People who want to see ghosts usually seek out spooky cemeteries or creepy houses. But what if you aren’t lucky (or unlucky) enough to live next to a dark old mansion or a deserted insane asylum? A good place to start is the top five haunted places in America, where people have reported (and in some cases created) ghostly encounters.
The Winchester Mystery House
In 1881, Sarah Winchester, the widow of famous gun maker Oliver Winchester, became convinced that she needed protection from the evil spirits of all the people killed by Winchester rifles. A psychic advised her to continually add rooms to her San Jose, California, mansion to confuse any ghosts that may try to find her. (It’s not clear why ghosts, which can supposedly move through walls, would be confused by the rooms, but it apparently made sense to Winchester.) She did so for nearly forty years, adding more than 100 rooms and staircases, until her death in 1922. After Sarah’s death, her own ghost was said to haunt the halls of her mazelike mansion. Today the building remains a popular tourist attraction, a bizarre monument to superstition and paranoia.
The Amityville Horror
On Nov. 13, 1974, six members of an Amityville, New York, family were killed by one of the family’s sons, Ronald Jr. (”Butch”) DeFeo. In his legal defense, DeFeo claimed that demonic forces in the home drove him to kill. The new owner of the home at 112 Ocean Avenue later claimed a variety of ghostly phenomena, and the story was further fictionalized into a best-selling novel and horror film. Yet the supernatural events were never proven, and DeFeo’s lawyer later admitted that the story was a hoax.
The San Francisco Bay’s resident rock, and perhaps the most famous prison island in the world, Alcatraz has captured the public’s imagination in many films and books. The prison, a cold, dank hellhole, saw many murders, riots, and suicides during its 29 years of service. Along the way it spawned tales of inexplicable sounds, cell doors closing on their own, disembodied screams, and scary apparitions.
The Fox Sisters Cabin
Though less well-known than the other haunted places, the Fox Sisters cottage is perhaps the most important haunted house of all, since the phenomena here in many ways set the standard for later hauntings and even launched a religion. In 1848 Hydesville, western New York, two young sisters named Maggie and Katie Fox began supposedly communicating with the ghost of a murdered peddler. The sisters, in a sort of crude seance, would ask questions of the spirit, who would answer back with mysterious knocks or raps. Many people, including their mother, were amazed at what seemed to be genuine contact with the dead. Both sisters eventually admitted that they had actually faked the sounds–there had been no murdered peddler, it had all been a prank. The women even demonstrated how they had done it. But by then the belief had taken on a life of its own as a religion called Spiritualism, which is still practiced today.
The White House
The Washington, D.C., home of America’s presidents has surely seen untold tragedy through the centuries, from being burned down in 1814 by British troops to several attempted (and accomplished) assassinations. Among the White House’s spooky stories include the appearance of Abraham Lincoln’s ghost. Lincoln’s widow, Mary Todd, dabbled in the occult and held seances in the White House. Other reputed ghosts include Andrew Jackson, Dolley Madison, and Abigail Adams, though they are rarely seen today.