It’s not Halloween without a spooky series of homeowner horror stories. Nor is it Halloween without a look at the best places to trick-or-treat. But it’s really not the ghostly holiday of “all saints eve” without taking a tour of some of America’s most famously haunted homes.
For those who don’t mind a murder story or a few errant ethereal spirits, let’s roll.
Whether or not the Winchester House is haunted, it definitely tops the list for bizarre real estate. The house was designed by Sarah Winchester, pictured at left, the widow of William Winchester, founder of Winchester rifles. According to stories, Sarah was deeply distressed by the death of her daughter Annie in 1866 and her husband in 1881, so she consulted a medium to deal with her grief. The medium told Sarah to move west and build a house to ward off the spirits.
For the next 38 years — until her death in 1922 — Sarah oversaw construction of the San Jose house, holding nightly séances to get guidance from ghosts in the design. The result was a maze-like residence full of twisting and turning hallways, dead-ends and secret panels. There was also a window built into a floor, staircases leading to nowhere, doors that open to walls, upside-down columns, and rooms built, then intentionally closed off — all to ward off and confuse evil spirits. Or even some living souls, too.
You’ve heard the song about Lizzie Borden taking an ax. Before there was a creepy nursery-rhyme like chant, there was the Lizzie Borden trial — one of the biggest trials of the 19th century. It centered on the Aug. 4, 1892 murder of Andrew and Abby Borden. Andrew’s daughter and Abby’s step-daughter, Lizzie Borden, (pictured at left) was the prime suspect, but acquitted by the jury.
By many accounts, the Bordens were not a happy family and Andrew’s daughters, Lizzie and Emma Lenora, feared that Andrew was going to bequeath his assets to their step-mother. After her acquittal, Lizzie and Emma moved to a different house on French Street. The home of the murder still stands in Fall River and operates as a bed-and-breakfast, where guests report that Andrew and Abby can be seen wandering about.
The former New Orleans home of Nicolas Cage, the LaLaurie Mansion, has to rank as the most gruesome in the history of the haunted houses. The New Orleans home was the where Madame LaLaurie reportedly abused and tortured her slaves. Rumors of cruelty were confirmed to be the truth when a fire broke out in the home and more than a dozen of slaves were discovered in various horrible states of torture. An angry mob descended on the home but Madame LaLaurie escaped, never to be seen again.
Soon after, flickering lights, unearthly screams were reported throughout the home and, over the next several years, the French Quarter home changed hands several times. It was run as a music conservatory, a school for young girls, a bar and furniture store. Finally, a retired New Orleans physician purchased the home and restored it to a single-family dwelling before selling it to Nicolas Cage. The actor recently lost the home to foreclosure. A sign of the ghosts at work, perhaps?
Depending on who is telling this ghost story, the one-time owner of Franklin Castle, Hannes Tiedemann, pictured, was an evil tyrant who had a hand in several mysterious deaths at the Castle. Or, he was the victim of unfortunate circumstances?
Either way, as far as haunted houses go, the Franklin Castle fits the bill as a creep palace, complete with a stone tower and turrets, gargoyles, wrought-iron fixings and wrought-iron fencing. Built in 1864, the home was sold August 26 on the Cleveland real estate market for $260,000. That was after the latest calamity to strike: A fire that gutted plans to turn the place into a bed and breakfast. We’ll have to wait and see if the new owners hear the same sounds of footsteps, babies crying, and doors slamming often reported in the home.
The Spragues were a prosperous family in Cranston, RI in the 1800s and owned the Cranston Print Works, a textile mill that helped pioneer chemical bleaching. When the Print Works patriarch, William Sprague, died, he passed the business on to his two sons: Amasa (photo left) and William II. Amasa concentrated on the family business while William II focused on politics, serving as a U.S. Representative, Governor and United States Senator. On Dec. 31, 1843, Amasa was found near the home, beaten and shot. A man was hung for the crime, but was later revealed to be innocent. Following the murder, the Sprague family fortune dwindled and the home fell into disrepair. Cranston Historical Society saved the home from demolition in 1967.
Jealousy led to hauntings of this antebellum home in St. Francisville, LA. In 1808, Clark Woodruff took over the plantation from his deceased father-in-law, General David Bradford. Clark lived in the house with his wife Sara and three children. Legend has it that Clark took a liking to a slave named Chloe, who became jealous of Sara and the kids. The story goes that Chloe baked a birthday cake filled with poisonous oleander leaves that killed Sara and two of the three children. Although Chloe confessed to the crime, fellow slaves retaliated. Chloe was hanged to death and her body was dumped in the Mississippi River.
If that wasn’t enough of an eerie history, another one of the owners, William Winter, was shot and killed while standing on the front porch. Rumor has it that the home was also built on an American Indian burial ground and the home was ransacked by Union soldiers during the Civil War. The home operates now as a bed-and-breakfast, serving up sightings of William Winter, Sara and her children as well as the ghost of Chloe outside, tending to her oleander plants.
Perched in the Pacific Heights neighborhood, this prime piece of San Francisco real estate was built by silver mine tycoon Richard Chambers. The story goes that Richard moved into the home with his two nieces, bringing with him a host of demons and ghosts with him. When Chambers died in 1901, the nieces inherited the home; one moved next door and one, Claudia, stayed in the home.
Claudia was discovered nearly cut in half one day. The family passed it off as a “farm implementation accident” but ghost expert Jim Fassbinder, who conducts haunted house tours in San Francisco, claims an insane family member who was kept in the attic of the Chambers home was the culprit. Recently a bed-and-breakfast, the home sold in 2009 for $3,400,800.
California’s other notorious haunted home was built by Thomas Whaley, who moved to San Diego to start a general store business. The entrepreneurial Whaley also started a brick-making business and started a granary. He built the Greek-Revival style house in 1857 on where the gallows once stood.
Shortly after Whaley moved in, he reported hearing heavy footsteps “by the boots of a heavy man” throughout the home. Whaley concluded it was “Yankee Jim” Robinson (photo left) — the last man to hang on the property. Two centuries later, the Whaley home is a designated historic landmark and open to public tours where guests are invited to listen for the steps of “Yankee Jim.”
McPike Mansion (above)
Located: Alton, IL
Ghosts: Unknown woman
The town of Alton, IL is deemed the “most haunted” city in America and has no shortage of ghostly homes. The McPike Mansion has especially active ghosts. Although there doesn’t seem to be any set reason why the home is so eerie, visitors report being hugged by an unseen woman thought to be Sarah Wells — one of the former occupants. So vivid is her presence, she is said to be smelling of fresh lilacs. There’s also the laughter of children, and mysterious mists and orbs of light.
Built in 1869 for the McPike family, the house has also operated as a college and boarding house. The home is currently owned by George and Sharyn Luedke, who run tours for anyone who wants to experience the spooks first hand.
The Victorian (above)
Located: Gardner, MA
Ghost: Servant girl
The S.K. Pierce Mansion, or “The Victorian,” has been “certified haunted” by mediums and paranormal experts. The home, located in Gardner, MA, was built by chair manufacturer S.K. Pierce in 1875. The most active ghost reported in the home is a 19-year-old woman, thought to be one of Pierce’s servants. Other spirits include a man who perished in 1963 in a fire, and a small boy.
The home not only has a ghostly past, but a history of Gilded Age elite dropping by from New York on their way to Vermont and New Hampshire. Guests included President Calvin Coolidge, Norman Rockwell, and P.T. Barnum.
Did we miss a haunted hangout in your area? Let us know in the comments and perhaps it’ll show up in the round-up next year.
America’s Most Haunted Houses
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