Graveyard Shift

Chilling Real-Life Haunted House Stories

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 nearly universal in 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 also 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.


  • Ballygally Castle
    Video: YouTube

    The Location

    In Northern Ireland overlooking the sea is the picturesque Ballygally Castle. The castle was built in 1625 by James Shaw of Scotland and his wife. The home remained in the Shaw family until the early 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 residence from the 17th century in Northern Ireland.

    The Legend

    Perhaps the most notable ghostly "resident" of the castle is Lady Isabella Shaw, the wife of James Shaw. According to one story, 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 and the tower room, occasionally knocking on the doors to random rooms, looking for her child. 

    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 manager of the hotel 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 psychic mediums claim to 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 manager 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. Certain bloggers have stayed in the room and not actually observed anything supernatural. One noted that the Ghost Room is surprisingly modern and not even locked away from the rest of the hotel - which seems like a precaution you'd take if there were actually ghosts around.

  • Raynham Hall
    Video: YouTube

    The Location

    Raynham Hall was built in Norfolk, England in 1620 at the behest of Sir Roger Townshend. The home was 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 known 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 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.

    The Legend

    One of Sir Roger's descendants, Charles Townsend, married a woman named Dorothy Walpole in 1712. It is rumored that Lord Townsend found out his wife was having an affair and locked her up in the home in 1725, where she died a year later from illness. 

    The first sighting of her ghost, which came to be known as the Brown Lady because of her brown dress, took place at Christmas in 1835, where a guest of the house saw her in the halls. 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 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 near his bed.

    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. Still, it's hard to argue with the seriousness and integrity of some of these witnesses.

  • 7

    The Bell Farm

    The Bell Farm
    Video: YouTube


    The Location

    In the early 1800s, 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.

    The Legend

    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 an old woman 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 singing in the graveyard.

    But Is It True?

    President Andrew Jackson certainly believed so. He became intrigued by stories of the haunting and in 1819 took a trip there to investigate further. Peculiar things started happening almost immediately upon his arrival at the farm, such as the wagon he was bringing suddenly becoming immobile, with horses refusing to budge. However, it's hard to tell how much of this report is folklore vs. actual history. Most accounts of the Bell Witch come from a 1894 book by journalist Martin Van Buren Ingram called An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch of Tennessee, which was written decades after the events took place. 

    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 Rectory
    Video: YouTube

    The Location

    Borley is a small town in Essex, England, near the border with Suffolk on the eastern coast of the country. In 1863, the location became home to a church (also called Borley) which had a large rectory on the grounds built by its first recortor, Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull. According to later paranormal investigators, there was ghostly activity on the property - some which was connected to tragedies that happened centuries earlier.

    The Legend

    The origin of the ghostly nun story dates back to the site's original purpose, as a monastery - a claim that has not been proven by historical records. 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 beheaded and the nun walled up inside the cellar, where she died.

    Reverend Bull's own family reported seeing the sorrowful ghost nun haunting the grounds in 1900, and the nun appeared to servants, villagers, and others who visited Borley Rectory. After Reverend Bull died, his own ghost was reportedly sighted.

    In the late 1920s, Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his family lived at the Borley Rectory for a year and experienced a great deal of paranormal phenomena. They invited the then-noted paranormal investigator Harry Price to inspect the rectory. Price claimed to discover violent, chaotic poltergeist activity. Reverend Smith and his wife moved out.

    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 child, turning wine to ink, and other horrors. The Foyster family moved out of the rectory shortly after.

    Harry Price, still intrigued by the strange phenomena happening at the rectory, rented it himself in 1937 and began a series of tests and experiments meant to determine exactly what was happening at Borley Rectory. A year after Price stayed there, the rectory burned down. Price returned to inspect the grounds in 1943 and claims to have found a jawbone that could have belonged to a nun.

    But Is It True?

    Harry Price's 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 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 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?