Top 10 Most Haunted Cities to Spend a Weekend
Take your love of Halloween up a notch by visiting some of the most haunted cities in North America. Luckily, these cities also offer a wealth of other activities just in case you need a break from being scared.
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It’s believed that Savannah was built on American Indian burial grounds, which goes hand-in-hand with hauntings. It was also the site of Revolutionary and Civil War battles and yellow fever outbreaks. Best-selling novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil boosted the city’s spookier side, putting locales like Bonaventure Cemetery (pictured) on the national radar. Locations either mentioned or otherwise connected to the book, such as the Mercer Williams House Museum, are part of some haunted tours. Choose from Haunted Savannah Tours, Ghost City Tours or Blue Orb Tours to learn more.
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Go the DIY route and take your pick of haunted restaurants, like The Pirate’s House or The Olde Pink House. If you’re brave enough, spend the night at a haunted hotel: Room 204 at the 17hundred90 Inn & Restaurant is reportedly visited by a ghost named Anne; she can be heard crying after turning off the lights. The Marshall House was once used as a hospital during the Civil War and yellow fever outbreaks, and tales abound, from ghost children who bite to soldiers carrying severed limbs. Other majorly haunted sites include Moon River Brewing Company, which was the city’s first hotel in 1821 and featured in an episode of Ghost Adventures.
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Charleston is no stranger to tragedy since its founding in 1670. As a result, many landmarks are considered haunted, particularly the Old City Jail (pictured), which was featured on Ghost Adventures. Built in 1802 on land that previously housed a hospital and a workhouse for runaway slaves, the jail housed criminals from pirates to Civil War prisoners—some of which are still there if you believe the stories of chains dragging along the floor and doors slamming. Lavinia and John Fisher are among the more notorious prisoners. The couple ran a hotel, and rumors swirled about them poisoning guests. They were eventually convicted of highway robbery and hung for the crime.
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Similarly, the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon imprisoned Revolutionary War criminals who were chained in the dungeon until they were executed; although many never made it out of the dungeon alive. Listen for phantom moans and rattling chains. Elsewhere, grab a bite at Poogan’s Porch Restaurant and keep watch for the regular who refuses to leave. The Battery Carriage House Inn is an upscale bed and breakfast that bills itself as the most romantic in the city; it’s also one of the most haunted. A menacing headless torso is fond of Room 8, the Gentlemen Ghost hangs out in Room 10, while a bevy of spirits occupy Room 3 and are fond of calling cell phones that are turned off. Bulldog Tours and Old Charleston Walking Tours share these stories and more.
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New Orleans, La.
Civil War battles, yellow fever outbreaks and centuries of voodoo magic all contribute to making The Big Easy a top contender for the most haunted city in America. Many of the city’s hotels, bars and other sites in the French Quarter alone are haunted, such as Hotel Monteleone, Hotel Provincial, Hotel Villa Convento, Tujaque's and Muriel's Jackson Square. Join a ghost tour with Haunted History Tours or Ghost City Tours to learn about these and more, including cemeteries such as St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, where famed voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is buried.
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New Orleans, La.
There’s plenty of non-spooky fun to be had in New Orleans. Though touristy, Frenchmen Street is packed with restaurants, shops and music venues. There are dozens of jazz clubs around the city; Preservation Hall opened in 1961 and remains a heavyweight on the scene. The city is also a major foodie heaven, from longtime favorites Café du Monde for its beignets and chicory coffee to Galatoire’s Restaurant for special-occasion French Creole. The newer guard consists of contemporary Creole at Trinity in the French Quarter to Seaworthy, a trendy restaurant known for its oyster bar and cocktails in the Warehouse District. Of course, don’t miss venturing over to the genteel Garden District to gaze at large antebellum mansions and visit boutiques.
The White House, The National Theatre and Hay-Adams Hotel are among the city’s haunted hot spots. Get the lowdown on its seedy past with Washington DC Ghost Tours, Scary DC or Washington Walks. However, The U.S. Capitol Building (pictured), which was built in the mid-1800s, is filled with spectres, from construction workers to politicians (John Quincy Adams actually died there). In fact, there’s even a "demon cat" that appears right before national tragedies.
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Historical hauntings also happen at The Octagon House. Dolley Madison, wife of president James Madison, lived there for a spell, and loved throwing parties; she’s sometimes seen in her party frock. Less happy occurrences in the mansion’s past include rumored murders and unexplained deaths. If you take a self-guided tour of the now museum, don’t be alarmed to feel cold spots on the staircase or hear knocking inside the walls.
A yellow fever outbreak in the late 18th century killed as many as 5,000 people, who are undoubtedly among the souls that haunt Philly. But Eastern State Penitentiary (pictured) is one of the most notorious haunted locales. The prison was the first of its kind to impose solitary confinement when it opened in 1829. Some of its most infamous inmates include mafia ringleader Al Capone and bank robber nonpareil Willie Sutton. Since closing in 1971, paranormal activity ranging from shadowy figures to accounts of being grabbed have been reported in cellblocks four, six and 12 especially. Every fall the prison holds its popular Terror Behind the Walls haunted house, and while the odds of an actual encounter are low during this time, it’s the only way to experience the prison at night. Join Ghost Tours of Philadelphia or Grim Philly Tours to visit more haunted spots.
