"Real-life ghost stories?" OK, allow us to clarify. Ghosts may, in fact, not be real. Having said that, the following stories comprise some of the most convincing evidence, possibly proving that the spirit world occasionally intermingles with our own. These famous or infamous ghostly encounters include hauntings of famous places, ghosts photographed in creepy haunted houses or cemeteries, curses and folklore, and more.
The fear of ghosts - usually classified as undead souls or spirits who can appear or engage with living people - has been a part of human culture since the beginning, particularly evident in early religious practices, and the notion of ancestor worship was popular among a number of pre-literate human tribes. It's an appealing notion, the idea that death may in fact not be the end of life, and that some shadow or essence of a person is left behind when they die.
Our contemporary idea of a "ghost story" comes largely from the Victorian period in England, when a number of classic authors in the popular tradition of "gothic fiction" wrote stories that informed the way we currently view the afterlife. This includes Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, particularly in its depiction of the tormented Jacob Marley, forced to wander the Earth in chains as penance for a life of greed and avarice, as well as Henry James's Turn of the Screw, where a governess discovers that her two young charges may be possessed by an evil spirit.
Are ghosts real? The following anecdotes and videos purport to reveal contemporary ghosts currently haunting a variety of locations. When possible, I will include information about the debunking of these stories - or at least the skeptical view of what might be actually happening. So read on, if you dare...
French Quarter Ghosts of the Hotel Monteleone
If you plan on visiting New Orleans, you should know that it is without question, the most haunted city in America. Ghostly sightings are virtually everywhere throughout the city, particularly in the famed, historic French Quarter. So many hotels claim to be haunted – but one, in particular, boasts a LOT of ghosts: The Hotel Monteleone. Sitting at 214 Royal Street, the hotel is the only high-rise building in the interior of the French Quarter, and has become famous for its rotating carousel bar.
The hotel dates back to the 1880s, when Sicilian immigrant Antonio Monteleone moved to New Orleans and set up shop on the site as a cobbler. He ended up taking over the nearby hotel and expanding his business, and the enterprise has continued to grow ever since.
Reported ghostly sightings at the Monteleone are so common it's impossible to write about them all. Several guests have claimed to see and hear ghostly children playing in the hotel's halls (especially on the 14th floor). Additionally, based on the testimony of witnesses, the lobby area is apparently very, very haunted. Like, "Poltergeist" haunted. On many nights, around 8 pm, the doors of the lobby restaurant are said to mysteriously unlock and then close themselves back up. A diverse group of individuals claim to have witnessed this ghostly phenomenon.
Boring Rational Explanation: According to the hotel's own website, in 2003, the International Society of Paranormal Research investigated and made contact with a man named William Wildemere who had died in the hotel (of natural causes, oddly enough) years before. The team also believed it had made contact with a ghost that enjoyed returning to the hotel regularly in the form of a small boy to meet up with another friend (who of course, was also a ghost.) Their favorite hide-and-seek spot? You guessed it, the 14th floor.
The mere fact that the hotel itself seems to advertise as "haunted" would give any even mildly skeptical person pause. If unpredictable, wily undead spirits really were roaming the halls, that seems like the sort of thing management would want to keep under wraps. More than likely, this is just another gimmick to appeal to the NOLA tourist crowd, who love a good gothic southern yarn.
Chloe and the Myrtles Plantation
Remaining in Louisiana, we now focus our attention on the 215-year-old Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville. The site was commissioned in 1796 by General David Bradford, nicknamed "Whiskey Dave" because of his participation in the Whiskey Rebellion. You kids remember the Whiskey Rebellion from high school history class, right? RIGHT? Anyway, after Whiskey Dave's passing, the plantation was left to his daughter Sara and her husband, Clark Woodruff, who had been one of his law students.
Perhaps the most infamous Myrtles ghost is Chloe, said to have been a slave working at the plantation when it was owned by Sara and Clark Woodruff. Depending on the version of the legend, Chloe was either raped or punished for some offense by Clark, resulting in the loss of her ear (where she would from then on cover up with a green wrap or turban.) Chloe then apparently used oleander leaves growing on the plantation to bake a poison cake for Clark, but instead, Sara and both of her daughters ate it and were killed. Chloe, distraught and fearing punishment, then drowned herself in the Mississippi River. Other versions of the story say that the other slaves hung or drowned Chloe as retribution. Today, it is said that a woman in a green turban haunts the grounds.
It was also customary at the time in the South to cover all the mirrors in a home after the people who lived there die. But this was not done to one mirror in particular in the plantation, and now it is believed the souls of Sara and her daughters are trapped inside. (Some have claimed to see handprints on the mirror where the spirits have tried to escape.)
According to local legend, the plantation is home to a total of 12 ghosts. Though it's also been said that over 10 murders have happened on the site, the only one that has been verified in the historical record is the death of William Winter. He was shot and killed there in 1871, after being interrupted from teaching a group of children a Sunday school lesson. (His killer went unidentified and unpunished.) According to the legends, after being lured outside and shot by a mysterious rider, Winter then re-entered the house, looking for his wife, and began climbing the central staircase to reach her, making it only to the 17th step before dying. Today, they say, you can still hear his footsteps echoing through the hallway, trying desperately to reach his beloved but never quite making it to her.
