American ghost stories are as old as America herself. Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers haunt the battlefields where they fell; their mothers haunt the homes they never returned to. Ghosts always seem to haunt the houses where gruesome murders occurred by ax, gunfire or noose. But not all ghosts are sad or malevolent — some houses, their owners will tell you, are shared with happy spirits.
In our search for America’s most haunted houses, we scoured hundreds of stories from coast to coast looking for witness testimony and a bit of history behind the paranormal. We found some good ones for you. Here are the stories and the ghosts behind America’s most haunted houses.
Let’s start down in Louisiana, shall we?
The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, is the scene of a classic Southern ghost story, complete with murders on the property (staff of the place claim there have been 10), a slave hanging, a dramatic death by gunshot and a former owner so spooked by the hauntings she endured that she sold the place and then wrote a book about it.
The star of this particular haunted house is a slave girl named Chloe, who, staff of the house will tell you, poisoned her master’s wife and young daughters before being hauled off (by her fellow slaves!) and hanged on the property. Chloe posthumously showed up in a famous photo taken in the 1980s. Staff members swear she can be seen around the plantation, surrounded by the cries of wailing children.
Chloe is not the only ghost to pop up in a photo on the plantation. A little ghostly girl appeared in a photo taken by a teacher with her students on the plantation property and no expert has been able to debunk it or credit it to Photoshop. You can check out both creepy photos here.
Ghost enthusiasts can actually book a stay at the 28-room bed and breakfast. But beware: You may hear ghostly children giggling or nonexistent parties going on — or you may feel a tug on your sleeve as you walk or a tap on your nose as you sleep. And if you look in one particular haunted mirror, you may see the doomed family members staring back at you, beckoning from the beyond.
OK, so to be fair, the Wild Goose Yacht isn’t a haunted house, it’s a haunted yacht. But it’s purported to be haunted by the ghost of former owner John Wayne, so the yacht has earned its spot in our most haunted lineup.
Wayne partied it up for years on his beloved yacht, hosting poker parties with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Gleason and Bob Hope as his guests. The boat was sold to an attorney, and shortly after Wayne died, the new owner started experiencing hauntings (shuffling across the deck, blocked doorways and such). He was convinced the ghost behind it all was Wayne. His hunch was backed up by a psychic who held a séance aboard the ship and discovered that not only was Wayne haunting the yacht, but he knew he was dead. He just liked to hang out on the boat.
To this day, the hauntings continue. If you charter the Wild Goose, you may experience doorways blocked by an unknown presence and bathroom doors mysteriously locked. Just don’t spend the night in Wayne’s bed. A former ship’s captain reportedly was thrown out of bed one night by a ghostly apparition and refused to ever stay on the boat alone again.
The most bizarre haunted house in our lineup — and possibly the world — is the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Built by Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, construction on the house began in 1886 and continued for 38 years.
If the tabloids of the time are the be believed, Sarah built the 26,000-square-foot house on the orders of her dead husband, whom she channeled through a medium. He told her she had to build the house to appease the vengeful spirits of the victims of Winchester rifles and if she ever stopped construction, she’d die.
And what a creepy house she built. A stairway leads to a ceiling. A doorway leads to a blank wall. Another doorway opens to a 12-foot drop. There are trap doors and secret passageways, spiderweb windows, cupboards just an inch thick, a grand ballroom built entirely without nails and a séance room where Winchester reportedly communicated with the dearly and not-so-dearly departed.
The house is so creepy, it inspired a horror movie based on the real story that was released early this year. Helen Mirren starred in it, playing Sarah. You can also tour the house, where you may spot a kindly ghost pushing coal in a wheelbarrow in the mansion’s basement. If you’re lucky, he’ll tip his hat to you.
Villisca, Iowa, was a small, unassuming town back in 1912, one few people in America had heard about. That all changed on June 10, 1912, when six members of the Moore family and two of their houseguests were found bludgeoned to death inside the home. The murder weapon? An ax.