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Switch gears by wandering around historic Old City and Society Hill and learning about the city’s non-haunted history. In that regard, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the National Constitution Center are obligatory. And don’t miss Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in the nation. With your head full of history, peruse the many shops that pepper the city, from hipster Northern Liberties to upscale Rittenhouse Square.
New York City, N.Y.
So many people love N.Y.C. so much that they never leave, even after death. In fact, there are so many departed spirits that Ghosts of New York Walking Tours offers about 20 different options. Ghosts, Murders and Mayhem Walking Tours and Boroughs of the Dead are popular tours as well. Fans of the Hamilton musical can even search for the ghosts of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. For example, One if by Land, Two if by Sea is one of the city’s most romantic restaurants. It was also Aaron Burr’s former carriage house, and he’s one of about 20 ghosts who really enjoy the ambience. Burr’s daughter Theodosia is another inhabitant, but be warned she likes to steal earrings. Meanwhile, the Merchant's House Museum (pictured), was home to the Tredwell family for about 100 years, and apparently still is for some. Hauntings include daytime ghost sightings, voices and unexplained smells and noises. Oh, and the museum offers candlelit ghost tours in October.
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The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 lasted two days and killed at least 300 people. However, even worse was the 1903 fire at the much-touted fireproof Iroquois Theater, which killed more than 600 people at an afternoon performance. In fact, the alley behind it has been nicknamed “Death Alley,” after those who jumped to their death to escape the fire. It’s also where recovered bodies were temporarily placed. The Oriental Theater (pictured) now resides on the spot, and people have seen ghosts in period dress, heard screams and smelled smoke.
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Try your luck by booking a room at the Congress Plaza Hotel, said to be overflowing with ghosts. Room 441 is believed to be among the most haunted, with a woman that shakes the bed, shadowy figures and projectile objects. Even scarier, there’s a sealed shut room with no doorknob on the 12th floor. You probably wouldn’t want to spend the night there anyway. Weird Chicago Tours and Chicago Hauntings cover more haunted spots around the city.
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At one point, Portland was considered one of the most dangerous port cities in the world thanks to prostitution, gangs, opium dens and gambling rings. One of the most persistent stories from this era is about the Shanghai Tunnels, which are underground tunnels that connected hotel and bar basements to the docks. Originally intended to transport goods from the waterfront, they're rumored to be where hired hands in the 19th century would kidnap, or “shanghai” men to work on ships bound for Asia. Victims would be dropped into the tunnel via trapdoors found in bars and imprisoned in cells until their ship set sail. Some ghost tours such as Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour, Haunted Pub Tour, Hawthorne Ghost Tour and Shanghai Tunnels/Portland Underground Tours start at Hobo’s Restaurant, where there’s a basement entrance to the tunnels. Besides hearing screaming and crying, people report seeing Nina, a prostitute who met an untimely end at the bottom of an elevator shaft of what’s now Old Town Pizza.
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San Francisco, Calif.
The lawless gold rush period and the 1906 earthquake, which triggered a fire that killed at least 3,000 people, likely contributed to San Francisco’s haunted present. However, Alcatraz Island is also notoriously haunted. Tales of death, murder and insanity surround the prison that once held mobster Al Capone. The National Park Service doesn’t offer official ghost tours, but you can visit at night for the chance to experience cold spots, whispering in empty cells and sounds of slamming doors. Learn about other haunted sites, from the USS Hornet to Chinatown, with San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour, Haunted Haight Walking Tour or SF Chinatown Ghost Tours.
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San Francisco, Calif.
Although about an hour from the city, it’s worth detouring to visit the Winchester Mystery House, whose history is just as fascinating as its hauntings. Long story short, a medium advised Mrs. Winchester to never stop building a house in order to prevent ghosts from haunting her. Mr. Winchester took this to heart, and after 38 years of endless construction, the result was 160 rooms with baffling architecture, from doors that open into walls to staircases that don’t lead anywhere. Ironically, despite her efforts, Winchester is most certainly haunted; take a candlelight tour in October and watch out for lights turning on or Mrs. Winchester herself calling your name.
Quebec City, Canada
Quebec’s dark history dates back to when it was New France more than 400 years ago. Join Ghost Tours of Quebec or Les Promenades Fantomes to visit sites such as the Plains of Abraham, which was a former battleground during the Seven Years’ War between the British and French. The worst fighting occurred during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 when more than 1,000 soldiers were killed. Venture into the surrounding tunnels, where some have smelled gunpowder and heard cannon shots. The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac (pictured) is one of the world’s most Instagrammed hotels, and yes, it’s haunted. It was named for Louis de Buade, a former 17th-century governor of Quebec. He roams the halls at night and has been seen everywhere from the hallways to guest rooms.
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