At Halloween, our thoughts often turn to haunted places and ghosts. Whether we are remembering those who have gone before or looking for a chill for the holiday, spirits and specters are at the forefront. Many of us enjoy reading about hauntings or watching shows like “Ghost Hunters” all year long. Some of us (I admit it) know probably more than they should about the subject. To those of us who make a hobby of ghosts and haunted sites, there is a list of must-see places: the Winchester Mystery House, the Tower of London, Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, the White House, Waverly Hills Sanatorium, the Whaley House, Eastern State Penitentiary, the Stanley Hotel… These are places that most people know about.
But there are many haunted sites around the world, some of which haven’t even been visited by paranormal investigators (at least the kind with a TV show). Imagine that! These places are lesser known but no less frightening, and their ghosts no less intriguing. I searched the world over and found 10 fascinating cases. I don’t claim that these are the scariest or most haunted, but they will give you a shudder or two.
10. Good Hope Castle
South Africa’s Goede Hoop — The Castle of Good Hope — is the oldest colonial building in that country. It was built between 1666 and 1674 and became the seat of the colonial governors, as well as a barracks and prison. Convicts were chained to walls in the dungeon, where the water from winter floods would fill the room, drowning all inside. Natives were imprisoned there and executions performed within the castle walls. To this day, during restorations, secret rooms are uncovered and architects say that there may be many more. Footsteps are heard on the parapets and a tall, luminous figure haunts them. The ghost of a soldier who hanged himself in the bell tower hundreds of years ago still rings the bell from time to time. There is a huge black dog who has been seen leaping at visitors, vanishing before it would land on them. Voices, lights, apparitions, a cursed painting and a lady in grey are just some of the phenomena experienced within the keep’s wall. One well-known ghost is the spirit of Lady Anne Barnard, who lived there as the colony’s First Lady in the late 18th century. She often appears at the Dolphin Pool, where she used to bathe in the nude, a scandal at the time. The Castle of Good Hope is a popular tourist attraction and can easily be toured. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the black dog… don’t be afraid, he’ll vanish before he hits you.
At the northern end of the Big Island of Hawai’i you will find the Waipio Valley, one of seven deep valleys in the Kohala Mountains. King Kamehameha was raised here: After the kahuna (priests) prophesied that he would be a great king, he was taken to the valley for his safety. Waipio was the home of many Hawaiian ali’i (royalty). It is known in Hawaiian lore as a “jumping off place,” or leina, where souls would enter the land of the dead, Po. Sometimes the souls can’t find the correct spot and end up wandering. But they are not the only ones who walk the haunted valley: The Night Marchers are known to frequent it, too. On certain nights, according to the old Hawaiian lunar calendar, the Marcher’s procession can be heard. And hearing them will be quite enough, for if you spy on them and they see you… well, those war clubs are not for decoration. If you are in a place where the Night Marchers are known to walk and the sound of chanting and drums is carried to you on a strong wind, it would be a good idea to hide, just in case. One of the waterfalls at the back of the valley is the source of chanting heard in the night, but if you approach it, the sound will fade away. There are ancient burial caves in the 2,000 foot high walls of the valley and several heiau (temples) are scattered across the valley floor. The tsunami of 1946 deluged the valley, causing most of the population to leave. About 50 people live in Waipio Valley now. You can tour the valley but, since the very narrow road to the valley floor is a 25% grade, you must either hike in (and back out up that grade), ride down on horseback or take a 4-wheel-drive down. There are several shuttles and tours that will take you, which is your best bet. This is my favorite way to tour the valley.
Nestled in Alberta, in the beautiful Canadian Rockies, the classic World Heritage Site provides breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. It also provides goosebumps, with at least four ghostly inhabitants. Sam McCauley worked at the hotel as a bellman for many years. When he retired in the early 1970s, he told his colleagues that he would return… and he did exactly that. After his death in 1975, his ghost came back to his workplace to stay. He often helps visitors with luggage or by opening doors for them. His old-fashioned uniform and habit of disappearing when thanked are a dead give-away (sorry, couldn’t help myself) that they have encountered Sam’s helpful spirit. Another ghost is said to be that of a young bride who fell down the stairs, breaking her neck, on her wedding day. She is seen on that staircase and in the ballroom, waltzing to unheard music. A ghostly bartender and a headless bagpiper have also been seen. Then there is room 873: some decades ago, a man murdered his wife and young daughter here before killing himself. Once the investigation was over and the room restored, guests who stayed there would report being awakened by screams and, upon turning on the lights (because, who wouldn’t?), would see bloody handprints on the mirror. Eventually, the hotel locked the room and plastered over the door, leaving it to its unseen occupants. Guests report seeing apparitions in the hallway outside the room and hearing the cries of a woman and child. You can stay at the Banff Springs Hotel — now owned by Fairmont — but you’ll pay close to $300 a night for the privilege. It’s worth every penny even if you don’t spot Sam or the dancing bride, but don’t ask the staff about them: The hotel swears it is not haunted. Too bad the ghosts don’t agree.