The case remains unsolved to this day, but the ghosts of the victims continue to haunt the house. In 1994, the house was restored to appear exactly as it might have in 1912 with no indoor plumbing or electricity, adding to its creepiness. Guests who pay to spend the night there report all sorts of paranormal activity, including hearing children’s voices and the sound of falling lamps. Ladders have moved and objects have flown. Many mediums have visited the house and confirmed that it is indeed haunted by the people murdered there.
The White House is reportedly haunted by several presidents and first ladies including Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and John Taylor. But the most famous ghost-in-residence is Abraham Lincoln.
Check out the who’s who of people who have witnessed Lincoln’s ghost:
Perhaps the most famous ghost sighting was by Winston Churchill, who was naked when he walked from a bathroom into a White House bedroom to find the ghost of Lincoln. “Good evening, Mr. President,” Churchill reportedly said, cigar in mouth. “You seem to have me at a disadvantage.”
Taliesin in Wisconsin was built by Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived there happily for several years with his mistress Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney and her two children from a previous marriage. The happiness turned to tragedy on August 15, 1914, when Cheney, her children and four others were hacked to death by the family chef. The chef then set fire to some of the bodies and the house.
Wright was mercifully away at the time. He later rebuilt Taliesin and lived there from 1922 until his death in 1959. Taliesin itself is not reported to be haunted, but a cottage on the property where some of the victims were taken is. Guests have witnessed windows and doors opening and closing on their own and furniture moving, and some have even seen a female apparition in a white nightgown wandering the property.
Paul Sableman/Wikimedia Commons
The Lemp Mansion in St. Louis was the site of several suicides and is considered the most haunted house in Missouri. Life magazine in 1980 named it one of America’s nine most haunted houses. It was certainly the home of one of America’s most cursed families, the Lemps.
The first Lemp to die of suicide in the house was William Lemp Sr., who, despondent over his favorite son’s death, shot himself in his bed in 1904. Lemp Sr. was followed by his son, William Lemp Jr., known as “Billy.” Billy was a reputed womanizer who had a son out of wedlock. The boy had Down syndrome and was tragically kept locked in the attic. In 1922, Billy, upset over losing the family brewery and despondent over his sister Elsa’s suicide (not in the house), shot himself in the same room his father had died in.
William Sr.’s son Charles was the last of the Lemps to live in the mansion. He shot himself in 1949. His suicide note read, "St. Louis Mo/May 9, 1949, In case I am found dead blame it on no one but me. Ch. A. Lemp."
The house is now a bed-and-breakfast and is reportedly haunted by Billy’s son, who asks those who see him to “come play with me.” Guests report hearing slamming doors and feeling cold spots.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the popular children’s rhyme, best recited while skipping rope?
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
On August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were bludgeoned to death in broad daylight in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew’s daughter (Abby’s stepdaughter) Lizzie was the main suspect in their murders but was acquitted in the subsequent trial and lived a long life in Fall River, where she stayed despite the fact that pretty much everyone in town was convinced she was a murderer.
The house, now called the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum, is considered one of Massachusetts’ most haunted houses. The current owner says she realized the house was indeed haunted shortly after she bought the place in 2004. She reports that one night she fell asleep on the couch in the parlor (in the same spot, though not the same couch, where Andrew Borden was murdered) and awoke to see a bunch of shadows at play in the hallway. She watched as one of the shadows began slowly climbing the stairs. At the same time a chandelier in the entryway, which was always on, surged with electricity and then suddenly went out.
You can spend the night in one of the home’s five bedrooms, if you dare. The owner says many people end up running out of the house at 2 a.m., but she doesn’t grant refunds to those who flee early.
Generally considered one of the most haunted houses in Ohio, Franklin Castle gets it reputation from the many deaths that reportedly occurred among the family who owned the home.
The home was built in the 1880s for Hannes Tiedemann, a prosperous German immigrant, and his family. The family was a bit cursed. Four of the Tiedemann’s six children died before adulthood. It’s said Tiedemann designed the odd house to distract his wife from the deaths of their children. There are turrets, gargoyles and secret passageways. A ballroom on the second floor runs the length of the house.
A number of people and organizations have since owned the house, none of them lasting very long, leading people to consider the house to be cursed. One family, the Romanos, were so haunted by the spirits in the house that they attempted exorcisms and had the house investigated by a paranormal organization.
