H/T Mental Floss.
From heartbroken brides to spectral oenophiles, America is a melting pot of otherworldly entities who have staked a spiritual claim in every crack and cranny of the country—as well as in the local community’s consciousness. No matter what city or state you hail from, you no doubt grew up hearing terrifying tales of one ghost or another with whom you shared a zip code. We all did. Here are the spookiest ghost stories from all 50 states.
In February 1858, a steamboat named Eliza Battle set out on a cruise down the Tombigbee River, carrying 60 passengers and more than 1200 bales of cotton from Columbus, Mississippi, down to Mobile, Alabama. But on March 1, an unseasonably cold night, the cotton caught fire and quickly engulfed the ship in flames. It was the greatest nautical disaster in the river’s history, leaving 33 passengers and crew dead. On brisk and chilly nights, people sometimes see the burning Eliza Battle rising from the misty waters where it sank, trying to complete its journey to Mobile.
At the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, a woman named Mary movedinto the Golden North Hotel in Skagway with her fiancé, a prospector known as “Klondike Ike.” Before their marriage, Ike set off for the gold fields to make his fortune. But Ike never returned. Mary locked herself in their room and waited, her anxious anticipation of Ike’s arrival turning to dread and despair. The innkeepers eventually broke down the door and found Mary dead in her wedding dress. Guests at the Golden North Hotel report that “Scary Mary” still roams the halls, appearing over their beds in the night to check that Ike isn’t sleeping with anyone else.
The Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, opened along Route 66 in 1927, often lodged the casts of western films shot in nearby Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon—and reportedly houses a whole host of ghostly guests. In fact, John Wayne reported one of the hotel’s first ghost sightings in the late 1950s. Ever since, guests and staff have reported dozens of spirits stalking the halls, including a phantom bellboy who knocks on doors and disappears, the eccentric specter of a boarder who liked to hang raw meat from the chandelier, and a ’70s bank robber who succumbed to his gunshot wound over a celebratory post-heist drink at the hotel bar.
During the Civil War, Union General Frederick Steele (above) commandeered the home of a mailman named John Chidester to use as his headquarters during the battle of Poison Spring. Chidester had been accused of espionage for turning over Union mail to Confederate troops. To this day, bullet holes remain in an upstairs wall of Chidester’s house, where Union soldiers fired at random, hoping to hit the alleged spy as he hid in a small closet. Paranormal investigators say his spirit remains, too, turning up in photographs and shouting “Get out!” to unwanted visitors. The home, which stands as a museum today, is open for tours so that you can see for yourself.
Alcatraz was the site of reputed hauntings long before hosting the famous prison (Native American spirits reportedly roamed it then and now), but today one of the most famous stories is of a prisoner from cell 14D. The story goes that the prisoner spent the night in solitary confinement, screaming that a creature with glowing eyes was trying to kill him and pleading for help. The guards ignored him, but the next morning, they found the prisoner strangled to death—with strange wounds doctors said could not have been self-inflicted.
The Buffalo Rose Saloon in Golden, Colorado doesn’t have much choice but to admit one underaged patron: It’s believed the ghost of a girl who drowned in a swimming pool located in the saloon’s basement back in the 1920s still roams the building, skipping up and down stairs and making employees slightly nervous. The former site of the pool is said to be particularly unsettling, with the bar’s overnight custodian, Seth Barry, describing it as “very bad. Sometimes you can’t go [down] there.”
In 1970, famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called to combat the spirit of “Annabelle,” a demonic presence attached to a giant Raggedy Ann doll. For weeks the doll had thoroughly freaked out its owner, Donna, moving from room to room, leaving handwritten notes, and even attacking a friend who suggested Donna get rid of the doll, choking him in his sleep. Finally, a priest exorcised the doll and the Warrens locked it away in a special case designed to check its malevolent influence. But even that wasn’t enough to save one brash visitor to the Warrens’ museum, who reportedly taunted the doll and died in a motorcycle crash on his way home.
