Any other night, you can convince yourself the thumping you hear is caused by the wind, the creaking by the house settling. But Halloween begs for a scare, for you to suspend your disbelief and wonder, what if? Whether or not your believe in ghosts, spirits, or other supernaturals, stories of strange presences and unexplained phenomena seem to swirl around places with a past. That prickling sensation on the back of your neck can be eerie, but sometimes houses and other buildings have dark histories that even more frightening, because they’re real.
We rounded up places all over the U.S. that have spooky presences or terrible pasts. We don’t blame you if you want to keep the lights on for this one.
A place that was once known as the Hryszko Brothers Soft Drinks Emporium doesn’t sound like it could be scary, but it was a speakeasy, see? At various points in its history, it may have also housed a brothel and an opium den, and a bank vault door in the basement was likely used for shanghaiing (slipping drinkers knock-out drops and either robbing them or kidnapping them and forcing them to work as sailors). In its over-100-year history, the saloon also earned the nickname “The Bucket of Blood” and a reputation for ghosts. There are supposed to be three, in fact: a toilet-flushing Polish immigrant named Sam, a weeping prostitute named Rose, and a Chinese bouncer who’s supposedly pushed waitresses down the basement stairs.
While it’s not said to be haunted, what was once contained in the Flavel House is still pretty disturbing. Built in 1901, the home stood abandoned for more than 25 years after the family fled. Harry S. Flavel was accused of stabbing, but not killing, a man for driving too fast in 1983. Rather than head to jail, he, his mother, and his sister left the house one day. When Astoria officials unlocked the door in 2012, they found what the hoarders had left behind: stacks of newspapers dating back to 1914, antique bicycles, floors so covered in debris you couldn’t walk on them, liquified food, and a dog in the refrigerator. Though “Hatchet” Harry — a nickname he earned after taking a hatchet to the house’s bannister — died in 2010, his sister, Mary Louise, finally reached an agreement to sell the house in 2014. In May, it sold to a lumber company owner for $222,000.
The dark history of the Oregon State Hospital is all too real. The building once known as the Oregon State Insane Asylum, built in 1883, remains in use, though some parts are now abandoned. If the domed structure looks familiar, it may be because it was the setting for the film adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Two incidents in the hospital’s past serve as symbols for the United State’s troubled mental health system over the years. In 1942, a patient who was helping in the kitchen substituted, either by accident or on purpose, roach poison for powdered milk while making scrambled eggs. Forty-two people died, and it helped spark some changes in the financing and staffing levels in psychiatric hospitals. It’s also home to the “Room of Forgotten Souls,” which once held the remains of more than 3,400 patients who died between 1914 and 1971 in deteriorating copper canisters. The grounds also once housed a cemetery, but the whereabouts of the 1,500 bodies that were buried there are unknown. As for supernatural horrors, there are rumors of doors inexplicably closing, ghostly footsteps, and mysterious cold spots.
Now a museum, Thomas Whaley’s Greek Revival-style home once housed a general store, courthouse, and theater. By the time the Whaley family moved in circa 1856, it was already haunted. “Yankee” Jim Robinson, a San Diego newcomer and thief, was hanged on the spot a few years earlier as Thomas Whaley stood in the crowd. The family would regularly hear footsteps or feel an otherworldly presence. After their deaths, Thomas and his wife, Anna, supposedly stuck around to haunt the place, too. She’ll play a random piano key or set the chandelier swaying. Two of their children — Thomas, Jr., who died of Scarlet Fever as a baby, and daughter Violet, who committed suicide after her con-man husband left her — are also said to linger in the house.
Bannack, Montana went boom when gold was found in 1862, but the town took about 80 years or so to bust. Now a ghost town in both senses, its last residents moved out in the 1970s, but specters are said to haunt the town. During its early days, the sheriff, Henry Plummer, led a band of outlaws who stole gold during transport; vigilantes later hanged him. About 60 structures still stand, but enter at your own risk, says one DT staffer. She swears that even though she doesn’t believe in ghosts, she saw one outside Meade Hotel. He was dressed like a cowboy and remained in the same spot over the course of several hours. He kept calling “Hey, girlie” to her and no one else seemed to hear. Later, when she went into the hotel and tried to open a locked door, something scared her so bad — and she’s not even sure exactly what — that she swears she’ll never go anywhere near the town again. Others have seen a ghostly figure in a blue dress at the hotel, believed to be Dorothy Dunn, the daughter of the manager who drowned in a nearby pond in 1916.
The oldest building in Wyoming, built in 1872, used to house a federal then state prison. By 1903, it was part of the University of Wyoming’s School of Agriculture and held its experiment station. However, though all the inmates were transported to a new penitentiary before the school took it over, some say one prisoner never left. After killing his wife for going to work in a bordello he frequented, Julius Greenwelch was sent to the Wyoming Territorial Prison. A cigar maker, he managed to keep his business going while locked up by moving the operation inside. He soon died of a heart attack, but people continue to smell cigar smoke near his former cell. Visitors occasionally say they’ve seen his figure lingering in the same spot.
Twins Francis and Freelan Stanley were 19th century tech geniuses who created a photographic process and later invented steam-engine vehicles known as Stanley Steamers. In 1909, Freelan built the 140-room Stanley Hotel. He and his wife, Flora, loved the place so much, they’ve made it their permanent residence: They still haunt the lobby, guests and staff say. On the fourth floor, ghostly children are said to run down the hallways and bounce balls. Room 217 is said to be particularly ripe with paranormal activity. Legend has it the chief housekeeper accidentally set off an explosion when she lit a candle in the gas-filled room. She actually managed to survive. Yet despite her death many years later, she still performs her duties, tidying up beds and helping unpack suitcases. There must be something in the air, though. Stephen King awoke in the room after a nightmare with the plot of The Shining starting to take shape.
Wrangell–St. Elias National Park gets scary cold, but nearby Gakona is the place to go for chills. Established in 1904, the lodge and trading post was a place for travelers to get supplies and spend the night. Rough and tumble the prospectors who passed through may have been, though, it wasn’t until the ‘80s that any spooky behavior was reported. Today, the owners refer to resident pipe-loving ghost John Paulson as the lodge’s “pleasant guardian,” who even obeys the new no-smoking rule.