Do you believe in ghosts? In a recent poll, nearly half of Americans admitted that they did. For these believers, visiting a haunted house is one of the best ways to confirm — or perhaps deny — the existence of paranormal beings.
But real haunted houses are far from the kitschy attractions erected every October in honor of Halloween. These places are old, filled with history, and replete with hair-raising tales that aren't for the faint of heart.
Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast
Fall River, Massachusetts
Lizzie Borden is so infamous that she remains a part of our modern-day culture, with television shows, movies, songs, and books all dedicated to the murderess’ gruesome tale. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the short version: one morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden took an ax and brutally bludgeoned her father and stepmother to death in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Or so we think. Although she was charged with the murder, she was found not guilty. The very same home where the murder took place is now a bed and breakfast that hosts tours and seances. Paranormal investigators claim that the house is a hotbed of ghostly activity and visitors to the home often report strange occurrences, including hearing the cries of a woman, the laughter of children, and witnessing human-shaped imprints on the bed.
Bell Witch Home and Cave
The Bell Witch haunting was so infamous during its day that tales of the legend reached President Andrew Jackson. As the story goes, a farmer named John Bell bought a tract of land in Tennessee in 1804. For 13 years, he lived there with his family peacefully and prosperously, until strange things began to happen out of the blue. It started with bizarre sightings around the farm, like a dog with the head of a rabbit, and eventually led to tortuous physical attacks on Bell and his daughter, Betsy. It is believed that the terrorizing was done by the ghost of Kate Batts, a neighbor who claimed Bell had cheated her out of purchasing the land. Batts’ ghost didn’t let up until Bell died, at which point she vowed to return in seven years. Some people believe Batts still roams the surrounding area and is the source of any odd incidents that happen to occur. Eyewitness accounts of neighbors corroborate the tale of the Bell Witch, in addition to researchers who have studied the case.
The White House
One of the most famous houses in the U.S. also happens to be the most haunted, with countless stories of ghost sightings over the years. Most notably, President Lincoln is rumored to still roam the halls, with various reputable sources reporting sightings of the assassinated leader. One such case directly involved Winston Churchill — when the British Prime Minister was staying in the Lincoln Room, he recognized the former president as he was stepping out of the bathtub. Upon seeing Lincoln standing by the fireplace, Churchill remarked, “Good Evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” Oddly enough, President Reagan’s daughter, Maureen, also saw the ghostly specter of the 16th President in the very same room. And it’s not only former presidents that are purported to haunt the establishment. During his tenure, President Taft spied the late First Lady Abigail Adams doing laundry in the East Room, where she used to hang clothes to dry. Other phantom sightings include First Lady Dolley Madison, President Andrew Jackson, and Lincoln’s son Willie, who died in the White House of typhoid fever.
From the street, Franklin Castle does appear rather gothic, with an imposing wrought iron fence, several dramatic turrets, and elaborate, carved stonework. But the house wasn’t always this way. Built-in the 1880s by banker Hannes Tiedemann, the residence was a happy home before a series of unfortunate events took place. Tiedemann and his wife suffered the deaths of four children while living in this house, and supposedly Tiedemann added to the home’s elaborate decor as a way to distract his wife from her grief. Throughout the years, the home has had several different owners, many of whom reported unexplained phenomenons, including the sounds of crying babies, sightings of a woman dressed in black, and unidentified footsteps in the hallway. As of 2017, the home was purchased by new owners to be renovated as a private residence.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Commonly referred to as “the haunted house” by New Orleans locals, the LaLaurie Mansion rose to fame when it was featured on a season of American Horror Story. Although the television show took many creative liberties, it is largely based on the true story of socialite Madame Delphine LaLaurie, who lived in the French Quarter abode during the 19th century. Masking herself as a kind, gracious, and genteel woman, LaLaurie was in fact a serial killer who tortured and murdered slaves in her basement. Her true character wasn’t revealed until 1843 when the home caught on fire, and men on the scene discovered seven tortured slaves locked in the basement. In the ensuing years, numerous terrifying experiences have been reported from inside the house, in addition to passersby who have witnessed paranormal activity — such as screams of terror and white figures in the window — from the street.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Located in Virginia Beach, Ferry Plantation has no shortage of history — or creepy incidents. Notorious for being the site of the trial and imprisonment of Grace Sherwood, also known as the “Witch of Pungo,” it is believed Sherwood’s ghost still roams the property today. Sentenced to a trial by water in 1706, Sherwood survived the test — thereby proving her guilt — and was imprisoned for seven years. Sightings of a wet-haired woman walking the river are believed to be her ghost seeking rightful justice. But the infamous witch isn’t the only ghostly presence on the plantation. Several docents and guests have reported witnessing the spirits of former residents inside the home. There is a recurring report of a former slave named Henry, who is often seen kneeling by an old fireplace. Several people have also witnessed the specter of a young boy named Eric, who fell out of a window in 1850 and perished. And sometimes, it's said that the vision of a mourning pregnant woman, believed to be Mrs. Charles F. McIntosh, can be seen in the reflection of a window in the Best Parlor.
Villisca Axe Murder House
When J.B. and Sarah Moore went to bed on June 10, 1912, it was a typical evening in the small town of Villisca, Iowa. They had spent the day organizing and participating in the Children’s Day Program at their local Presbyterian Church, and arrived home with their four children and two guests, the Stillinger girls, in tow. The next morning, all of the home’s occupants — two adults and six children — were found deceased in their beds, bludgeoned to death by an ax. Over a hundred years later, the case remains a mystery, and the murderer was never caught. Today, the home still stands, and is believed to be haunted by the spirits of the Moores and Stillingers, making their presence known through phantom footsteps, dark shadows, and terrifying apparitions. The house is open to rent for those who are brave enough to stay overnight, although it may not be advised. In addition to the hauntings within the house, one man claims he’s been cursed ever since his visit, while another paranormal investigator inexplicably stabbed himself while in the house.
West Palm, Florida
Built in 1905 in West Palm, Florida, the Riddle House was originally used as a funeral parlor. In the 1920s, it was bought by city manager Karl Riddle, who turned into a private residence. After one of Riddle’s employees hung himself inside the home, the house staff began to report a slew of strange noises, and many of them quit out of fearfulness. By the 1980s, the house was abandoned and had fallen into disrepair. To avoid being demolished, the building was dismantled and moved to Yesteryear Village to be on permanent display. During reconstruction, there were so many mysterious incidents and accidents on the job, that the work was delayed by six months, with several carpenters reporting a sense of unease inside the home. One of the most peculiar incidents occurred when the Riddle House was unveiled to the public and a young, attractive couple dressed in 1920s garb was spotted milling about the party. Most people assumed the couple were hired actors until later, an identical pair was spotted in one of the home’s original photos. At this point, the couple had already disappeared and could not be found for the rest of the evening.
Top photo by JustPixs