The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States

Larry Holzwarth - October 17, 2018

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Ghost stories abound in Charleston, South Carolina, including the Dock Street Theater being haunted by more than one ghost. Library of Congress

4. The Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston’s Dock Street Theatre was first built in 1736, the first purpose built theater in what became the United States. It burned down in 1740, was rebuilt, and then demolished in the 1780s, replaced with a hotel named the Planter’s Hotel, one of the most luxurious in the United States. Charleston society frequented the inn, including the wealthy merchants and shipbuilders of the town and the rice and cotton planters from upstate when they visited the city. Prostitution flourished there, and a young woman named Nettie Dickerson, originally from upstate, plied her trade in the hotel. She was despised by the women of the city, and as she grew older her business slowly dwindled. Stories differ depending on who is relating her legend, but she either fell from the balcony of the hotel or was electrocuted when its iron railing was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm.

In the 1930s the building again became the Dock Street Theatre, and Nettie Dickerson has ever since been reported to be in the building, wearing the bright red dress which was a mark of her profession her working days. She is said to be unattractive in appearance, wild-eyed and sad, and is nearly always said to be on the second floor. Nettie is not the only ghost claimed to have been seen in the building, some have reported the ghost of Junius Brutus Booth (brother of John Wilkes Booth) watching performances from a seat in the balcony. Other ghosts have been reported wandering the stage, which didn’t exist at the time which the ghost’s clothing indicates was their lifetime. Essentially a brothel for many years, the Dock Street Theatre is open to the public for tours when performances aren’t scheduled, and it is one of several properties in Charleston which are said to be haunted.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Ghosts are welcomed at the Hotel Bethlehem, which informs its guests of their presence, but not in every room. Wikimedia

5. The Hotel Bethlehem in Pennsylvania

The Hotel Bethlehem in the Pennsylvania town of that name is haunted by several ghosts, according to members of its staff and guests who have stayed there over the years. Officially the hotel claims to be the host of at least four ghosts, though there have been numerous reports of strange sightings and events in the hotel’s long history. Rather than having to deal with frightened guests and staff, the hotel openly touts its presumably non-paying residents, and offers one room – called the room with a boo – as known to be haunted. Room 932 has been reported as haunted and the hotel acknowledges it so, with tales of unexpected flashes in mirrors, a bathroom which temporarily changes its appearance, and according to one guest a man dressed in boxer shorts standing at the foot of the bed demanding to know why other people were in his room.

Paranormal researchers and ghost hunters have claimed to have recorded voices in room 932, and there are reports of other ghosts within the hotel, including a man wearing a tricorn hat and a woolen cape in a boiler room, a barefoot woman who welcomes guests in a ballroom, and the ghost of a woman who danced and sang for guests in the middle of the nineteenth century. She later married the owner of the Hope diamond, though she abandoned him, and when she became later abandoned she was poverty stricken. Spirits waiting in the subterranean rooms of the building have been explained by psychics as being those of runaway slaves, given shelter as they passed through on the Underground Railroad. The ghosts of the Hotel Bethlehem are given free rein, since they don’t seem to be possessed of any evil intent.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Even John Wayne, seen here during a wartime visit to Australia to entertain troops, claimed to have encountered a ghost in the Hotel Monte Vista

6. The Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, Arizona

Among the many persons who reported encountering ghosts in the Hotel Monte Vista was John Wayne, who claimed to have met a ghost there while staying at the hotel while making a film. The Duke reported meeting the ghost on more than one visit, according to the hotel’s website, and that the apparition was a bellboy. Several other guests have reported being visited by the bellboy, either via a knock on the door and the announcement of room service, followed by nobody being at the door, or by seeing the bellboy down the hall. Usually the bellboy is spotted waiting at the door of room 210. Although the hotel’s elevators are self-service, numerous guests and staff have reported an elevator attendant from time to time. The attendant appears more often to staff than to guests however, particularly housekeepers.

