We tend to associate autumn with leaf peeping in the countryside and crowd-free beaches (hello, shoulder season). But when it comes to cities, there's no better way to fill your itinerary than to explore its eerie past and haunted present. And let's be honest: If you stay in Savannah or New Orleans during October and don't take a ghost tour, did you ever really visit?
What you’ll discover in these U.S. cities won’t make you scream—at least not right away. Rather, these experiences will creep back into your brain long after you’ve gone home and when you least expect it (like at 3 a.m., keeping you awake all night). Looking for more than just the paranormal? The spots on this list also offer enough buzzy restaurants, shopping experiences, and world-class hotels to warrant repeat visits. Here are eight of the most haunted cities in America, and why you should visit long after Halloween ends.
History lesson: The Pacific Northwest hasn't always been about mountain bikes and microbreweries. Between 1850 and 1941 an entire subterranean underworld lurked beneath this town, where people lived and died in a complex series of catacombs known as the Shanghai Tunnels. During the day, the tunnels allowed typical cargo to be moved without getting wet. By night, it became a route used for human trafficking. Captured men (usually vagabonds and laborers) were drugged above-ground, then pushed down a trap door and kept in a cage, only to wake up on a ship and be forced to work as sailors until the ship’s voyage ended, often years later. Women were similarly tricked and forced into prostitution. During Prohibition, the tunnels became a convenient place to store—and drink—booze, making the kidnappings easier. The grisly human trafficking eventually stopped, but some say those who died in captivity have had a hard time leaving this world.
Spooky spots: Shadowy figures have been reported not only in the Shanghai Tunnels, but in nearby haunts above ground. Ghost enthusiasts should pay a visit to Old Town Pizza & Brewing, which sits right above the tunnels. Among the most famous of paranormal visitors is Nina, a sex slave who tried to report her kidnapper, but was then thrown down an elevator shaft at the Merchant Hotel. Old Town Pizza stands in that lot now, says Jeff Davis, author of A Haunted Tour Guide to the Pacific Northwest, and guests claim to have spotted her in a white or black dress, shifting around the chairs and tables.
History lesson: Modern-day Boston Common is a vibrant green space where families and couples can picnic, ride a Swan Boat, and see an outdoor concert. But, as you might have guessed, things were not always so...sunny. Back in Colonial times, the Common was a square where criminals and outcasts were publicly hanged, says Sam Baltrusis, author of 13 Most Haunted Crime Scenes Beyond Boston (as well as seven other books about the area). Women accused of witchcraft were also sent there, along with innocent individuals who defied or offended the Puritan leadership. The Common is also the site of the Central Burying Ground, established in the mid-18th century, whose long-term residents included British common soldiers—in 1895, workers building the Boylston T stop discovered the remains of human bodies nearby.
Spooky spots: These days, confederate soldiers have been reported to still haunt the Central Burying Ground, says Baltrusis, who also runs the Boston Haunts ghost tour. Visitors walking by the cemetery have reported the sensation of being grabbed from behind, and some say they’ve seen orbs or shadows, particularly at the site of the former Great Elm, where the hangings allegedly took place. A few have reported seeing actual ghosts, including that of a teenage girl in a hospital gown and a bonnet, who, at least in one instance, snatched the keys out of a man’s pocket.
History lesson: Are Honolulu's ghosts just figments of the imagination after a long hot day and one too many pi?a coladas? Probably. But most tourists and locals accept that the island is a mystical place, says Robert Sepulveda, tour guide with Oahu Ghost Tours. Up until the 1700s, Waikiki was just a boggy area of land, where people lived, worked, and buried their families. (The most fertile grounds, reserved for royalty, were toward the back of the valleys near the mountains.) When condos and hotels sprouted up during the last century, long-buried bones—including those from temples where human sacrifices took place—were shifted or ignored and built over. Such blatant disrespect naturally angered the spirits, which, says Sepulveda, explains why this tourist hotspot is “very active” from a paranormal perspective.
Spooky spots: For some potentially eerie travel stories, head to 'Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu (part of the Honolulu City Haunts Walking Tour). Built in 1882, the palace served as the home of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani—the last ruling royalty in Hawaii before the monarchy was overthrown. Some believe that Queen Liliuokalani's spirit still roams the halls of the estate-turned-museum, with reports claiming to see a woman's figure and hear music coming from her former bedroom—the same bedroom where she was held prisoner for eight months following the overthrow. Whether or not you glimpse the royal specter for yourself, the palace's grand architecture and collections of artifacts are well-worth a visit.
History lesson: Under all that southern hospitality, the gorgeous mansions, and lush green parks is an unsettling past. In Madison Square, dead soldiers were hastily buried after the 1779 Siege of Savannah. Just a few blocks away in Wright Square, a revered Native American chief, who fostered peace in the new territory, was honored and buried in what was then a cemetery. He was unceremoniously unburied 100 years later, and his sacred ground was re-designated to a railroad magnate who made the city rich. In Forsyth Park, autopsies were performed in an underground morgue, connected by an underground tunnel to the former Candler Hospital. Maria Pinheiro, a historian and spokesperson with Ghost City Tours, says these below-the-surface rumblings make the squares particularly ripe for sightings of shadowy, now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t figures.