Since 1965, Woodburn has served as the official residence of Delaware’s governor. But more than a century before that, it became known as a home to more than one apparition. Around 1815, the home’s owners were entertaining Lorenzo Dow, a well-known Methodist clergyman. When the group sat down to breakfast one morning, Dow asked if their other guest would be joining them … but there was no other guest. When Dow described the man he had seen the evening before, it became clear that it was Charles Hillyard III (the late father of the home’s then-owner). Rumor has it that if you leave out a glass of good wine at night, it might be gone in the morning: Hillyard was a bona fide oenophile. Sounds like the kind of ghost we could hang with.
The Don CeSar hotel in St. Pete Beach, Florida, was built by Thomas Rowe and named for a character in the opera Maritana. Rowe had attended the opera during his time as a student in London, and he fell head over heels for its star, a Spanish aristocrat named Lucinda. They regularly met at a fountain in the city and made plans to sail to America and be married. But Lucinda’s parents didn’t approve of their romance and took her back to Spain. He wrote her faithfully, but his letters were returned unopened. Only one letter of Lucinda’s ever reached Rowe. “Time is infinite,” she wrote. “I wait for you by our fountain … to share our timeless love, our destiny is time.” According to legend, Lucinda died of a broken heart; Rowe, who said he would never love anyone else, would go on to build his hotel. It was completed in 1928 and features an exact replica of the fountain where the lovebirds spent happier times. Rowe’s ghost has been spotted on the beach, on the hotel’s fifth floor and in the lobby, and in the garden, where he is sometimes seen holding the hand of a woman believed to be Lucinda.
When the Army Corps of Engineers flooded the foothills of the North Georgia mountains to create Lake Lanier in the 1950s, 59 square miles of farmland, homes, and businesses disappeared beneath the water. In the process, the federal government relocated more than 250 families—along with 20 cemeteries and all their corpses. A nasty streak of freak accidents and mysterious drowning deaths have convinced locals that the lake has been cursed ever since. Some people who have survived near-drownings at the lake have reported feeling hands dragging them down beneath the surface.
According to legend, the fire goddess Pele and a hog-faced demigod named Kamapua’a had a star-crossed love affair. The lovers were elemental opposites: Pele’s lava flows brought flame and destruction, while Kamapua’a restored rain, vegetation, and animal life. Ultimately they decided to part forever, with Pele claiming one side of Oahu for fire and Kamapua’a retreating to the other side, where all is wet and lush. Today, Hawaiian motorists are careful never to drive with pork in their car along the old Pali highway, which crosses Oahu. According to legend, carrying pork—representing hog-faced Kamapua’a—over to Pele’s side of the island will enrage her spirit, and she will get her revenge by making the car stall until the driver throws the pork out the window.
When it comes to abandoned buildings, penitentiaries might rank only slightly behind psychiatric hospitals in creep factor—and the Old Idaho Penitentiary, with its built-in gallows and death row, may be one of the country’s creepiest. Between 1872 and 1973, the Boise prison served as a temporary home to more than 13,000 prisoners—including Raymond Allen Snowden, a.k.a. “Idaho’s Jack the Ripper.” Some believe he still haunts what is known as 5 House, where the prison’s gallows were located. On October 18, 1957, Snowden was brought here to be executed, but the noose that should have broken his neck didn’t; it took 15 minutes for him to suffocate. In the years since, visitors to the “Old Pen” have reported strange happenings in 5 House and other areas of the former prison, such as hearing odd sounds and voices and being overcome by strong feelings of sadness. The prison is open to the public year-round for paranormal enthusiasts who want to test their mettle.
In the depths of the Great Depression, the Oh Henry Ballroom southwest of Chicago drew young people hoping to dance away their troubles. One night, a teenage girl named Mary had a fight with her boyfriend at a dance and decided to walk home along Archer Avenue. She was killed by a hit-and-run driver and buried nearby in Resurrection Cemetery. Since then, residents have described a girl in a white party dress hitchhiking along the avenue. A cab driver even picked her up, and she asked to be taken to the cemetery. But by the time they arrived at the gates, Resurrection Mary had vanished.
