America has a fascination with ghost stories and the supernatural hold they have on our imaginations. We've narrowed down the top five most haunted locales in the country -- great place to visit if you enjoy a good scare.
1. The Winchester House, San Jose, CA
This San Jose landmark has earned its reputation of being beautiful yet bizzare with its consistent placement on "Most Haunted" lists. It was the home of Sarah Winchester, wife of William Wirt Winchester, treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. William's 50% stake in the company was inherited by his widow, making her one of the wealthiest women in the world.
But Sarah's life was stricken with misfortune, her husband's death following that of their only child. Winchester reportedly consulted with a spiritualist who informed her that she was being haunted by the vengeful ghosts of those who had died from the rifles her husband's company manufactured. One was rumored to have suggested she move out west and build a house for the spirits, under the stipulation that she never stop constructing it, to keep them appeased.
Sarah therefore purchased an unfinished farmhouse and hired a small army of builders who worked on building her labyrinthian manor nonstop for the next 38 years, until her death in 1922. It became a sprawling mansion with meandering corridors, doorways leading to nowhere, and most famously, a stairway to the ceiling, all in order to confuse the angry spirits.
Tourists began visiting the house after it was sold to the city, fascinated as much by its haunted reputation as by its bizarre design. Workers often report footfalls in empty rooms, hearing their own names whispered in their ears, or even spotting the apparition of a small, elderly woman, joining the spirits of the Winchester's victims that reportedly still roam the manor's halls.
2. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, WV
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum opened its doors to patients in 1864 as a hand-cut stone building, the second largest in the world, with the purpose of offering a "healing environment." But over the years, poor understanding of mental health meant that anyone who had what was considered a mental condition -- even epileptics and drug addicts -- were incarcerated there.
At its peak in the 1950s, it housed 2,400 patients in a facility designed for just over a 10th of that population. Unsurprisingly, the overcrowding led to an increase in patient violence as living conditions deteriorated into the inhumane, with several patients who could not be controlled kept in cages. Lobotomies and electroshock therapy were common treatments at the time, and scores of patients died within the asylum's walls, either from these treatments or the unsanitary conditions and overcrowding.
The facility finally closed in 1994, which devastated the town's local economy. But it is said that many of the patients never quite left. Visitors and tour guides report seeing the ghostly apparitions of former patients, doctors, and nurses walking through the halls, which echo in the night with the anguished cries of the patients who suffered within its walls.
3. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, San Francisco, CA
One of the most infamous penitentiaries in the country, Alcatraz Island already had a reputation among Native Americans as a den for evil spirits. A military prison and fortress during the Civil War, it began its life as a federal prison rife with tales of vengeful spirits of Native Americans who had been imprisoned and perished there during the war.
Although the prison itself gained its initial notoriety during its heyday when it housed some of history's most famous (and violent) criminals, including "Scarface" Al Capone and the Birdman, it continued to capture public interest as one of the most haunted places in the country while still serving as an active prison. This is in part thanks to the prison's dark history, which includes a litany of inmate suicides and murders, as well as several escape attempts that resulted in the deaths of administrators held as hostages, security guards, and other inmates.
Officers who roamed the hallways reported hearing whispers and the sound of chains rattling in cells that were unoccupied. An inmate reportedly saw glowing red eyes and screamed until he was found dead the next morning, with strangle marks that could not be explained around his neck. Workers and visitors often report feeling a permeating chill in certain spots that can't otherwise be explained. Mark Twain once famously remarked that the prison was "cold as winter, even in the summer months." It's no small wonder that many of the prisoners who left the icy grip of Alcatraz later went insane.
4. The LaLaurie Mansion, New Orleans, LA
In the heart of the Crescent City's famed French Quarter stands the LaLaurie Mansion, home of Creole socialite Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie. A glamorous hostess living in one of the largest homes in the Quarter, Madame Marie was notorious for her elegant soirees in the early 19th century. But all the decadence and luxury that Madame Marie's guests came to know her for belied a grisly secret that rocked New Orleans to its core.
In 1934, police responded to a fire in the manor's kitchen, where they discovered that the cook, a 70-year-old slave, was chained by her ankle to the stove. The slave had admitted to starting the fire as a sort of desperate suicide attempt. She feared that Madame Marie would punish her by taking her upstairs, a floor from which no slave had ever returned. Madame Marie, for all of her perceived social virtues, was already known for her egregious mistreatment of her slaves, which had already in one case ended in death, but she was never investigated in depth. Bystanders broke into the slave quarters in order to evacuate the house's slaves during the fire where a gruesome discovery awaited them - the horribly mutilated corpses of seven slaves.
Upon learning of Madame Marie's terrible secret, a mob stormed the house and left nothing but the structure, destroying everything they could get their hands on in a rare show of condemnation of the horrific treatment of slaves. Marie fled to Paris to escape justice, where she died without ever facing charges.
The house itself remains as a landmark due to its size and its history, and it has served a number of public functions over the years. But those who enter its doors often report the sounds of anguished and tortured screams, especially after dark -- no doubt the shrieks of the slaves who suffered so profoundly at the hands of a vicious New Orleans socialite.
5. Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia, PA
Originally known as Fort Island Battery, this otherwise nondescript military base dates back to pre-Revolutionary War America and is one of the oldest and best-preserved military bases in the country. It's also a hotbed of paranormal activity, having been in use through two American wars and having housed a number of prisoners, soldiers, and their families.
The most infamous spirit is colloquially known as "The Screaming Woman," believed to be the spirit of Elizabeth Pratt, the wife of a soldier stationed at Mifflin. She disowned her daughter, who was in love with an enlisted man. Shortly after, the girl died of typhoid fever before the two could reconcile. Elizabeth's subsequent guilt and depression drove her to hang herself on the base. After her death, sounds of a woman screaming could be heard throughout the fort, leading police to be summoned more than once under the belief that someone was being attacked, although no screaming woman was ever found.
Meanwhile, the spirit of William Howe, a Union soldier charged with desertion and murder who was executed at the fort, is said to still wander through the casemate, his signature scrawled upon the wall of the cell in which he was kept in solitary confinement.
Meanwhile, visitors and tour guides report that the door of the base's blacksmith shop was always found open, no matter how many times they closed it. This is believed to be the work of the base's resident blacksmith, who, contrary to the base Commandant's orders, wanted to keep the door of his smithy open.
Their wandering spirits are joined by the sound of boots in the hallway, of disembodied voices, and of phantom faces of the soldiers and violent prisoners who lived and died in America's oldest military fort.
Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, if you enjoy a bit of ghoulish history, and a bit of a scare, it might be worth visiting some of America's most "haunted" places.