TERRRIFYING TEN: America’s Most Haunted Places
I grew up with ghost stories. One intriguing tale involved my great, great, great-grandfather, Christian Klineck (see photo A), who was killed in the Civil War at Champion Hill in the Battle of Vicksburg. When he left his pregnant wife on an Iowa farm to join the Union Army, she was so bereft he promised he would return. When she gave birth to their baby on the farm, alone—as the family legend goes—Christian appeared to her at the foot of her bed over the baby’s cradle. He had died the day before in Mississippi but he still kept his promise...
Everyone is fascinated by ghost stories. In celebration of Halloween, Notes from the Frontier will take you on a virtual tour of America’s ten most haunted places. Of course, this is subject to opinion. If you have favorites, please share! Now, hang on—here we go:
1. STANLEY HOTEL, ESTES PARK, COLORADO If you’re a fan of horror movies or writer, Stephen King, you know about this hotel. The book and movie, “The Shining,” were inspired by its history and very prolific paranormal activity. The sprawling Colonial Revival hotel was built by the Stanley Steamer magnate and opened in 1909 with 420 rooms, multiple ballrooms, restaurants, an underground cave system, and a spectacular grand staircase. This hotel has been featured on nearly all major ghost television series. Stephen King, the king of horror, stayed in notorious Room 217 and had the wits scared out of him. He was violently awakened by screams and a nightmare of his son being chased down the hall. (Another room, 237, was where Jack Nicolson saw the horrific ghost in the bathtub and the hallway between rooms 217 and 237 was where the creepy Grady twins appear beckoning little Danny.) Room 217 is believed to be haunted by Mrs. Elizabeth Wilson, the hotel’s head housekeeper, who is fastidious—in life AND death. Guests report luggage unpacked, items moved, lights going off and on. And she doesn’t approve of unmarried guests sleeping together in the room. They often feel a frigid force between them! Other paranormal hot spots—or, rather, cold spots—are the grand staircase where apparitions appear at the top of the stairs; rooms 401 and 428 have many strange goings-on, including the sound of laughing children and footsteps, a cowboy sitting on the bed, moving furniture, and a closet door that shuts on its own; guests in the Concert Hall hear a spirit ordering them to “get out!” and eerie piano music; and the underground caves, where the Hotel’s 75-minute paranormal tours end, has a high rate of paranormal activity, ghost-hunters say.
2. EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA This prison of horrors is consistently ranked among the most haunted in the United States. The grim, medieval-looking stone fortress was built in 1829 by Quakers who envisioned it as a place of isolation that would inspire penitence in wrong-doers. Prisoners were confined in damp, dark stone rooms with no windows where punishments were severe and cruelty, unchecked. (Chaining inmates’ tongues to their wrists was one punishment.) Suicides and insanity were rampant in the penitentiary. Solitary confinement was supposedly prohibited in 1870, but overcrowding forced the issue beginning in 1913, until the prison was closed in 1970. Today the prison is visited by thousands of tourists each year. Disembodied laughter, wailing, specters, pacing footsteps, echoes of shackles and shaking iron bars, and the ghost of Pep, the prison dog, have been seen by many people. Cellblock 4, 6 and 12 report the most paranormal activity. A locksmith was working in Cellblock 4 during the restoration and felt a presence beside him watching. At one point, he stopped and looked up and a shadow jumped across the cellblock and disappeared. The SyFy series “Ghost Hunters” also famously filmed a distinct shadowy figure in Cellblock 4.
3. WINCHESTER HOUSE, SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA This sprawling behemoth of a house started out as a modest eight-room farmhouse but ended up as a 24,000-sq. foot mansion with 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 47 fireplaces, and 52 skylights. The heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune, Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester, lost her young daughter first to illness, then her husband to tuberculosis. Heartbroken, Sarah hired a psychic to reach out to her lost loved ones. The seer, supposedly channeling her dead husband, told her that her family had been killed by ghosts of Winchester gunshot victims. To appease the spirits, the soothsayer directed Sarah, she must go West, buy a house and continuously build onto it. If she ever stopped, she would die. She purchased an unfinished farmhouse in San Jose in 1884 and began feverish construction. Thirty-eight years later and having spent $70 million (in today’s currency) of continuous construction, she died in the seven-story mansion. She left an architectural oddity of labyrinthian proportions, full of ghosts, including that of her own troubled spirit. Today the mansion is still owned by the Winchester estate and is open for tours. The third floor is particularly active with paranormal activity.