In Amelia, Virginia, the Haw Branch Plantation sits on 120 acres. It used to be 150,000 acres when the home was built in 1745, when Colonel Thomas Tabb and his wife, Rebecca Booker, moved in. Throughout its long history, it changed ownership many times. It sat empty for many years, falling into ruin, before the McConnaugheys bought it in 1965. After a three-month renovation, they moved in… 3 months later, they realized they lived in a haunted house. Footsteps, the scent of roses, apparitions, music, screams and so forth comprised most of the phenomena until the portrait of former lady of the house, Florence Wright, found its way home. As a distant relative of the McConnaugheys, Mrs. Wright’s portrait was sent to them by a cousin to hang in its proper place. When it arrived, though it had been described as a pastel, it looked like a charcoal drawing. Soon after the portrait was hung above the mantel in the library, female voices could be heard emanating from that room. Not only that, but color was starting to come back into the portrait. Nobody could explain this, not even art experts. Finally, a psychic told Mrs. McConnaughey that Florence was attached to the painting and was the one bringing the color back into it. She said that Florence would change the color depending on her approval of the place where the portrait was placed. Apparently, she likes it where it is because it is now displayed in glorious color. The McConnaugheys still live there and sometimes give tours of the home, 26 miles outside Richmond.
Sedro Woolley sits on the banks of the Skagit River, halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s a small town and, in 1893, was struggling. So it was decided to build a mental hospital there to perk up the economy. Northern State Hospital housed the mentally unstable but not dangerous. The first 200 patients arrived in 1912. The hospital treated them humanely, almost unheard of at the time, and soon expanded to include a farm, printing-house and vocational schools. In 1922, one patient was killed by another, but it took a new doctor to really get things going wrong. Dr. Charles H. Jones and his lovely assistant, Dr. Walter Freeman, pioneered the trans-orbital lobotomy in 1945 and that became the normal treatment at Northern State. During Jones’ tenure, about 250 patients per year vanished: the total may number in the thousands. The hospital closed in 1976 and some buildings are used today as a drug rehab center and for Job Corps. With a cemetery of unmarked graves behind the gym, there are many claims of paranormal activity there. Other phenomenon include the apparition of a nurse hanging from a noose, intense cold spots, a playful child’s ghost, strange bright lights and “Fred,” a prankster who likes to mess with investigators. The hospital is on private property so if you’d like to visit be sure to get permission.
The castle of Trécesson has sat on its moat in Brittany since 1440. It has changed hands several times and, in 1922, was designated a French National Monument. When Jacques Defermon, statesman of the French Revolution, had to flee Paris in the wake of being declared a traitor, he hid at Castle Trécesson for over a year. There are several hauntings at the castle, among them an obligatory White Lady. The phantom card players haunt one of the rooms: a guest staying there witnessed the two gentlemen playing at a table set up by phantom servants. He fired his gun at them, to no effect. Finally, the exhausted man fell asleep. When he awoke, the table was still there as was a large pile of gold coins. The White Lady is the ghost of a young bride who was taken by her brothers on the eve of her wedding and buried alive. Seems that they vehemently disapproved of her choice of husband and took this action to prevent the nuptials. Her troubled spirit has been sighted ever since. A few reports record a headless ghost at the castle, supposedly a curator at some point in the castle’s history. The castle is privately owned but is open for tourists.
This old hospital in Singapore was built in 1935 as an RAF barracks and hospital. When the Japanese invaded in 1942, it was also used as a prison camp with torture chambers by the Kempeitai, the Japanese secret police. When the Japanese occupation ended, the building went back to its original use, as a hospital for soldiers and civilians. It was closed in 1994, but stories of hauntings had started as far back as the 1940s, with reports of screams, apparitions, shadow people and various other paranormal phenomena. It is considered by most to be the most haunted building in Singapore, so much so, that a movie was filmed there. What started out as a documentary became a horror film, as the producers sold their footage to a film company. There is still some debate about the nature of the film and how much is real, but there is no debate among those who have visited Old Changi Hospital. Some of their personal stories include seeing the apparition of a woman with a “black aura,” loud banging, entities coming out of paintings, phantom scents, being touched by unseen hands, lights and voices. Whether or not you believe that the movie shows actual footage, the number and variety of personal experiences indicates that Singapore’s most haunted site is still active.
