Haunted house stories have become a staple of pop culture; you don't need to look far to see the highway billboards challenging you to spend a night in a haunted house, or horror movies about homes built on Indian burial grounds. But are there haunted houses in real life, filled with the ghosts of former occupants and grisly murder victims? Thousands of people have testified to experiencing the supernatural at locations all across the world, and the notion of a place being "haunted" is a near-universal concept in world folklore. These haunted houses are said to be the real deal, complete with ghosts, spooks and weird things going bump in the night.
Whether these haunted homes are real or fake, haunted houses are some of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Perhaps the mystery, such as the stairways to nothing at the Winchester House, is the real draw to these locations with visitors coming to some in the millions to decide for themselves if the haunting is real. Do you believe in haunted houses? The next time you're looking for a spooky place to visit, try one of these real haunted houses on for size.
The White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been the home of every American president and his family since the John Adams administration in 1800. Homes in the US don't get much more historic, and few are reported to be more crowded with undead souls.
According to legend, the first First Lady to take residence in the mansion liked it so much that her spirit remains there today. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, can reportedly be seen hanging laundry in the East Room from time to time.
Adams probably doesn't get much chance to be lonely, as Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, has also been spotted hanging out in spirit form at the White House. Madison, who designed the Rose Garden during her husband's administration, allegedly returned to stop work on the garden's removal years later.
That's far from all of the haunting in this landmark. The Rose Room, also known as the Queen's Bedroom, is said to be the spiritual hot spot in the White House. The ghosts of everyone from President Andrew Jackson to President Abraham Lincoln is said to occupy that bedroom.
Finally, many visitors and residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue claim to have seen Abraham Lincoln's ghost walking the grounds. First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Grace Goodhue (wife of Calvin Coolidge) told of spotting Lincoln's ghost in the appropriately-titled Lincoln bedroom. As well, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands claimed that, while spending the night at the White House, she heard Lincoln knocking at her bedroom door. (I'm sure it was perfectly innocent...)
But Is It True?
Most ghost stories seem to indicate that great traumas or intense emotions are what spark a haunting. Ghosts don't want to hang out just ANYWHERE. They occupy those locations where significant events went down. And it's hard to think of a more significant place where more dramatic decisions have been made than at the White House.
Still, with so many people walking through the White House every day, it seems an odd place for ghosts to be mucking about unseen. And a lot of the stories about White House hauntings are patently absurd, such as when Winston Churchill claimed to have been taking a bath in the White House, only to emerge nude and find himself face-to-face with Lincoln's ghost.
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Rose Hall House
Rose Hall House is one of the most famous and lavish homes in Jamaica. It was first constructed in the 1770s in Montego Bay, and was most recently refurbished in the 1960s. It is a popular tourist attraction.
In 1820, Haitian-born Annie Palmer married John Palmer of Montego Bay. John owned Rose Hall at this point, and ran it as a plantation, utilizing slave labor. John died soon after returning to Rose Hall with his Haitian bride. According to local legends, Annie was a psychopath who used voodoo to dominate the men of the plantation. She allegedly manipulated the string of new husbands she acquired over the years, as well as the slaves who worked on the plantation, tolerating them for a time, only to murder them when she lost interest.
Annie was said to have a freakishly high sex drive. When she became bored with her three husbands, all who died under strange circumstances, she would make male slaves join her in bed. When Annie grew tired of a slave, she would murder them as well. This ritual repeated itself for years apparently, all right there in Rose Hall House.
It's said that Annie was eventually killed in her bed by one of her victims, possibly a slave during the slave of the 1830s. Annie was buried in a special grave in the woods, but her spirit reportedly remains in the Rose Hall to this day. The site, in addition to being a tourist attraction, has been home to numerous seances and attempts to commune with Annie's spirit. She has come to be known as the "White Witch of Rose Hall."
But Is It True?
Almost certainly not. Aside from a novel apparently inspired by the house from the 1920s, there's nothing in the historical record to suggest even that "Annie Palmer" existed, let alone that she was a voodoo priestess using the house as a homebase for a bloodthirsty rampage. The story seems in many ways concocted out of the most depraved fantasies of the local European residents. In a study of the legend from the Fortean Times in 2007, author Benjamin Radford investigated the "White Witch" legends and concluded that they were entirely fictional. Even the pseudo-scientific paranormal investigations of the location have failed to produce any compelling indications of a supernatural haunting.