The tiny township of Tunnelton was named for the number ofrailroad tunnels constructed around it, beginning in the 1850s. One of them, Tunnelton Tunnel (a.k.a. The Big Tunnel), is one of the Hoosier State’s most feared landmarks. Reportedly, there are a few ghosts who refuse to leave the area, including a man who was beheaded in an accident during the tunnel’s construction and still roams the grounds with his head in one hand and a lantern in the other. But the most famous of this tunnel’s tenants is Henry Dixon. In 1908, the body of Dixon—who worked as a night watchman for the railroad—was found just inside the tunnel with a gash to the back of his head, his lantern still lit beside him. Dixon’s murder was never solved, and locals claim that he still haunts the area seeking justice for his death.
Coe College in Cedar Rapids is said to be haunted by the ghost of a freshman named Helen Esther Roberts, who died after becoming ill in the 1918 flu pandemic. As legend has it, the ghost of Roberts set up residence in an old grandfather clock—in Voorhees Hall, her former place of residence—which her parents donated to the school in her memory. While the clock was being installed, students claimed they saw an apparition hovering over their beds at night, pulling the covers off, and even playing the piano in the lobby, before taking a quick trek to her old room. Some even claimed that the clock would act up or stop working altogether at 2:53, the time of Roberts’s death. When the clock was removed in the ’70s, the sightings promptly ended at Voorhees Hall. But then they manifested in Stuart Hall—the grandfather clock’s new home.
People in Hutchinson, Kansas, know not to venture into the surrounding sand hills alone—because that’s where the Hamburger Man lives. Some say the monster, horribly mutilated by a fire or car crash sometime in the 1950s, abducts victims by brandishing a long knife or meat hook, and then carries them back to his lair where he grinds them up for dinner. The locals aren’t sure whether the half-human, half-ghost was ever a real person—or why he seems to crave so many burgers.
In 1891, just a year after thousands of spectators converged on Pikeville to see the last hanging in the trial of the Hatfields and the McCoys, a newlywed named Octavia Hatcher died. Octavia had fallen into a depression shortly after her only child had died in infancy, and then slipped into a fatal coma. Since it was a hot spring, her husband wasted no time in burying her. But soon doctors began to notice a strange—but not lethal—sleeping sickness spreading through the town. Panicked, her husband exhumed her casket and found its inner lining shredded with claw marks and his wife’s face frozen in a mask of terror. Wracked with guilt, he reburied Octavia and had a tall stone statue of her placed above her grave. Locals say they can still hear Octavia crying, and that once a year—on the anniversary of her death—the statue rotates and turns its back on Pikeville.
Louisiana’s Cajun communities have an explanation for sleep paralysis: cauchemar, a species of nighttime witch that immobilizes sleepers and rides them like horses. Some say the cauchemar comes to those who forget to say their prayers before going to bed. Its unfortunate victims lie awake, unable to move, as the cauchemar presses down on their chests, and no matter how much they try to call out, their screams catch in their throats. Some have even reported waking up with marks on their bodies from the bridles and whips that the cauchemar uses to mount and ride sleepers. Beware: Talking about cauchemar increases the likelihood it will visit you tonight.
In the mid-19th century, a lighthouse keeper and his wife moved in to the lighthouse on Seguin Island, a 64-acre speck of land two miles out to sea. To stave off their loneliness and boredom, the man ordered a piano and some sheet music from the mainland, so that his wife could learn to play. Dutifully, she learned her first song—then she played it again and again and again, the same song, every day. Eventually, it drove the lighthouse keeper mad. He took an axe first to the piano, then to his wife, and finally took his own life when he realized what he had done. Visitors to the island say they sometimes hear phantom piano music, and occasionally catch a glimpse of the lighthouse keeper walking by, still carrying his axe.
