Just because tropical vacations are the norm for spring doesn’t mean you have to pack your swim suit and head somewhere warm — and if you put off making plans until now, then that’s all the more reason not to. Instead, why not go for an alternative spring break? Say, one of the haunted variety? I’m honestly not sure what the best part of it would be: Learning cool stuff, seeing cool places, scaring yourself silly, or the fact that there are so many reportedly haunted locations in the U.S. that you can usually drive to at least one within a few hours — and maybe more depending on where you are.
So here: Have a few ideas. These 13 spots have reportedly been the sites of many a strange and unusual occurrence — and there are some truly wild stories to go with them. As is the case with most allegedly haunted locations, the amount of “proof” backing each story tends to vary. Some have gained their reputations as a result of their sordid or tragic histories; others may be the result of an urban legend; and still others may be inexplicable, yet fascinating nonetheless. I’ve sorted this list according to nearby major cities, so if you happen to live or go to school in any of them, you should be able to find something to keep you busy. Some of these trips can be done in the space of a day; others are best implemented as overnight trips; and if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can string a few of them together for the ultimate spring break haunted road trip.
From haunted houses and hotels to battlegrounds and breweries, these 13 locations are sure to bring a chill to your bones — in the best way possible.
1. If You Live Near Boston: The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, Fall River, MA.
The house in Fall River, MA where Lizzie Borden allegedly gave her parents 40 whacks is now a bed and breakfast. The history of the place is rather bloody, so if you’re squeamish, you may want to steer clear; if, however, you’re as bizarrely fascinated with unsolved as I am, you’ll want to check this place out. Tours of the house — which include the rooms in which Abby Durfee Gray Borden and Andrew Jackson Borden were found — run daily 11 AM through 3 PM; those who stay overnight get a longer tour.
If you’re both feeling adventurous and up for an overnight visit, stay in the John V. Morse Room — that’s where Abby’s body was discovered. Proprietor Lee-ann Wilber says that although she’s never seen any apparitions, she does occasionally hear the floors creak above her when she’s alone in the house, spot doors opening and closing of their own accord, and catching a whiff of a floral fragrance from time to time. Others, however — those who have stayed in the John V. Morse Room, for example — have reported the sounds of a weeping woman, inexplicable cold spots, objects moving around, and more.
2. If You Live Near New York: Sailor’s Snug Harbor, Staten Island, NY.
Formerly a home for retired sailors, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center is now a hotbed for arts organizations. In addition to the many museums, artistic endeavors, and gorgeous architecture, it’s home to a stunning botanical garden (although you may have to come back in the summer in order to see it in full bloom) as well as a few spooky tales.
The weirdest is probably this one: During Snug Harbor’s days as a retirement home for sailors, Matron’s Cottage, also known as Matron’s House, was where the female staff for the facility lived. As was the case with most boarding houses for single ladies at the time, Matron ran a tight ship (pun intended); she did not permit the women who lived there to fraternize with the sailors under any circumstances. Unfortunately, though, Matron didn’t exactly have an ironclad will—an affair which resulted in the birth of an illegitimate son. According to legend, she actually kept her son chained up in the basement for 13 years; one day, though, he finally managed to escape, killing his mother with a pair of scissors and running off to hide in the woods. He was found, though, and reportedly hanged on a tree (which has since been removed because of storm damage) behind Matron’s Cottage.
You can probably guess how it goes from here: The doors of Matron’s Cottage have a tendency to unlock by themselves; objects sometimes wander off; and the sound of chains rattling can occasionally be heard coming from the basement. I don’t believe this story has ever been substantiated, but perhaps it’s worth an investigation anyway.
3. If You Live Near Philadelphia: Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA.
Located on Fairmont Ave near the Philadelphia Art Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the most bizarrely beautiful ruins you’ll ever see. Built in 1829 and closed in 1971, it followed the prison model known as the “Pennsylvania system” — which basically kept each inmate in solitary confinement all day, every day. Numerous unhappy souls are said to haunt the place, making it a popular shooting location for shows like Ghost Hunters; as Charles Adams, who wrote Philadelphia Ghost Stories, put it, “In my opinion, there’s not one ghost, not three ghosts, it’s a stew of souls, restless spirits that swirl for eternity here at Eastern State Penitentiary.” Even if the idea of a haunted prison doesn’t appeal to you, it’s still enormously interesting — Al Capone’s former cell is done up in the splendor with which he decorated it during his time there.