Other ghosts which have been reported in the Monte Vista include a little boy wandering the halls, who is sometimes heard but not seen. Staff have reported the sounds of a baby crying in the hotel basement, which is also occupied by a shadowy figure of an adult male. A woman in a rocking chair has been reported, sometimes with the chair simply rocking on its own. Barstools have been seen to move at random, as have drinks on the bar. The ghosts of two prostitutes killed in the hotel have been reported to still haunt a room on the third floor (some say the fourth floor). Televisions turn themselves on and off, lightbulbs unscrew themselves, and made beds become unmade despite being in an empty room behind a locked door. In 2016 the Hotel Monte Vista was named as the most haunted spot in Arizona.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Sarah Winchester’s bedroom on the second floor of the house built, say some, to house the spirits of those killed with Winchester firearms. Library of Congress

7. The Sarah Winchester House in San Jose, California

Sarah Winchester was the wife of William Wirt Winchester, who made a fortune in the firearms business, most famously from the Winchester repeating rifle. The gun magnate died of tuberculosis in 1881, and his widow received over $20 million from his estate ($500 million today) as well as half ownership of her husband’s company, which guaranteed her an income of the equivalent of $25,000 per day. According to legend she was told by a medium to leave the family home in New Haven, Connecticut, and build a home for the spirits of those who had been killed with Winchester firearms. Whether true, or whether Sarah was suffering from depression (she had recently lost an infant daughter as well as her husband) she went to San Jose and began building what is arguably the strangest house ever constructed.

Workers were hired so that construction continued around the clock, without blueprints or architectural plans. Staircases end at ceilings. Doors open revealing a wall on the other side. Windows open into passageways. The house reached the height of seven stories before construction ended. The house contains over 160 rooms, seventeen chimneys, and forty-seven fireplaces. It is claimed to be haunted by the ghosts of victims of Winchester rifles, a belief that Sarah herself espoused. As recently as 2016 a previously unknown room was found in the mansion. A Tiffany window, designed to create a rainbow on the opposite wall when struck by light, was installed in an interior room where no natural light could reach it. Ghost hunters and paranormal specialists have claimed to have proof the house is haunted, but even if it isn’t occupied by ghosts it is a bizarre and unsettling building.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
The Octagon House rivals the nearby White House in reports of hauntings and paranormal activities. Library of Congress

8. The Octagon House in Washington DC.

Less than half a mile from the White House in Washington stands the Octagon House, which is described as one of the most haunted buildings in the nation’s capital, and in fact one of the most haunted sites in America. One of the oldest legends surrounding the house is of the ringing of bells, once used to summon servants, which at the time of the house being built were slaves. The legend of the bells ringing on their own began before the Civil War, and by the time of Reconstruction was well known in Washington society. After the British Army burned the White House in 1814, James and Dolley Madison resided in the Octagon House, and Dolley’s ghost has been reported as being seen in the house (presumably when she is not visiting the White House Rose Garden around the corner). The original owner’s daughters are said to haunt the house as well.

The house and its surrounding outbuildings were built by Colonel John Tayloe beginning in 1799. By 1812 he resided in the house only in the winter months. According to the tales regarding his daughters, one of them quarreled with her father, which led to her falling down a flight of stairs, killing her. The other daughter died after returning home to reconcile with her father after eloping with a young man of whom he disapproved. Neither story is true, though reports of spectral sightings of the sisters have been persistent for decades. Other tales of haunting at the Octagon House include lights turning themselves off and on at random, screams and moans emanating from the cellars, and appearances of ghosts wearing clothes of a style in fashion decades earlier.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
An 1822 painting of the residence of Commodore Stephen Decatur, said to be haunted by him following his death. White House

9. The Decatur House, President’s Park Neighborhood, Washington DC

At least two ghosts have been reported to haunt the Decatur House in Washington, just around the corner from the White House. One has appeared visibly, usually in a window, and the other has been heard, reported by many over the years. The house was the residence of US Navy Commodore Stephen Decatur, one of America’s most famous naval officers, who during the investigation into the conduct of another officer, James Barron, made comments which Barron found insulting. Thirteen years later Barron challenged Decatur to a duel, and Decatur, without informing his wife, left the house on the morning of March 22 to meet Barron on the field on honor. Decatur was mortally wounded, and returned to the house where he died in agony, attended by his grief stricken wife.

