The Scariest Places in America by Sheri Warren Sankner

The Scariest Places in America

As Halloween draws near, our fascination with the paranormal heightens. What better time of year than All Hallow’s Eve to explore some of the most famous haunted places in the U.S. From cemeteries and battlefields to prisons and sanitariums to hotels and playgrounds, the list of ghostly places grows every year. Here’s a guide to spooky sites that are sure to haunt your dreams.


The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO, is the setting for Stephen King’s best-seller, “The Shining.” King himself experienced various sightings as well as Ghost Hunters from the SyFy Channel. The fourth floor is the most active with the sound of children playing and chasing each other through the night. Room 418 is particularly active and noisy with the sound of children. An apparition of a child has been photographed in a window of the building.

Built by Stanley Steam Engine creator Freelan Oscar Stanley and his wife Flora, The Stanley was completed in 1909 on land purchased from Earl Lord Dunraven, who had visited the area during an 1872 hunting excursion. Many ghosts, including F.O. Stanley, have been seen in the Billiard Room, lobby, and bar. Flora is said to play piano in the ballroom. A ghostly face and lights switching on and off have been credited to Lord Dunraven in Room 407.

Louisville, KY’s Waverly Hills Sanitorium opened in 1910 to treat Tuberculosis patients. Stories abound about Room 502 where pregnant Nurse Mary Hillenburg was found hanged in the doorway in 1928, an apparent suicide. She had discovered she was pregnant out of wedlock. Another story is that she’d been impregnated by a married Waverly Hills doctor who had tried an abortion, which killed her, and to cover it up, he made it look like a suicide. Another nurse threw herself out of the window in Room 502 in 1932, but rumors persist that she was pushed. People have also seen shadows move across the floor and walls in Room 502. A death tunnel beneath the hospital leading to railroad tracks was used to transport the dead. It is haunted by the spirits (63,000 people died there) who traveled the tunnel with voices and unidentified noises being heard frequently.

With its gothic towers, West Virginia State Penitentiary is one of the scariest haunted prisons in America. Opened in 1876, with 250 inmates, it was to be extended in 1929; but construction continued until 1959. Inhumanely overcrowded, with three inmates to a tiny cell, this prison executed many by hanging and electric chair. Along with executions, illness, overcrowding, and riots killed many inmates.

Three different ghosts have been seen frequently — The Maintenance Man, Inmate Robert, and Avril Adkins. The Maintenance Man was a prisoner who used to spy on inmates and report to the guards. One day he was attacked and killed by several inmates and his spirit now lurks in the bathroom where he was savagely murdered. Inmate Robert was violently murdered by abusive prison guards, who supposedly buried him behind the prison walls. Finally, Avril Adkins, who was to be executed by hanging, fell through the trap door of the gallows the first time and landed on his head with serious injuries. The guards took him back up to the gallows and hung him again.

Everyone knows Alcatraz Prison (“The Rock”), an island fortress near the coast of San Francisco Bay that closed in 1963. Al Capone, Arthur “Doc” Barker, and George “Machine-Gun” Kelly were all prisoners there. With its isolated setting, Alcatraz was the scene of many gruesome, cruel tortures, especially in D Block’s Hole and Strip Cells. Cell 14D has exhibited ghostly activity. In the 1940s, a prisoner was locked in there for breaking a rule. As soon as he was locked in, he began screaming that there was something with glowing eyes in with him and trying to kill him. After screaming all night, he grew silent. The next morning, guards found him dead with marks from strangulation and a terrified expression frozen on his face. Strangely, at head count the following day, the guards counted one prisoner too many, claiming that they saw the dead prisoner lining up with the others, but then he vanished.

Visitors to Cellblocks A and B report moaning and crying. A scary spirit named The Butcher, mob hitman Abie Maldowitz, who was murdered by another prisoner in Block C, has also been identified. Finally, there’s Alcatraz’s most famous ghost of all: Al Capone, who is still playing his banjo.

The Old Slave House, Equality, IL, was built by Hart Crenshaw in 1842. He’d earned a lot of money through the many salt tracts he owned, which were worked by “legally” leased slaves from other states. Crenshaw kidnapped and tortured these workers, chaining, imprisoning, and breeding them in the mansion. When his evil practices were publicized, he became a farmer. Since 1920, visitors report hearing moans of pain and whispers coming from the lofts of the mansion. Ghosthunter Hickman Whitting tried to spend time in the attic but was discovered dead after a few hours, though he was in good health. Anyone who has tried to spend time in the attic has left there scared to death.

Other famous haunted sites worth checking out
St. Augustine Lighthouse, St. Augustine, FL
St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans, LA
The Dead Children’s Playground, Huntsville, AL
Lizzie Borden House, Fall River, MA
Joshua Ward House, Salem, MA
Gallows Hill, Salem, MA
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, WV
The Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, OH
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, KY
Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, MO
Spook Light/Devil’s Promenade, Hornet, MO
The Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA
Mission San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, CA
The Red Onion Saloon, Skagway, AK


All books are available at Click on title to learn more.

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