4. If You Live Near Philly, Baltimore, or Washington D.C.: Gettysburg, PA.
The Civil War was one of the bloodiest eras in American history, and Civil War ghosts are a breed all their own. As is the case with hospitals, I always sort feel like battlefields become infused with everything that occurred there — whether that means there are actual ghosts or whether it’s just the weight of the history remains to be seen, but the atmosphere is usually quite palpable. You can either take a guided ghost tour — Ghosts of Gettysburg and the Farnsworth Inn’s ghost tour both come highly recommended — or you can read up on the stories yourself and check the allegedly haunted sites out on your own. Ghosts of the Prairie’s page on Gettysburg is a good place to start; just make sure that if you explore on your own, you stay within the bounds of where visitors are allowed to go. Don’t go destroying historic ground in the name of ghost hunting.
5. If You Live Near West Virginia: The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, WV.
Allegedly haunted hospitals can be difficult to visit; many of them are private property, or in such poor condition that it’s downright dangerous to take a peek inside. Since 2007, though, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum — which has also been known at various points as the Weston State Hospital and the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane — has been under the care of Joe Jordan; he and a team of intrepid volunteers are completing an ongoing restoration project to get the place back to its former glory.
But there’s no denying the hospital’s dark past. First built in 1858, its primary years of operation were not good ones in the world of mental health; not only were patients subjected to awful things like pre-frontal lobotomies, but also, hospitals everywhere suffered from overcrowding and sanitation issues. Trans-Allegheny was finally closed in 1994 after over a century of horror stories about those left in its care.
On a personal note, old hospitals freak me out in ways not many other places do; I can’t help but think that so many unhappy people existing in one place might have imbued it with suffering. It’s probably not surprising that the trust that cares for Trans-Allegheny runs both regular tours and ghost tours; everything from disembodied voices to full-on apparitions have been reported, so you’re probably in for a spooky time. Just, y’know, tread carefully.
6. If You Live Near Chicago: Resurrection Cemetery, Justice, IL.
You all know the “vanishing hitchhiker” urban legend right? Well, Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois is the site of one of the most famous versions of it. The ghost is known as Resurrection Mary, and her story goes something like this: One winter evening sometime in the early part of the 20th century, Mary went out dancing with her boyfriend at the Oh Henry Ballroom. After having a bit of a lover’s quarrel, however, she stormed out. She was planning to walk home, thinking the cold would be preferable to a seething and silent car ride with her boyfriend, but she never made it. She was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Her parents buried her in Resurrection Cemetery wearing a beautiful white dancing dress and matching shoes. The driver who killed her was never found.
“Mary’s” true identity remains obscured; possibilities include Mary Bregovy, who was killed in an accident in the Chicago Loop in 1934, and Anna “Marija” Norkus, who died in an auto accident coming home from the Oh Henry Ballroom in 1927. Whoever she might be, though, stories of her appearance date back to the late 1930s; indeed, even the Chicago Tribune has reported on them from time to time. She’s always blonde, always beautiful and always asks to be let off at the gates of Resurrection Cemetery.
7. If You Live Near Des Moines: The Villisca Axe Murder House, Villisca, IA.
A huge number of the murders committed in the world remain unsolved — in the U.S. alone, we still have no idea what happened in the cases of more than 211,000 homicides committed since 1980 — and they were even more likely to go unsolved in times gone by. Case in point: The 1912 murder of the Moore family in Villisca, Iowa.