4. HOTEL MONTE VISTA, FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA This 73-room hotel has a very colorful history of guests, alive and dead. It was completed in 1927 with funding help from iconic western writer, Zane Grey. This beautifully appointed landmark is one of the oldest, operational hotels in Arizona and has hosted such famous guests as John Wayne (who had some run-ins with the hotel ghosts!), Alan Ladd, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Zane Grey, Clark Gable, Walter Brennan, Barbara Stanwyk, Lee Marvin, Carol Lombard, Jane Russell, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and many others. Many guests report supernatural interactions. Room 305 is by far the most active, with a woman who was a long-time resident, sitting in a rocking chair at the window, or the chair rocking by itself. Other activities include a screaming baby in the basement; the ghosts of two prostitutes who were thrown from room 306 and killed and now place their hands over the mouths of sleeping visitors and attempt to suffocate them; the “Meat Man” in room 220, an eccentric who used to hang fresh meat from the chandelier; the elevator attendant, whose whispering voice asks visitors “which floor,” his disembodied hand closes the doors, or his face appears in the mirror behind visitors as they leave the elevator!
5. HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES, SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS There are few places in the United States that can claim more paranormal bona fides than Salem, Massachusetts. During the 1692-93 Salem witch trials, 200 people were tortured and convicted, and at least 20 were executed. Salem is also the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of the horror novel, House of the Seven Gables, inspired by this massive saltbox Puritan home. Tales abound of witchcraft, family curses, maniacal laughter, footsteps and the agitated ghosts of Pyncheon and Maule family members who lived in—but felt imprisoned by—the house.
6. LINCOLN PARK ZOO, CHICAGO Lions and tigers and....ghosts?.... oh my! The Lincoln Park Zoo has been called one of the most active sites ever investigated by para psychologists and ghost hunters. Why? Because in the 1840s and 1850s, the land was the city’s original cemetery, where 35,000 bodies were buried, including 6,000 Confederate prisoners of war. Many of the bodies were typhoid victims and moved because the cemetery was too close to the city water supply. But some—perhaps as many as several thousand—were not. The zoo was founded in 1868, one of the oldest zoos in North America, and staff and visitors immediately started reporting ghosts wearing Victorian clothing. One Victorian female specter is often seen near the Lion House and women in the Ladies Room there are shocked to see her image in the mirror, then turn around to see nothing is there. The Couch Mausoleum is the only above-ground grave that remains on the Lincoln Park Zoo grounds, having survived the 1871 Chicago Fire and the moving of the cemetery. It is said to be a haunted hot spot. Zoo visitors often take photographs of the animals and find strange fogs, orbs, faces without bodies, or filmy apparitions where no one was standing in the photographs. There is another possible reason for hauntings at the Lincoln Park Zoo: from 1894-1919, there was a 42-foot long bridge overlooking the park, but it became the city’s most common place for suicides. As many as 100 people jumped or hung themselves from “Suicide Bridge” as it came to be called, until it was torn down. Some believe some of those tragic souls also haunt the park.
7. HOT LAKE HOTEL, LA GRANDE, OREGON This location has an ancient, storied but also stained past. It is no wonder the land, and the resort later built on it in 1864, is haunted by spirits from bygone years. The site of a naturally warm, thermal-fed lake, it served Native Americans first, primarily the Nez Perce, with its healing waters, then westering pioneers on the Oregon Trail. In 1864, a health resort was built on his shores frequented by many patients, including the Mayo brothers, founders of the Mayo Clinic. In 1903, the resort was expanded with a sprawling brick hotel that eventually could house more than 1,000 guests and also boasted medical wards, restaurants, and a ballroom. In 1934, a massive fire destroyed most of the wood structures but the brick hotel survived. The fire and the Depression, however, brought a quick decline. During WWII it became a nurse’s training center, then a flight school, then a storage facility for the bodies of typhoid victims until graves could be dug for them. Then the facility became a nursing home, then an insane asylum, and finally was abandoned in 1991. The hotel already had accumulated a litany of ghost stories but during the fifteen years it was abandoned, the tales attained such a fevered pitch, the place was featured on the ABC series, “The Scariest Places on Earth” in 2001. Hauntings include old vacationers, a nurse scalded to death in the lake, a gardener who committed suicide, and asylum patients. A piano formerly owned by Robert E. Lee’s wife plays by itself on the third floor. Screaming and crying have been reported from the hospital surgery room, as well as rocking chairs moving on their own. Today, the hotel has been gorgeously renovated as a hotel and spa.