Other rumors point to the plantation as having been built on an Indian burial ground (again, reminiscent of the film "Poltergeist") carrying with it a terrible curse.
Boring Rational Explanation: First off, the historical record does not support any part of the "Chloe" legend. In fact, it does not appear that the Woodruffs even owned or used slaves while living at the plantation. Additionally, it seems that Sara and some of her children may have died of the yellow fever, as opposed to poisoning, though it's thought that at least one of the Woodruff's children – Mary Octavia – survived to adulthood.
In the 1950s, a resident of the house named Marjorie Munson started theorizing that it may be haunted, and her decidedly non-scientific "investigation" is suspected of being the origin of the "Chloe" myth. In that era, the original "spirit" Chloe was thought to be an old woman wearing a green bonnet, not a young slave in a turban. As the years went on, the story grew in the telling, giving rise to the added complications of the poisoning plot and the severed ear.
The rest of the stories are a bit tougher to discount, particularly the Winter legend, as the man really did die in the house. He almost assuredly died on the spot he was shot, on the porch, rather than making it to the inside staircase. During the Civil War, Union Soldiers who were occupying the house claimed to have found a human-shaped blood stain near the front door that would not come off, regardless of how much you scrubbed. So there's that.
On the basis of there being so many different accounts of supernatural or strange activity at the Myrtles Plantation, it may be the most likely spot in America for a haunting, should one ever actually occur.
Parma, Ohio's Gas Station GhostVideo: YouTube
This surveillance video from a Parma, Ohio, gas station shows a strange, other-wordly "blue fog" that appears to be hovering amongst the gas pumps. Perhaps most disturbing about the "ghost" is the way that it appears to remain dormant for a while before suddenly flying off in random directions. What could it be doing there? Most of the obvious theories – that it was some sort of chemical or residue in the air that was catching the light and appearing on video, that it was a bag or some other real-world material that just looks fuzzy on camera, and so forth – seemed to be contradicted. No official explanation was ever offered for the Gas Station Ghost, and after a few minutes of being caught on surveillance footage, it disappeared.
Boring Rational Explanation: According to the website Skeptical Analysis, the blue fog ghost of Parma is actually... a bug that crawled on the actual camera lens. Re-watching the video, this does seem to make some measure of sense. It would explain the erratic movements, and why the bug looks fuzzy while the rest of the image remains distinct. Skeptical Analysis considers this "case closed" on the Parma ghost.
Honest, Undead Abe
There are a number of strange, eerie circumstances surrounding the Lincoln assassination. In particular, the president seemed to have a premonition about his own death in a dream. He told friend Ward Hill Lamon about a strange dream in which he wandered unknowingly into a funeral being held in the White House's East Room. Unable to make out the face of the corpse, he asks a nearby guard who has died:
"'Who is dead in the White House' say I. 'The President,' is his answer, 'he was killed by an assassin.'"
Only a few days after, Lincoln himself was dead, felled by an assassin's bullet. His funeral was, in fact, held in the East Room of the White House. It's said that Mary Todd Lincoln's first audible words following the assassination were amazement at how the President had foreseen what would happen.
In the years after 1865, numerous witnesses – including several future presidents – have claimed to see or interact with Lincoln's ghost, who apparently has set up permanent residence in the White House. They include:
- Eleanor Roosevelt, who kept her study in Lincoln's former bedroom. Roosevelt said that, though she never actually SAW Lincoln's ghost, she felt his presence many times and believed him to be occasionally in the room with her.
- During the Roosevelt presidency, a number of other sightings occurred. A young clerk claimed to have seen Lincoln sitting on a bed removing a pair of boots. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was spending the night in the White House and claimed Lincoln woke her up by knocking at her door.
- First lady Grace Goodhue (wife of Calvin Coolidge) reportedly saw Lincoln standing with his arms clasped behind his back, lost in thought and staring at the Potomac.
- Winston Churchill and Lyndon Johnson both joked about having had conversations with the undead Lincoln, though both also had outsized personalities and were prone to such flights of fancy.
- A number of other presidents – including Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman – have reported spooky or inexplicable goings-on within the White House, claiming they were the work of Lincoln. It's unclear, however, whether any of the men actually saw Lincoln's spirit with their own eyes.
No Lincoln's ghost sightings have been reported from the White House since the Truman administration. Hillary Clinton, however, told Rosie O'Donnell that she sometimes felt creeped out in the White House: "It's neat. It can be a little creepy. You know, they think there's a ghost there. It is a big old house, and when the lights are out it is dark and quiet and any movement at all catches your attention."
Post-Truman, there were also numerous renovations being made to the property. Perhaps Lincoln finally moved on? He has, however, also been spotted in Ford's Theater, where he was shot, and in the burial ground in Illinois that houses his remains.
Boring Rational Explanation: It's not Abe Lincoln, it's just a bug! No, kidding. This one seems fairly open and shut. People aren't REALLY seeing Lincoln. It's just an old house that makes lots of weird noises, and it's sort of fun to imagine that it's a beloved dead president wandering the halls at night, still thinking about the Civil War and reworking all of the mistakes of his era in his head. Calvin Coolidge's wife says this explicitly, that she thinks he was gazing at the Potomac and considering the carnage that played out there during the Civil War.
If people kept seeing a lame, forgettable president, that might be more believable than Lincoln. But I haven't heard about any Chester A. Arthur sightings recently.