Within a year of his death, witnesses reported seeing Decatur on the second story of his house, looking out through a window down H Street. Others reported seeing the Commodore leaving his home through the back door early in the morning, carrying his case of dueling pistols. Decatur had been an active member of Washington society, easily recognized, and his image appeared on cards, drinking vessels, commemorative plates, and other items, as did those of other hero officers of the early American navy. So many reports of his image appearing in the window occurred that the window was bricked over. Later, reports of a sobbing, and sometimes wailing woman, being heard within the Decatur House long after the death of his widow, emerged. The Decatur House, the Octagon House, and the White House are three neighboring hotbeds of ghostly reports, making Washington DC one of the most haunted cities in the world.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
A view of the hill known as Little Round Top, the scene of fierce fighting on July 2, 1863, and said to be haunted since. Library of Congress

10. Little Round Top on the Gettysburg battlefield

In the early 1990s, media mogul Ted Turner, a longtime fan of films about the American Civil War, participated in the production of the film Gettysburg. Turner insisted on realism, and the production company managed to obtain permission from the National Park Service to use Civil War re-enactors from all over the country to film scenes of the battle on the actual battlefield in Pennsylvania. During the preparations for the filming of the second day of the battle’s struggle over the hill known as Little Round Top, re-enactors in Union uniforms gathered at the crest of the hill where the scenes would be filmed. Several of them encountered a bearded man in the garb of a Union soldier who distributed cartridges, of the paper type used for muzzle loading firearms, consisting of black powder and a minie ball. The re-enactors assumed the man was part of the production company.

It quickly became evident that the ammunition being distributed was not blanks for the use of filming, but live rounds. Some of the rounds were later examined by forensic experts and found to be comprised of powder, ball, and paper, dating from the time of the Civil War. None of the re-enactors present recognized the man who had distributed the rounds, and he was not seen again. Whomever had been the man determined to see that Little Round Top was again adequately defended has never been established. The story is just one more of literally hundreds of tales of hauntings and strange paranormal events which surround the Gettysburg battlefield and the town itself, some of which even predate the three day cataclysm of July, 1863.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Descendants of General George Gordon Meade owned the allegedly haunted Baleroy Mansion for decades. Wikimedia

11. Baleroy Mansion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Baleroy Mansion, located in Philadlephia’s Chestnut Hill, was originally owned by the carpenter who built it and according to local legend murdered his wife in the house. Reported hauntings in the mansion, which contains more than thirty rooms, include the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, who has been reported to have been seen standing near a grandfather clock, though why Jefferson would choose to haunt a building which was erected more than eighty-five years after his death is unexplained. Other ghosts include that of a long-time owner’s brother, who died as a child and whose portrait has been known to fall several feet from where it was hanging, landing undamaged. A woman from the Victorian age – which also predated the house – has also been identified and her presence confirmed by a psychic.