Spooky spots: Savannah's Moon River Brewing Company offers more than just beer and burgers. Considered one of the city's most haunted locations, the building began as a hotel in 1821, then served as a hospital for yellow fever victims during the Civil War. Needless to say, the building saw a lot of death during that time, and some believe that macabre energy still lingers. Many of the restaurant's guests have reported seeing a woman in period clothing staring down from the top of the staircase; other sightings include a taunting spirit named "Toby" in the basement, and a spirit named "Mrs. Johnson" upstairs. But as long as you stick to the main level, you should be able to enjoy your beer in total peace.
Also go for: Walks along the cobblestoned historic district, meals at James Beard-nominated The Grey, and the on-campus SCAD Museum.
History lesson:Chicago’s troubled past—violent mob-related murders, fatal disasters on a grand scale, and chilling cold cases—makes for restless spirits. But what prompts ghosts to speak "especially loudly here,” says Ursula Bielski, owner of the Chicago Hauntings tour company, is the city's history of covering up the tragedies.
Spooky spots: Ghosts are said to haunt the Oriental Theater (formerly the Iroquois Theater) in the Loop area of downtown Chicago, where almost 600 people perished when a fire famously broke out in 1903. Even though the theater was completely rebuilt and rebranded, spirits of the dead remained: apparitions have been seen in "Death Alley," the street behind the theater where bodies were stacked after the disaster (and a common stop on many a Chicago ghost tour).
San Diego, California
History lesson: What do you get when you cross a storied past with spectacular mansions? Real haunted houses. “When you have rich history and cultures, you’re going to get ghost stories,” says Charles Spratley, who wrote? Piercing the Veil: Examining?San Diego’s Haunted History? and runs Haunted Orange County tours. This may be why visitors say they’ve heard loud footsteps at the?Whaley House,?once the home of a prominent 19th-century family. Public hearings—and hangings—reportedly took place on the grounds before the Greek-revival-style house was built, and Yankee Jim, whose ghost stomps around upstairs, or so the story goes, was hanged on the property. If reports are to be believed, the family, too, never left. Violet Whaley committed suicide in 1885, but visitors report spotting her, as well as her parents, who presumably refuse to rest in peace while their daughter still roams among the living.
Spooky spots: Those seeking a closer encounter of the paranormal kind look to book room 3327 of the?Hotel del Coronado, the most requested room at the hotel. In 1892, 24-year-old Kate Morgan checked in under an alias, only to shoot and kill herself days later. Current-day guests report odd occurrences, like the TV and lights turning on and off by themselves, the sound of footsteps, inexplicable breezes and scents, and a woman materializing and vanishing in the garden—and hallways—before their eyes.
New Orleans, Louisiana
History lesson: Hauntings abound in this deeply mystical city. A violent and often tragic past—including a slave market larger than any other in the country, the massive fires of 1788 and 1794, and ferocious epidemics of yellow fever—fuels the ghost lore. Inexplicable orbs and “screams in the dead of night” have been reported from current-day Jackson Square, says Pinheiro. Today, it is a French Quarter landmark, facing the Mississippi and surrounded by the St. Louis Cathedral and a complex of shops, galleries, and high-end apartments. But during the 18th century and into the first half of the 19th century, it was a public square and the site of atrocious executions of criminals and slaves. The sounds of anguish, it’s said, are either coming from those hung in the gallows, or the guilt-torn clergy in the nearby cathedral who refused to save them.
Spooky spots: The French Quarter’s elegant Bourbon Orleans Hotel is one of the city's most famous haunted spots, thanks to its multi-purpose past as a ballroom, theater, and, for many decades, a convent and orphanage. People say ghosts from different eras appear in the hallways or lobby, as well as one lonely dancer who spends some nights swaying under the ballroom’s crystal chandelier.
San Antonio, Texas
History lesson: By day, visitors flock to the San Fernando Cathedral to check out the oldest standing church in the state, and maybe even attend its El Mariachi Mass on Sunday. But a stroll alone on the grounds of this Gothic Revival cathedral at night is more of a dare. In 1936, construction workers renovating the church unearthed bones, nails, and tattered military uniforms near the altar; some believe that they belonged to three fallen soldiers of the Alamo, while others dismiss this as myth, given that the dead were extinguished by fire. This apparently does not deter ghosts from showing up: Visitors over the years have reported shadow figures and orbs in their photographs and fleeting glimpses of ghosts in the back of the church itself, including a man dressed all in black and figures in hooded, monk-like garb. According to Haunted History of Old San Antonio the remains of numerous Texans are, in fact, entombed in the walls—“explaining” why mysterious faces have reportedly appeared there.
Spooky spots: According to the San Antonio Express-News, many popular hotels in the city claim to have permanent, otherworldly guests. At the Menger Hotel, guests have reported sightings of a former hotel maid named Sally White, roaming the hallways while carrying a stack of towels. The Emily Morgan is another haunted spot, where the ninth floor once housed wounded Alamo soldiers and now has special "amenities" for guests, like the sounds of slamming doors and objects mysteriously moving during the night.
Also go for: The beautiful River Walk, smothered-chicken-fried steak at Lulu’s, and a visit to the Japanese tea gardens.
This article was originally published on October 13, 2016; it has been updated with new information.
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