents in a well-used ‘ghost book’). If you need to achieve a certain state to ghost hunt, Old Bisbee Ghost Tour also offers a haunted pub crawl (“spirits guaranteed!”). Bisbee’s location in southern Arizona ties in well with visits to Karchner Caverns and old Tucson.
Some places become haunted in spite of themselves. Not so in New Orleans, where the worship of ancestral spirits dates to the arrival of African slaves in the late 18th century. Louisiana voodoo, a melding of French, African, Creole and Spanish religious practices, is noted for its devotion to voodoo queens and Li Grand Zombi, the Congolese snake spirit. Add in dark-eyed street musicians, sprawling urban cemeteries and a local affection for trippy masks, and it becomes tough to tell the real from the supernatural. My Big Easy haunted encounters usually involve inadvisable glances in the mirror after long nights of trying to keep pace drinking with the locals. For less alarming ghost sightings, check with Haunted History Tours.
If you think a city must be haunted just because it was the site of the most famous witch trials in US history, well, you’re right. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a witch. Modern-day practitioners, called wiccans, are fairly benign. And modern-day Salem, a harbor-front town with brick sidewalks and inviting shops and restaurants, looks peaceful enough. But the spirits of the 20 men and women killed in the 1692 witchcraft trials reportedly crash many a visit. The Hawthorne Hotel, where Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the Scarlet Letter, is known for its haunted elevator. The Joshua Ward House, built on the site of witch trial Sheriff George Corwin’s former home, is said to confound cameras by replacing subjects with spectral images. Every October the city hosts a month-long Tales and Tombstones tour.
Savannah’s haunting may foretell the future for many other towns. The city essentially ran out of room to expand and built homes atop old cemeteries. Any watcher of B-quality horror films could have predicted the outcome: Ghosts now run amok but at least they have the good sense to congregate in fancy homes and lush gardens, mostly within convenient walking distance of each other in Savannah’s riverfront historic district. One, the Hampton-Lillibridge House on East St. Julian Street, has been the site of numerous random-luck deaths and unexplained ruckus.
The Windy City has enough gauzy history to haunt a few countries, from a city-wide fire blamed on a cow and sordid gangland activity to a horrifyingly meticulous serial killer and Rod Blagojevich’s hair. Some students of the spectral, including PrairieGhosts.com, claim Chicago has more ghosts per capita than any city in America. I’ve taken in a lot of this on foot through the city but perhaps the best way to see the city’s historic underbelly up close is on a kayak tour of the Chicago River, which wends through the center of town.
On second thought, maybe I do believe, just a little. Ghosts, it seems, really do have fun.
Travel writer John Briley promises to be a benevolent, if mischievous, haunter if he ever gets the chance.