8. TRANS-ALLEGHENY LUNATIC ASYLUM, WEST VIRGINIA How much misery can one building contain? If misery and wasted life cause unsettled spirits, it is no wonder that the walls of this horrific structure house ghosts. Ironic, too, because originally the institution was built in 1863 as a state-of-the-art hospital—bright and cheery--intended to treat the mentally ill, especially Civil War soldiers returned from the horrors of war, unable to cope, as humanely and gently as possible. It was designed to house 250 patients, each with a large, bright, beautifully appointed room and given the freedom to roam acres of gardens, farmland and parklike surrounds. But, within 20 years, with the aftermath of the Civil War and other economic and cultural societal ravages, the population of the institution tripled. Another reason the population exploded: Husbands had the sole power to commit their wives, no matter the reason, and many did, leaving women for years or until they died. The idyllic facility was overrun, the budget stretched, the facility mismanaged, staff and patients in chaos. By the 1950s, the hospital had 2,600 patients, more than ten times its capacity. When the Charleston Gazette newspaper did an expose on the asylum, the reporters and readers could not believe what they found: patients in cages, others sleeping on the floor in their own feces, unimaginable filth and crowding. In a surgical area of the asylum, reporters found that hundreds of lobotomies were being performed by the famous Dr. Walter Freeman by hammering an icepick-type spike into a patient’s eye socket to sever specific connective tissue in the brain.
9. MYRTLES PLANTATION, LOUISIANA Pennsylvania Colonist, David Bradford, nicknamed “Whiskey Dave,” built this mansion in 1796 after escaping being prosecuted for his participation in the Whiskey Rebellion protesting the government’s high excise tax on whiskey. The plantation has been known for decades as one of America’s most haunted sites and has documented sightings of at least twelve ghosts. Built upon a Tunica Indian burial ground, the spirit of a young Indian woman roaming outside is one of the spirits. Both Confederate and Union soldiers were killed inside the home and their ghosts are said to haunt the home’s interior as well. But the most commonly seen spirit is that of Chloe, a beautiful former slave who was believed to be the mistress of one of the owner’s, Clark Woodruff. When Chloe was caught eavesdropping outside a door, the wife Sara had her ear cut off. In retaliation, the legend goes, Chloe baked a birthday cake with poisonous oleander leaves that killed Sara and her two daughters. Chloe was then hung. She is seen often wearing a turban to hide her severed ear.
10. VILLISCA AXE MURDERS HOUSE, IOWA One of the most notorious and still-unsolved mass axe murders in U.S. history occurred in this Queen Anne farmhouse in small-town Iowa. On June 11, 1912—sometime between midnight and 5am, eight people, including six children, were hacked to death by an axe as they lie sleeping in their beds. The bloody axe was left in a guest room next to a four-pound slab of bacon the murderer had taken from the ice box, all the mirrors had been covered, and a partially eaten plate of food the murderer had made for himself remained after his horrific deeds. The murders were never solved but years later, were believed to the crimes of a mass serial murderer who killed more than 100 people with an axe—mostly farm families—across the United States, hopping freight trains as his mode of travel. The Villisca home is a vortex of strange paranormal activity, including apparitions, orbs, footsteps, scraping sounds, and groans. Groups can also stay overnight in the home, if they dare....
(To read more about the Villisca murders and view a U.S. map of the suspected serial killer’s crimes, see the three-part series, THE AXE-IDENTAL TOURIST at NotesfromtheFrontier.com )
PHOTOS: (A) My family lore includes an intriguing ghost story: My great, great, great-Grandfather, Christian Klineck, died in the Battle of Champion Hill at Vicksburg, but he had promised his wife he would return to her. And he did... (1) The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, inspired Stephen King’s “The Shining.” (2) Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, built in 1829, is consistently sited as one of the most haunted places in the U.S. (3) The Winchester Home, built by the Winchester Rifle heiress, was built to appease the ghosts of victims killed by Winchester rifles! (4) Flagstaff’s famous Hotel Monte Vista has had many famous guests—alive and dead. (5) Salem’s House of the Seven Gables is haunted by victims of the Salem witch trials, as well as its past owners. (6) Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo has many human ghost inhabitants, since it was built on the city’s original cemetery and a graveyard for 6,000 Confederate prisoners of war. (7) Hot Lake Hotel in Oregon has both a spectacularly storied and stained past. (8) The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia, is notorious for housing the tragic spirits of residents from one of the most horrific asylums in the nation. (9) Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana consistently makes the list of America’s most haunted and claims several ghosts, including former slaves, Confederate and Union soldiers who died there, and two daughters who died after eating a poisoned birthday cake. (10) The Villisca Axe Murder house in the tiny southeastern farm town in Iowa has been featured on all major ghost and paranormal televisions series. On June 11, 1912, eight family members, including six children were bludgeoned to death by an axe. The crime was never solved.
© 2019 NOTES FROM THE FRONTIER Posted October 30, 2019
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