Ghost hunters claim the house is indeed haunted by spirits who slam doors, move things around and turn lights off and on.
Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons
The Manresa Castle in Port Townsend, Washington, is now a hotel popular with ghost hunters, but back in 1892 when the building was completed, it became the home of Port Townsend’s first mayor and his wife.
The ghost stories abound. Rooms 302, 304 and 306 are reportedly haunted by two spirits: a monk who hanged himself in the castle’s attic and a young woman who flung herself out of a window when her lover didn’t return from war. Some say the two ghosts were dreamt up by a former hotel, but professional ghost hunters who have investigated the hotel say the place is indeed haunted — most likely by a small child.
A coffin containing the body of a young child was discovered in the castle crypt and the identity of the deceased remains a mystery. Ghost hunters believe this child may haunt the building: One of the hotel’s housekeepers was reportedly violently attacked by a child-sized ghost and has the pictures of her bruises to prove it.
Sherry V. Smith/Shutterstock.com
In 2005, Life magazine called the Whaley House of San Diego “The Most Haunted House in America.” Several spirits haunt the home, among them “Yankee Jim” Robinson, a man hanged on the property for stealing a boat. Several members of the Whaley family who died in the house also reportedly roam the home.
If you visit the house you may come across Violet, who committed suicide there at age 22 after she was left by her con artist husband shortly after marrying him. Her suicide note was a famous poem by Thomas Hood, which read:
Mad from life's history,
Swift to death's mystery;
Glad to be hurled,
Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world.
— Violet Whaley
The house, now called the Whaley House Museum, offers creepy haunted tours around Halloween.
The Ioloni Palace in Honolulu was the royal residence of Hawaii’s royal family from 1845 to 1893. The palace and its grounds are reportedly haunted by several spirits including the ghost of Queen Lili‘uokalani who was imprisoned in the palace for eight months following the overthrow of the monarchy.
Staff and visitors report hearing footsteps and smelling cigar smoke. The queen’s spirit is consistently seen around 5:30 a.m. by security guards. Lili‘uokalani didn’t die in the palace, however. She was on a trip to California in 1917 when she fell ill and passed away in a San Francisco hospital.
Best known as “The Amityville Horror House,” the house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, was the scene of a mass murder on November 13, 1974. Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot his parents, two brothers and two sisters while they were asleep in their beds.
Thirteen months after the murders, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved in, but they fled the house in just 28 days claiming to have been terrorized by paranormal behavior. George complained of waking every night at 3:30 a.m. (which happened to be the time of the murders), flies ravaged the house even in the middle of winter, and his daughter befriended a ghostly evil spirit.
The Lutz’s story inspired a book and several movies, but recent owners of the house have not reported any hauntings.
The Emlem Physick Estate is a large mansion that’s reportedly haunted by its former tenants: Dr. Emlen Physick, his aunts Emilie and Isabella, his mother, Frances Ralston, and a few family dogs. The spirits here are reportedly friendly and the house has a genuinely good, though definitely haunted, vibe. The mansion has been the subject of many paranormal investigations and was used as a location for the 1981 slasher film, The Prowler.
Are Union soldiers haunting the Attmore-Oliver House in New Bern, North Carolina? Certainly something is, as far as the local residents are concerned. The house sat empty and decrepit for many years before it was restored and became the New Bern Historical Society. Now it’s the scene for ghost tours and paranormal investigations.
During renovation, medical supplies and artifacts were discovered in the house, leading some to believe the house may have served as a hospital during the Union occupation. An interesting tale, considering several of the family’s sons were killed fighting for the Confederate side during the war.
Windows shut and latch on their own. A portrait of the long-deceased owner moves around the house. Footsteps follow a visitor. These are just a few of the ghostly occurrences at the Pittock Mansion, the most haunted house in Portland, Oregon.
Pittock Mansion was designed to become Henry and Georgiana Pittock’s summer retirement home. The 46-acre property boasted panoramic views of Portland, the Willamette River and the distant Cascade Mountains, but construction on the 22-room mansion took many years, and by the time they moved in the Pittocks had only a few years to enjoy it before they both died.