On the morning of June 10, 1912, the entire family — husband and wife Josiah and Sarah and their four children, Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul — plus two of the children’s friends who had spent the night were discovered murdered in their beds. Each had been struck upwards of 20 minutes with an axe, which was found alongside the two bodies in the downstairs bedroom. Their heads were all covered with sheets and every mirror in the house had been draped with cloth — and even weirder, a plate of uneaten food sat on the kitchen table, and a slab of bacon had been propped up against the wall of one of the bedrooms. There was no sign of forced entry.
To this day, we have no idea who did it, or why.
But the house knows. In the century since the murder, visitors have reported hearing strange noises, feeling like they were being watched, and returning to previously tidy rooms to find dresser drawers open and clothing scattered about. The Villisca Axe Murder House hasn’t become a B and B; it is, however, open for tours daily — and if you’re feeling brave, you can book an overnight experience in the house. Bring a sleeping bag and pillow, and bundle up if it’s still cold although whether the chill is merely from the weather remains to be seen.
8. If You Live Near Baton Rouge or New Orleans: The Myrtles Plantation, St. Francisville, LA.
The Myrtles is a few hours from New Orleans — it’s closer to Baton Rouge and Lafayette — but it’s drive-able in a day, so it’s worth a shot even if you only have a day or two on hand. Formerly an antebellum plantation, it’s now considered one of the most haunted homes in America; it’s also (surprise!) a B and B, if you care to spend the night. A variety of specters have been spotted in photographs taken on the property, with the grand total of spirits thought to be in residents numbering at least 12. You may remember the mirror that hangs on the wall of the foyer from our exploration of haunted objects never, ever to bring home back during the Halloween season; some say it holds the spirits of Sara Bradford Woodruff and two of children, all of whom died of oleander poisoning in 1824. Sometimes smudges and marks appear on the mirror, smudges and marks which no amount of cleaning will remove… and sometimes, those smudges and marks might even appear to be hand prints.
If you live closer to New Orleans that Baton Rouge, though, you might also think about checking out Madame Delphine Lalaurie’s mansion. Kathy Bates’ character in American Horror Story: Coven wasn’t fictional; she actually existed, and crazy shit actually went down in the home she kept in the city. It’s true that some of the crazier stories haven’t been confirmed, but still, you guys. It’s nuts.
9. If You Live Near Dallas-Fort Worth: Miss Molly’s Hotel, Fort Worth, TX.
Miss Molly’s was established as a boarding house in 1910; since then, it’s been everything from a hotel to a bordello. It’s also considered to be the most haunted building in Fort Worth, as well as one of the most active haunts in Texas. It’s small — only nine rooms total, eight of which are guest rooms themed after the Wild West — but those nine rooms allegedly pack a lot of supernatural punch. The specter of a girl around eight or nine years old has appeared in some of the rooms; a blonde woman sometimes seats herself on the edge of one of the hotel’s beds; cold spots and whiffs of perfume have been experienced; items often move around, seemingly of their own accord; and both the plumbing and the lights don’t always function as they should.
The hotel may not be much to look at from the outside; it’s located upstairs from the Star Cafe. But it’s seen a lot in its century of operation, so it might just be worth a visit.
10. If You Live Near St. Louis: The Lemp Mansion and Brewery, St. Louis, MO.
You may not be familiar with the name now, but at one point, the William J. Lemp Brewing Company — formerly known as the Western Brewery — was one of the most profitable breweries in America. Founded in 1840, it occupied several locations before settling at 3500 Lemp Avenue; a bunch of natural caves running beneath St. Louis functioned both as a source of refrigeration and as a way to connect the brewery with the family’s mansion at Demenil Place. The Lemp’s history, though? It’s so weird, you can’t make it up. Most of them died early and in extremely mysterious circumstances; many of them took their own lives, and the rest had a tendency to suffer fatal heart attacks.
It’s worth noting that at least part of the legend associated with the family likely isn’t true: The part that concerns an entity nicknamed “Monkey Boy.” Rumor had it that William Lemp Jr. — known as Billy — had an illegitimate son who was born severely disabled. He was allegedly kept in the attic at all times so as to prevent the public from finding out about him; there’s no record of his existence beyond this somewhat dubious tale, however, so I think it’s safe to say that he’s just a myth. Also, “Monkey Boy?” Seriously? Hi there, Captain Offensive!