With thick cypress swamps fringing a black river, the Pocomoke Forest on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has birthed several ghostly legends. Folks say that a teenage couple drove into the forest but ran out of gas. The boyfriend went to get help, and the girlfriend was woken in the middle of the night by scratchy sounds on the car’s roof. In the morning she discovered her boyfriend hanging upside-down from a tree and his fingernails trailing on the metal. In another tale, a couple in a car heard a radio report of an escaped murderer with a hook for a right hand. The girl noticed a strange sound outside the car, and when she opened the door, a hook was hanging from the handle. Locals also talk of fireballs erupting from thickets and a six-fingered sea captain who killed his adulterous wife and bastard child in the forest. The baby’s wails still echo through the trees.
Minots Ledge, a tiny outcropping of rock rising from the sea a mile off the coast from Cohasset, was a ruthless destroyer of ships and sailors. Between 1695 and 1754, the ledge sank 80 ships and drowned 400 men. But no one knew how to build a lighthouse on such a perilous sliver of rock in the middle of the sea. Finally, in 1850, Massachusetts erected a small granite beacon tower on nine cement pylons grounded on the ledge. One year later, a furious nor’easter hit and set the tower swaying. During a lull in the storm, the lighthouse keeper rowed to the mainland, leaving his two assistants behind to man the beacon. All night, townspeople on the shore heard the lighthouse bell ring furiously, perhaps as a final goodbye from the assistants. In the morning, the tower was gone, toppled into the sea. The assistants’ bodies washed up days later. Passing fishermen say they can still hear their ghosts crying for help.
Be careful where you roam at night in western Michigan: The Melon Heads might come after you. Said to haunt the woods near Saugatuck, these childlike figures have oversized heads and mostly white eyes, with irises barely visible above the lower eyelid. They might knock on your car window, or they might stalk you as you walk the dog. Some speculate that the Melon Heads were children in the late 19th century with hydrocephaly who escaped a local hospital where a doctor had been conducting terrible experiments on them. Be especially wary if you’re a young couple making out in a parked car; the Melon Heads like to tap on the windows to get your attention.
Ghost hunters have come from all over the country to visit the Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre in the hopes of glimpsing a permanent guest: Lucy, a ghost who hasn’t forgiven the male gender for her tragic life and even more tragic demise. As the story goes, Lucy was a prostitute who worked in a brothel erected on the future site of the hotel. It burned down, taking Lucy and other escorts with it. When men pass by, she’s said to slam doors and drop the temperature. Guests can ask for Room 17—Lucy’s favorite—if they’re feeling adventurous.
At the center of the historic section of Glenwood Cemetery, Yazoo City’s public burial grounds, there’s a grave surrounded by a chain link fence. Local lore claims that the grave belonged to a witch who lived along the Yazoo River, who used to lure fishermen to the shore to torture them. When the Yazoo County sheriff came to arrest her, she fled into the swamp and fell into quicksand. The sheriff found her half sunk. Before she drowned, she swore to take revenge on Yazoo City. No one thought much of her threat, but they fenced in her grave just in case. Then, on May 25, 1904, a fire nearly wiped out the entire city, spreading quickly on unusually fierce winds. After the fire, Yazoo City residents found the chain link around the witch’s grave cut open.
An old couple in Overton, who made a trickle of income lodging travelers in their home, decided one night to murder a wealthy boarder and make their fortune. They hid his body, took his money, and used it to build a grand new house. Years later, as the woman lay on her deathbed, she made her husband promise to keep their secret and never to remarry … but he took a new bride within a year. The people of Overton, disapproving of the widower’s impropriety, harassed the couple on their wedding night with catcalls, drums, and rifle shots. But when the man went outside to shush the crowd, he was startled to see a black carriage pull up to the house. Inside sat a woman, pale as death and dressed in black. Without a word, the man got into the carriage. It drove off and he was never seen again. Ever since, townspeople have spotted the black carriage and interpreted it as an omen of danger.