Located in San Diego, California, the Whaley House was built over the site where James Robinson (nicknamed Yankee Jim) was executed in 1852 after a conviction of grand larceny. Four years after the hanging, Thomas Whaley purchased the land and constructed the home for his family. (Hence the name.)
Yankee Jim was a relatively infamous character in the area, known for ambushing miners for their recently-obtained gold. Eventually, he and two other men were arrested for stealing a boat, and he was condemned to die. (To give you a sense for the way justice was meted out at the time, two of the jury members were also the owners of the stolen boat.)
On the day of the execution, Yankee Jim addressed the crowd that had gathered while standing in a cart. He said his execution was a miscarriage of justice, and argued that he was a good man who was known for donating to the poor. He was then hanged suddenly in the midst of speaking. In addition, the noose was set too low, allowing Yankee Jim's feet to touch the ground and prolonging his death.
After moving into the home built atop the site of this execution, the Whaleys began hearing strange noises, including the sound of boots stomping around the house. Soon enough, the stories spread that the ghost of Yankee Jim was still wandering the grounds, angry about his overly harsh sentence.
In the 1950s, the county decided to have the home renovated and restored, and the workers began to notice strange things, like doors and windows opening and closing themselves, or strange sounds. Some reported seeing not Yankee Jim but the ghosts of Thomas Whaley and his wife at the top of the staircase. A few refused to continue working on the site. Even television personality Regis Philbin has claimed to have seen the spirits in the home.
But Is It True?
Here's the most compelling evidence to date of the haunting of Whaley House, a photo that appears to show a smoke-like apparition:
BRIEF HISTORY LESSON: Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII of England. Henry grew displeased with her after she failed to produce a male heir (though she did give birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth). Henry decided he'd prefer to be with his new mistress, Anne Seymour, so he had Boleyn arrested and locked up in the Tower of London. It was there she was executed for high treason on May 19, 1536, and then buried. Blickling Hall in Norfolk was the home of the Boleyn Family from 1499 to 1507.
The circumstances surrounding Boleyn's death have made her a key figure of fascination in British history. Almost immediately after her execution, stories of her practising witchcraft and even laughing in the face of death started to spread. Even the Governor of the Tower of London, present at her execution, later said "this lady had much joy and pleasure in death."
Each year on May 19, it's said that a headless Anne Boleyn visits Blickling Hall. Apparently, she's a nostalgic ghost. According to local legend, Anne arrives each year in a carriage, led by a headless horseman. Though it's not exactly known where the head of the horseman lies, Anne carries her detached skull along with her for the ride. Anne's brother, Lord Rochford, and her father, Thomas Boleyn, are also thought to haunt the grounds.
But Is It True?
There are so many stories about Anne Boleyn's ghost appearing in various spots all over England, it's a bit difficult to take any of them too seriously. For example, on Christmas, Anne appears yearly in Kent near the spot where she first met and was courted by King Henry, as well as in Essex near Rochford Hall, where she spent considerable time as a girl. Either Anne is seriously committed to being a ghost... or English people are just fascinated by her and thus "see" her everywhere. see more on Blickling Hall
In North Ireland, overlooking the sea, is the picturesque Ballygally Castle. The castle was built in 1625 by Lord James Shaw of Scotland, who had rented the land from the Earl of Antrim. The home remained in the Shaw family until the 19th Century, when it was sold by James Shaw's descendant, William Shaw. Today, it is operated as a hotel by Hastings Hotel Group. It holds the distinction of being the only occupied building from the 17th Century in Northern Ireland.
Perhaps the most notable ghostly "resident" of the castle is Lady Isobel Shaw, the wife of Lord James Shaw. After Lady Shaw gave birth to a boy - the prized male heir for Lord Shaw - her husband locked her away in the castle's tower, separating mother from child. While attempting to escape and steal back her baby, Lady Shaw allegedly fell to her death from the tower. Today, she is believed to wander the hallways, occasionally knocking on the doors to random rooms, looking for her child. (A plaque in the hotel notes her presence but refers to Lady Shaw as a "friendly spirit.")
Madame Nixon (another former resident), also appears from time to time in the castle, wandering around in a silk dress. There is a room in the castle, located within the turret, that is locally known as "The Ghost Room" and isn't rented out to guests.
Numerous other ghost stories have circulated relating to the castle. One former owner claims to have once set up an elaborate dinner party in an area known as "The Dungeon Room" only to return and find the table in complete disarray. Others have said that, due to all the battles that have taken place on or near the grounds, that the ghosts of dead soldiers still appear to visitors on the property. A variety of supposed "mediums" have detected restless spirits in various points in the castle as well, with one notably claiming that the hotel had more ghosts occupying its rooms than guests.