Given the family’s tragic history, of course, it’s no surprise that the house and brewery are thought to be haunted — the Lemps may have tried to shuffle off this mortal coil, but they seem to have ended up right back where they started. Like many historic houses, the Lemp Mansion is now a restaurant and inn, with visitors claiming to have heard knocking and footsteps, spotted apparitions, and smelled lavender — the favorite scent (and color) of Billy’s wife, Lillian. Stay the night or check out the haunted tour that runs on most Monday nights.
11. If You Live Near Denver: The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO.
All you really need to know about the Stanley Hotel is that it’s where Stephen King got the idea that later became The Shining; in tribute to its fictional counterpart, the Overlook Hotel, the Stanley Hotel even plays Kubrick’s film adaptation of the novel on loop on channel 42 in every room.
Most of the spirits that allegedly haunt the place are friendly, anyhow — Freelan Oscar Stanley and his wife, Flora, who first built the place, are sometimes spotted in the Billiards Room and the Ball Room; guests occasionally report being tucked in by a ghostly nurse; and one of the hotel’s earliest chief housekeepers, Elizabeth Wilson, likes to guard those staying in room 217, where she once suffered a (thankfully) nonfatal accident that resulted in her breaking both of her ankles.
You might want to stay away from room 407, though. The British Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, from whom the Stanleys bought the property, likes to hang out in there — and he’s not particularly nice. He’s fond of scaring guests — making noise, flicking light switches, and occasionally looking out the window at passersby.
12. If You Live in Southern California: The RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA.
Not going to lie: I had a really hard time narrowing Southern California down to one location. I ultimately went with the Queen Mary because it’s unlike any other location on this list — namely, a boat. Moored in Long Beach, the RMS Queen Mary was first launched in 1936; it was intended to be part of a weekly express service traveling between Southampton and New York, but was converted into a troopship during the Second World War. After WWII ended, she was turned back into a passenger ship once more before being retired in the 1960s. That’s when she wound up in Long Beach for her retirement — although she’s been keeping busy since then as a museum, hotel, and restaurant. Oh, and also, she’s haunted, but you already knew that, right?
49 people — both passengers and crew — have died aboard the Queen Mary, and she’s thought to be haunted by around 130 spirits. A wide variety of phenomena have been reported in myriad areas on the ship: Cabin B340, for example, is no longer rented out due to reports of sheets flying across the room, faucets turning on unbidden, and more. It’s believed that a staff member was murdered in the room. The engine room, too, is plagued by weird occurrences; a fireman named John Pedder died there during a routine drill in 1966. Interestingly, although many of the alleged hauntings are chalked up to people who drowned, there’s no record of any passengers drowning in any of the ship’s logs. Do with that what you will.
If boats don’t do it for you, though, you could also nab a room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and try to find the ghost of Montgomery Clift, or take a trip to San Diego and check out Whaley House.
13. If You Live in Northern California: The Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA.
This place? Oh man. This place is at the top of my travel bucket list.
Sarah Lockwood Pardee married into the Winchester family — creators of the Winchester repeating riffle — in 1862, only to lose both the daughter that resulted from the marriage and her husband by 1881. She allegedly became quite involved with the Spiritualist movement that was sweeping the nation at the time; rumor has it (I say rumor because it’s never been confirmed) that a medium she visited in Boston to cope with the loss told her that her daughter and husband had been victims of all the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles. What should she do? she asked. Go to California, start building a house… and then never stop building it.
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is that house — and it’s the weirdest house you will ever see. It’s true that Sarah Winchester did keep building it, and building it, and building it until the day she died in 1922; it’s said that she believed it would keep the spirits searching for her soul at bay. It’s full of oddities, like staircases that lead straight up to the ceiling, doors that open on solid walls, and even a “Door to Nowhere” that opens straight out into midair several stories up. Imagine an M.C. Escher illustration brought to life and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect.
The house is open for tours daily; some say that Winchester herself still walks its halls, even though her body rests 3,000 miles away in New Haven.