A chair in the mansion’s Blue Room, said to have been manufactured by a warlock and once owned by Napoleon, has been called the “Chair of Death” by its owners, since anyone who sat in the chair died. This led the owner to ban anyone from sitting in the chair. It seems that the chair itself is not malevolent, but is used by an evil spirit named Amanda, who has appeared in the form of a reddish mist and lures its victims to sit in the chair. The ghosts of housekeepers (who died in the house) former occupants, and of course Mr. Jefferson have been reported, and paranormal specialists and ghost hunters have confirmed their presence as well as others, within the house and grounds. Called the most haunted house in the United States (a title claimed by many others) Baleroy Mansion is a private residence.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Cliveden Manor – also known as the Chew House – was the scene of heavy fighting during the Battle of Germantown in 1777. Wikimedia

12. Cliveden Manor near Germantown, Pennsylvania

In 1777, the British Army moved to occupy Philadelphia and George Washington attacked them at Germantown. The house known as the Benjamin Chew House offered the British a fortress-like shelter as they retreated before Washington’s thrust, and rather than leave the house contained by a small force and continuing his assault, American troops attempted to reduce the British position. When they failed to do so they were forced to discontinue the attack on the British lines and withdraw. The house, known as Cliveden Manor, absorbed battle damage but remained standing, as well as the rest of the estate, which included several outbuildings. In 1961 the house became a National Historic Landmark and is today a museum with tours in the spring and summer months.

The property is also reported to be haunted by the ghosts of several of the Continental Army soldiers who died there during the ill-fated attack in 1777. Also reported seen on the property is the shade of an elderly woman, wandering about seeking her missing head. Legend has it that one of the soldiers whose ghost is also haunting the property was responsible for its removal, another version of the tale has her being decapitated by a cannon ball. Cliveden Manor was owned for most of its existence by the Chew family which built it in the 1760s, with none of the successive generations reporting ghostly activity. The tales of its haunting apparently sprung up spontaneously in local lore.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Although there is no record of George Washington sleeping there – he rented the house next door – his ghost, along with those of Franklin, Jefferson, Lafayette and Benedict Arnold, have supposedly been seen in the Powel House. Wikimedia

13. Powel House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Another Philadelphia house which has claimed to be the most haunted house in the City of Brotherly Love is the Powel House, a Georgian style mansion in Society Hill which dates to 1765. Although there is no record of George Washington having slept there, he did reside for a time in the house next door, and several other notables of the Revolutionary Era were guests in the house. Specters have appeared to people while on tours of the house, only to disappear before their eyes. The Marquis de Lafayette and Benedict Arnold, or rather their ghosts, have been reported to have been seen in the house, as has Benjamin Franklin and a mysterious young woman wearing a lavender dress.

This woman has been reported many times, including by one man who became separated from his tour group when the lights went out as he was using the restroom. He reported groping his way in the dark when he felt someone take his hand and when the lights were restored a woman was holding his hand and smiling at him before vanishing. She has also been reported sitting in the drawing room, fanning herself, before vanishing once noticing she has been seen. The house has several cold spots, said to be associated with ghosts and spirits, and doors which open and close of their own accord. It is said that George Washington, who lived next door, has also been seen in the house, though the presence of Washington and Arnold under the same roof seems most unlikely.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Portland, Oregon was a notably rough town in 1853, but the stories of its shanghai tunnels, believed by many to be haunted, are mostly myth. Wikimedia

14. The Shanghai tunnels of Portland, Oregon

The old Chinatown neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, was once one of the most dangerous areas on the entire west coast of the United States. Basements of buildings in Portland were connected with a series of tunnels which allowed passage throughout several neighborhoods without resorting to the open streets, allowing for the movement of illicit goods in secret. One of the goods, according to local lore, which was moved in such a manner was human. Sailors who visited the area in search of prostitutes, liquor, or opium were drugged and carried through the underground network to the waterfront, where they were deposited in the holds of ships, not released until the vessel was out to sea, when there could be no escape.