Now it’s said their happy spirits roam the home they so lovingly built. If these creepy stories have whetted your appetite for all things spooky, you need to visit these 20 haunted houses you can actually stay in.
The fields of Gettyburg, Pennsylvania, are famously haunted by the spirits of some of the 7,000 or so Union and Confederate soldiers who died on its battlefield during the three-day encounter, but what many people don’t know is that one civilian was killed during battle.
Jennie Wade was in the kitchen of her home kneading dough when a bullet from a rifle pierced two doors and killed her. She was only 20 years old, and it was the last day of the battle.
The house in which she lived and died has been restored to look just as it did during her lifetime. Because of its close proximity to the haunted Gettysburg battlefields, and because of her story, people claim the house is haunted by her spirit. It’s been featured in several paranormal investigations and is a popular spot on Gettysburg ghost tours.
The stories of hauntings of the David Whitney House in Detroit began in 1986 when the luxurious 21,000-square-foot mansion was being converted into an upscale restaurant called The Whitney. Restaurant staff believe the ghosts of David Whitney Jr. and his wife haunt the house.
The most haunted spot in the restaurant is the elevator, which sometimes moves on its own between floors without any passengers. Apparitions have been seen on the top two floors. Once, an older gentleman was seen gazing out of the window on the second floor. When he was addressed, he vanished into the floor. Restaurant staff report hearing utensils being stacked in empty rooms and entering a room to find the furniture and table settings had moved.
Ceely Rose was a mentally challenged young woman who, the story goes, had an unrequited crush on a neighbor’s son. In 1896, her family told her to leave the boy alone, and out of spite, Ceely poisoned her mother, father and brother with either arsenic or rat poison (reports vary). All three died, and Ceely was sent to live out her life in a mental hospital.
The Ceely Rose House in Ohio is now privately owned and has been the subject of many paranormal investigations. Spirits can be heard in several EVP recordings taken by the Central Ohio Paranormal Society (COPS). A spirit can be heard in one saying “scared”; in another recording, a spirit seems to plead “help us.”
Located just steps from a Revolutionary War battlefield, the Ayers-Allen House in Metuchen, New Jersey, is now a private home but was a tavern during the war for independence from the British. Legend has it that the house has a couple trap doors and a hidden room, leading many to believe it was also a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.
The house is believed to be haunted by both the ghost of a Continental Army soldier and a mother searching for her son who was killed by the British. Other reported ghosts include Hessian mercenaries and two Native Americans who were unjustly hanged from a tree on the property.
The Sprague Mansion of Cranston, Rhode Island was built in 1790, and was home to four generations of the Sprague family, which produced two governors who later became U.S. senators.
In 1843, Amasa Sprague, 45 and a wealthy mill owner, was shot, brutally beaten and killed on New Year’s Eve near the family mansion. The subsequent trial and execution of his supposed killer led to the abolishment of capital punishment in Rhode Island. It turns out the hanged man — an Irish Catholic immigrant — probably wasn’t the killer after all.
The Sprague Mansion is now the headquarters of the Cranston Historical Society, and it’s reported to be haunted, possibly by Amasa and definitely by the mansion’s servant, “Charlie the Butler,” who can be seen descending the grand staircase moaning over the fact that his daughter didn’t marry one of the wealthy Sprague sons.
Charlie gets his own “Charlie the Butler” party at the mansion every Halloween.
Businessman Frank Stranahan built his mansion along Fort Lauderdale’s New River, finishing it in 1906. Years later, his once-prosperous businesses were ruined by two hurricanes and the Great Depression. Despondent — and, some reports say, suffering from a terminal illness — Stranahan drowned himself in the New River. The house is now a museum, and it’s said his spirit and those of his wife and several others haunt the home’s many rooms.
Frank will scare off unwanted guests to the home (don’t try sleeping in front of the house). His wife Ivy will place a helpful hand on the lower backs of those going up to the attic. You’ll know she’s there by the smell of her perfume. Ivy’s sister Pink, who never actually gave birth to a baby who survived for long, can be spotted happily holding an infant, and Ivy’s brother Albert flirts with female guests and makes his former bedroom cold for men and warm for women.