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 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, spirits, 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 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.

  • Many Ghosts Roam The White House
    Photo: Jack E. Boucher / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Location

    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.

    The Legend

    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 in the Rose Garden. Madison, who designed the 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. In the Rose Room, also known as the Queen's Bedroom, President Andrew Jackson has been seen and heard laughing and swearing. 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 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.

    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.

  • The White Witch Lingers At Rose Hall House
    Photo: Urban Walnut / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    The White Witch Lingers At Rose Hall House

    The Location

    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.

    The Legend

    In 1820, Haitian-born Annie 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 and violence 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.

    It's said that Annie was eventually killed by another powerful magician - an enslaved person whose family member she had tried to curse. Annie was buried in a special grave on the property, and her spirit reportedly remains in Rose Hall to this day. The site, in addition to being a tourist attraction, has been home to seances and other 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 book apparently inspired by the house from the 1920s, there's nothing in the historical record to suggest that Annie Palmer was a voodoo priestess using the house as a home base for a bloodthirsty rampage. There was a real John Palmer, who had a second marriage to a woman named Annie, but he died soon after the wedding and Annie had to leave the mansion.

  • Yankee Jim Walks Through Whaley House
    Photo: Jack Boucher / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Yankee Jim Walks Through Whaley House

    The Location

    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. A few years after the hanging, Thomas Whaley purchased the land and constructed the home for his family.

    The Legend

    Yankee Jim was a relatively infamous character in the area. Eventually, he and two other men were arrested for stealing a boat, and he was condemned to die. On the day of the execution, Yankee Jim was said to have swung like a pendulum, going back and forth for an hour before he finally died. Thomas Whaley was there to witness it.

    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 death sentence.

    Since the Whaleys and their descendants stopped living in the house in the 1950s, other visitors began to notice strange things. Some reported seeing not Yankee Jim but the ghosts of Thomas Whaley, his wife, and children. Even television personality Regis Philbin has claimed to have seen a spirit in the home.

    But Is It True?

    Beyond first-hand accounts, the most compelling evidence to date of the haunting of Whaley House include a series of photos appearing to show smoke-like apparitions. Convinced?

  • A Headless Anne Boleyn Visits Blickling Hall

    The Location

    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, and two stillborn babies). 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 several falsified charges on May 19, 1536.

    Blickling estate in Norfolk was where Anne was born, though the Boleyn family home no longer stands on the grounds.

    The Legend

    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 practicing witchcraft and even laughing in the face of death started to spread. Even the Governor of the Tower of London, present at her execution, reportedly 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 father Sir Thomas Boleyn is 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 in Kent at Hever Castle, as well as in Essex at Rochford Hall, where her family also spent time. Either Anne is seriously committed to being a ghost, or people are just fascinated by her and thus "see" her in many places.

  • Ballygally Castle Has A 'Ghost Room'

    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 seems creepy. Furthermore, former manager Olga Henry - herself a skeptic when it comes to hauntings - has some pretty eerie 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.

  • The Brown Lady Hovers In Raynham Hall
    Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    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.