The tunnels were said to be haunted by the ghosts of sailors who never made it home, a practice which began in the 1960s in conjunction with opening the tunnels for tours. In fact the tunnels were built to move goods from the waterfront to businesses while avoiding the traffic on the streets and narrow alleyways of the city. While the practice of shanghaiing sailors was not unknown, and was prevalent in other west coast ports such as San Francisco, Portland was not known for being especially dangerous for sailors. Nonetheless the tunnels in Portland retain the legend of being haunted by the victims of the practice in that city, a tale which is repeated by ghost hunters and paranormal experts from time to time, who offer proof of the ghostly occupants.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
Whether the events related in The Amityville Horror were true or not continues to be debated, but the grisly murders of six people in this house is undisputed. Wikimedia

15. 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York

The house which became famous as The Amityville Horror was the scene of a mass murder in 1974. Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed his four siblings and his parents in the house, which remained empty for just over one year following the murders. DeFeo was convicted of the murders in November, 1975. The following month new owners of the house, who were aware of its history, moved into the structure. George and Kathy Lutz and her three children from an earlier marriage remained in the house only four weeks before vacating it, having experienced what they reported as paranormal activity which included levitation, strange awakenings, swarms of flies (in December), the discovery of a hidden room, strange odors and sounds, and many other strange events. In mid-January the family left the house, never to return.

Many of the claims of the couple which were published in the book The Amityville Horror were rejected by subsequent researchers. For example, the claim that the couple found large cloven footprints in the snow on New Year’s Day was rejected since there had been no snow on the ground on that date. Subsequent owners of the house did not report any paranormal activity. Others have supported the belief of the house’s being haunted, going so far as to infer that it was the house and its spiritual occupants which drove DeFeo to murder his family in the house in 1974. In August, 2010, the house was sold for $950,000 to a resident of Amityville. The house and the story of the events there has been told and retold in films and documentaries, with ongoing debate over whether the tales are true or false.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
USS The Sullivans, now a museum ship near Buffalo, New York, is said to be haunted by the spirit of at least one of the five Sullivan brothers. US Navy

16 Erie County and Buffalo Naval Park, Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Naval Park is the home of museum ships from the US Navy, including the World War II veteran destroyer USS The Sullivans. The Sullivans was named for the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, who were serving together aboard USS Juneau, a light cruiser, when it was torpedoed by the Japanese and sunk during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Juneau had been damaged by an earlier torpedo and was withdrawing from the battle area when it was struck by a second torpedo which exploded so violently that crews in other ships in the area believed that there could have been no survivors. In fact at least one of the brothers – George – survived the sinking for several days, according to other survivors, before succumbing to the sea. A destroyer under construction, The Sullivans, was named in their honor.

The Sullivans is a museum ship which is reputed to be haunted by George Sullivan, who roams the vessel in search of his brothers, as he likely did during the chaos as the Juneau went down. A picture of the five brothers aboard the ship is said to be incapable of being clearly photographed, with the image of George blurred in those pictures which are taken. On tours, equipment on the ship’s bridge has been reported as being activated and operational, despite power to the equipment being secured. Tour guides have reported unrecognizable figures moving about below decks, in berthing spaces and in machinery rooms. The only problem with the story is that two of the Sullivan brothers, Al and George, survived the sinking, with Al dying the next day and George several days later. The other three were never seen following the initial explosion.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
The Whaley House Museum in the Old Town section of San Diego, another claimant to the title of the most haunted house in the United States. Library of Congress

17. The Whaley House, San Diego, California

Yet another house which has been designated as the most haunted house in America is San Diego’s Whaley House, which was given the appellation by Life Magazine in 2005. The house was built in 1856-57 of bricks manufactured by Thomas Whaley’s own brickyard, and was regarded as the finest home in the town upon its completion. The house is reputed to have been built on land which had once been used as a cemetery, and throughout its history witnessed several deaths, which contribute to its reputation for being haunted, though its original occupant, Thomas Whaley, told of the house being occupied by the ghost of a man who had been hanged on the site for the crime of stealing a boat. Whaley told the San Diego Union of hearing the shade walking heavily on upstairs floors.