The Monte Cristo Homestead, in Junee, New South Wales, is claimed to be Australia’s most haunted house. It was built by Christopher William Crawley on 520 acres, upon which the family was failing at subsistence farming until the Great Southern Railway Line was built in 1878, when Crawley took advantage and built a hotel across from the train station. The Crawley family became very rich and influential and the grand brick home of Monte Cristo went up in 1884. When the last of the Crawley family died in 1948, the house sat vacant until 1963, when it was purchased by Reg and Olive Ryan. Ghostly occurrences began as soon as they began renovating the home. The ghost of Mrs. Crawley, who ruled the household with “an iron fist,” has been seen. Legends say that she mistreated the servants, which could explain other strange things: footsteps, apparitions, bright lights, ghostly faces in windows and unexplained feelings of grief are common. The spirits of children are often sighted in the knot garden and local lore says a girl was murdered at the site. People have been attacked by unseen forces in the stables. Most curious of all, is the fate of cats and birds at the home: they invariable end up dying gruesomely with no explanation. Tours are available every day except Christmas.
2. The Octagon
The Octagon House in Washington, D.C. was built in 1800 by a Virginia plantation owner, John Tayloe. He moved his wife and 15 children into the home when it was finished and they lived there until 1855, save for a brief period around the War of 1812. It was rented to the French ambassador to the U.S., and then later to James Madison and his wife, Dolley (the Treaty of Ghent was signed here). The home features a central spiral staircase and many oddly shaped rooms. It is the staircase that was the source of the first ghost, one of Tayloe’s daughters who fell to her death after an argument with her father. Several years later, when the family returned to the Octagon after Madison left office, history repeated itself when another daughter fell to her death. Both girls haunt the staircase, with flickering candlelight and screams which end with a sickening thud. Dolley Madison’s ghost has been spotted in the house she loved when she was alive. She often leaves behind the scent of lilacs, her favorite. Another ghost is a Civil War-era gambler who was shot in the house after he was caught cheating. Amongst the screams, moans, swords clanking, smells of cooking food and footprints, there used to be a thumping that came from inside the walls. When the American Institute of Architects bought the house, the skeleton of a girl had been sealed inside the walls. During the French ambassadors’ time there, a soldier killed his lover and hid her body. Once her remains received a proper burial, the thumping stopped. The other phenomena still occurs, however. You can visit The Octagon House, which is run as a museum by the American Architectural Foundation, by request.
The Miami Biltmore Hotel, located in Coral Gables, was built in 1925 as a luxury resort for the rich and powerful. Everyone from royalty (the Duke & Duchess of Windsor) to presidents (Teddy Roosevelt) to movie stars (Fred Astaire) to infamous crime boss Al Capone stayed at this 5 star resort. During Prohibition, the two-floor suite that occupies the 13th and 14th floors (yes, it has a 13th floor) served as a speakeasy and casino. Local law enforcement and the hotel management knew about and protected the establishment, which was run by local mobster, Edward Wilson and two gangsters from New York, Thomas “Fatty” Welch and Arthur Clark. One night, after a heated exchange, Wilson shot Fatty and Clark. Fatty died. The hotel was purchased by the federal government in 1941 and served as a Veteran’s hospital for many years before being used by the University of Miami Medical School, who stored hundreds of cadavers in the basement. After renovations by both city and private hoteliers, the Biltmore re-opened in 1992 in all it’s splendor. But guests are not alone in its hallways and rooms. Between Veterans dying there, the murder of Fatty Welch, a mother falling to her death trying to save her baby and a double murder of a cheating wife and her lover, there are plenty of spirits hanging around. Windows opening and closing, lights being toyed with, transparent dancing couples, the Lady In White (the mother who died) and Fatty’s hijinks are just some of the activities recorded at the Biltmore. Fatty is the most active, visiting the guests (especially the ladies), opening doors for employees, appearing in bathroom mirrors and writing “BOO!” on fogged-up ones — Fatty’s ghost makes quite an impression. You can stay at the Biltmore, though it is spendy, but you might be lucky enough to have Fatty take you in the elevator up to the 13th floor.
This concludes our tour. I hope that you have found something new to add to your list of haunted places to visit. For those of us who are fascinated by hauntings and ghosts, there is never enough to explore. And for those who do not believe in ghosts, why not visit one of these places if you have the opportunity? You never know. You might become one of those people who say, “I never believed in ghosts until…”