But Is It True?
The place certainly sees creepy. Here's a shot of the "Ghost Room":
Furthermore, former owner Olga Henry - herself a skeptic when it comes to hauntings - has some pretty creepy anecdotes about guests who received considerable scares. One in particular concerns a guest staying alone, who felt the presence and even heard the noises of children in his room.
But alas, it seems that the "Ghost Room" may in fact just be a gimmick. Several bloggers and writers have stayed in the room and none have actually observed anything supernatural. (Some have also noted that the Ghost Room is surprisingly modern, wired for electricity and not even locked away from the rest of the hotel, just the sort of precautions you'd take if there were actually ghosts around.) see more on Ballygally Castle
Construction on Raynham Hall began in Norfolk, England, in 1613, at the behest of Sir Roger Townshend, an influential member of English Parliament. Sir Roger had been touring around Europe and had the home built in a popular Italian style that would become the rage in England many years later, making Raynham Hall notably ahead of its time, and infamous as one of the finest stately country homes in the area.
The home is also notable for the extensive work done on the house by famous English architect, landscaper and designer William Kent. Many of Kent's finest pieces - along with a variety of other artwork he hand-picked for Raynham - can still be found in the home to this day.
One of Sir Roger's descendants, Charles Townsend, married a woman named Dorothy Walpole in 1712. Dorothy had a reputation as being promiscuous, which may have fueled some of the strange rumors surrounding her death in 1726. It is rumored that Lord Townsend actually faked his wife's death, so that he could imprison her in the home, possibly as retribution for an infidelity or out of anger after discovering she had been previously involved with a rival. Unable to see her children, leave the room, or eat, she died in that room, wearing a brown satin dress.
The first sighting of The Brown Lady took place at Christmas in 1835, where a guest of the house, Colonel Loftus, met with the Brown Lady on his way back to his room of an evening. He said she was wearing a brown satin dress and seemed to glow from behind her empty eye sockets. His account led to many of the house servants leaving the house immediately, refusing to return.
Numerous notable figures from British history claim to have seen The Brown Lady while staying in Raynham Hall. One of the first and most infamous encounters happened to King George IV when he stayed in one of the home's state rooms. He claims to have woken up to find the deathly pale lady hovering right next to his bed. Apparently, the king was so frightened that he refused to remain in the home any longer, and left immediately.
The ghost of Dolly is thought to still walk up and down the grand staircase of Raynham Hall today.
But Is It True?
The Brown Lady is the subject of arguably the most famous ghost photograph of all time...
... which is fairly unsettling. However, the Brown Lady story does feel a bit like the product of the Victorian fascination with both the occult and sexual moralizing, rather than an accurate account of the Townsend marriage. (The vagueness surrounding the reasons for Lord Townsend's sudden decision to imprison his wife and fake her death, for example.) Still, it's hard to argue with the seriousness and integrity of some of these witnesses. If you can't trust a guy named Colonel Loftus, who can you trust? see more on Raynham Hall
The Bell Farm
In 1800, farmer John Bell and his family moved from North Carolina to Red River, Tennessee (today called Adams, Tennessee). He eventually came to own over 300 acres of property in the area, and became a respected local leader and Elder of the town church.
By most accounts, strange things started happening on the Bell family farm around 1817, which have been blamed on an entity known as "The Bell Witch." There are several popular stories. Here are a few of the more intriguing variations:
- John Bell found a strange animal on the property that looked like a half-dog, half-rabbit.
- The Bell children started hearing strange sounds, which at times resembled vermin invading their rooms and gnawing at their beds.
- Faint whispering heard around the house that resembled women softly singing hymns.
- The Bells found a vial of unknown liquid sitting around the house. They tested it out by giving some to the cat, which soon died.
Bell grew ill in 1820, by some accounts owing to the stress and terror of believing a witch was haunting him. (In other accounts, John became sick because the Bell Witch had given him some of the strange liquid that killed the cat.) It was said that, after John's funeral, the Bell Witch could be heard laughing and cackling to herself, and taking credit for the death.
But Is It True?