Throughout its history, staff have reported seeing the ghosts of Whaley family members who died in the house, stories which have been supported by guests over the years. Staff members of the house as a museum have reported that children often see the ghost of Thomas Whaley when adults cannot. Ghosts reported to have been seen include Thomas Whaley, Anna Whaley, and even at one time a small fox terrier running down a hallway. The Whaley’s owned a fox terrier which they named Dolly Varden. In addition to the spectral occupants the Whaley House was reported through the years to exhibit other forms of paranormal activity, including the opening and closing of windows and doors, and rooms locking and unlocking themselves.

The Chilling Histories Behind These 18 Allegedly Haunted Sites in the United States
USS Constellation which defeated the French frigate L’Insurgente in 1799 was not the same ship as the vessel bearing that named moored in Baltimore today, a fact proven by US Navy research in the 1980s. US Navy

18. USS Constellation, Baltimore Inner Harbor, Maryland

USS Constellation is a museum ship reputed to be the home of several ghosts, one of whom being the spirit of Commodore Thomas Truxton, one of the heroes of the United States Navy during its brief naval war with France known as the Quasi-War. During that conflict, the French frigate L’Insurgente was captured by Truxton, in command of the American squadron in the Caribbean, with Constellation as his flagship. It was the high point of Truxton’s naval career, and though he later engaged another French frigate, Vengeance, he was unable to capture it and take it as a prize. In 1801 he retired from the Navy. His ghost’s presence on the deck of his ship is extolled by many ghost hunters, who fail to address a central issue. It’s not the same ship.

The Constellation moored in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is the second Constellation, built in 1854, and of a completely different configuration as Truxton’s frigate. While some say that the ship is the rebuilt original Constellation, and others claim that the second vessel was built with timbers from the first, there is no evidence of either being the case. By the end of the twentieth century US Navy researchers had clearly established that few materials, if any, from the original Constellation were used in the second ship. The original was dismantled largely because the ship was rotted beyond the cost of repair. The guns of the second vessel were also completely different. Commodore Truxton, one of America’s legendary seamen, would surely recognize that he was on the wrong ship.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“I spent the night in the Lizzie Borden House – Here’s What Happened”. Lyndsey Matthews, Country Living. October 12, 2017

“White House Ghost Stories”. Press Room Fact Sheets, The White House Historical Association. Online

“The Ax Murdered Who Got Away”. Mike Dash, Smithsonian Magazine. June 8, 2012

“The Ghosts of the Dock Street Theater”. Ghost City Tours, Charleston, South Carolina. Online

“Our Spirited Guests. The Friendly Ghosts of Historic Hotel Bethlehem”. Hotel Bethlehem. Online

“Ghost Stories”. Hotel Monte Vista. Online

“The Winchester Mystery House and Other Haunted Places: Why do some places feel as if they are deliberately designed to creep us out?” Frank McAndrew, Psychology Today. January 29, 2018

“Ghosts: Washington’s Most Famous Ghost Stories”. John Alexander. 1988

“The Haunts of Washington”. Sarah Booth Conroy, The Washington Post. November 1, 1981

“GETTYSBURG: Ted Turner, a cast of thousands and the ghosts of the past”. Drew Jubera, Baltimore Sun. October 9, 1993

“Philadelphia Ghost Stories”. Charles J. Adams III. 2012

“Cliveden: An Historic Germantown Mansion Redefines it Mission”. Stephen Ujifusa, Philly History. November 1, 2010

“A Historically Haunted Philadelphia House?” Lauren Lipton, Positively Philadelphia. April 24, 2016

“The Truth About Portland’s ‘Shanghai Tunnels'”. Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian. January 11, 2017

“Ex-resident of house debunks much of Amityville ‘Horror'”. Jennifer Smith, Seattle Times. May 8, 2005

“‘Haunted’ ships spur investigation at Buffalo Naval Park”. Evan Anstey, WIVB 4. October 26, 2015. Online

“Haunted Folklore”. The Whaley House Museum. Online

“Sailing’s Strangest Tales”. John Harding. 2016

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