President Andrew Jackson certainly believed so. During the Battle of New Orleans, in which several of Bell's sons had fought, then-General Jackson became intrigued by stories of the haunting of the Bell's Farm and in 1819 took a trip there to investigate further. Though peculiar things started happening almost immediately upon his arrival at the farm (such as the wagon he was bringing suddenly becoming immobile and refusing to budge), the skeptical Jackson initially denied the rumors. Eventually, however, he too became convinced the Bell Farm was haunted, and is said to have even come up with the name "The Bell Witch."
However, it's hard to tell how much of this report is folklore vs. actual history. Only one primary source still survives about the Bell Witch, an account written by Richard Williams Bell - the second-youngest child of John Bell - in 1846 called "Our Family Trouble." In it, he provides an eyewitness account of the haunting. It was rumored that the ghost had promised to return to Bell's direct descendent in 107 years, which would have been 1935. No reports of Bell Witch sightings were made at that time.
The story has inspired a number of notable pop culture haunted houses and ghost stories. The horror film "An American Haunting" is a largely fictionalized retelling of The Bell Witch story, though in this version, John Bell is raping his daughter and the Bell Witch is actually a manifestation of her anger and grief.
Borley is a small town in Essex, England, near the border with Suffolk on the Eastern Coast of the country. In 1863, the location was home to a church (also called Borley) which had a large rectory on the grounds. In 1863, Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull destroyed all remnants of the previous rectory and had his own home built next to the Borley Church, which was to be his parish. Already when the Reverend Bull had his home built, there had been rumors of a ghost on the property, originally of a sad, dead nun who still wandered the grounds, weeping. According to most accounts, there had been some manner of church building - including monasteries - on the site since the 12th or 13th centuries.
The origin of the "Nun's Walk" story dates back to the site's original purpose, as a monastery. Supposedly, a monk from the monastery carried on an affair with a nun from a nearby convent. When the couple were found out, the monk was killed and the nun walled up inside the rectory's familiar red brick walls.
Reverend Bull was himself fascinated by the ghost nun story, and purposefully set up his home so he could look out over the area she was said to walk at night. Several sightings - both from guests, Reverend Bull's own family, and servants - from this time were reported of the sorrowful ghost nun haunting the grounds.
After Reverend Bull died, his position was taken up by Reverend Eric Smith, who lived at the Borley Rectory with his wife. Hearing about the area's reputation, the couple invited then-noted paranormal investigator Harry Price to inspect the rectory. Price reportedly discovered a great deal of paranormal activity, of the violent, chaotic sort we'd now associate with a poltergeist. Reverend Smith and his wife moved out of the rectory after a brief 2 years.
The next Reverend to move in was Lionel Foyster, who arrived at the rectory with his beautiful wife, Marianne. The spirit of the rectory appears to have taken a liking for Marianne, singling her out for attention and allegedly even writing messages on the walls for her. (One example: "Marianne please help get.")
Foyster arranged then to have the home exorcized of evil spirits, which is said to have worked for a time. But soon enough, the vengeful spirits returned, attacking Foyster's son, turning communion wine to ink and other horrors. The Foyster family moved out of the rectory shortly after.
Harry Price, still intrigued by the strange phenomenon happening at the rectory, purchased it himself in 1937 and began a series of tests and experiments meant to determine exactly what was happening at Borley Rectory. A year later, Price held a seance, during which a spirit delivered a prophecy. The Rectory would burn down that very night, and the skeleton of the dead nun held in its walls would be found. This did not, in fact, happen, but Borley Rectory did burn down a scant 11 months later. Price returned to inspect the grounds and claims to have found a jawbone that could have belonged to a nun.
But Is It True?
Harry Price's "scientific team" logged a large amount of research and observations relating to their time spent at Borley Rectory, and a number of photographs of spirits came out of the period.
As well, a number of the original individuals involved in the Borley legends spoke publicly about their experiences, including Marianne, who suspected that some of the actions credited to the Borley ghost were probably hoaxes or fakes, but still maintained that the house was likely haunted.
It's also extremely unlikely that the "origin story" about the ghost nun is accurate, and by the 1930s, this version of events had already been widely discredited. (It's believed to have come from a popular novel of the time by H. Rider Haggard.) This obviously hurts the believability of all the later stories, as the un-dead nun trapped forever in the rectory walls seemed to have been the original source of all the other legends.
Finally, though a series of exorcisms were undertaken, and Price even found the jawbone amidst the rubble and gave it a proper Christian burial, sightings of ghosts around where the rectory stood continue to this day. What more could this ghost possibly want after centuries of wandering around aimlessly? see more on Borley Rectory