Halloween is coming up fast and to get you in the spirit, here are a few stories of some of the most haunted places around. While there are always unverified stories when it comes to haunted places, I’ve tried to cut out any that have been sufficiently proven to be untrue –like the little girl killed by a clothes line at the Whaley House, and to highlight the local legends from the historical facts. So, even if you don’t believe in ghosts, at least you’ll hopefully enjoy reading about the history and folklore of these creepy locales.
The White House
Easily the most famous haunted place on Earth, the White House is said to be haunted by the ghosts of William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, Dolley Madison, Willie Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln. Harrison has been spotted digging around in the attic, Jackson hangs around the Rose Room, which is the bedroom that he occupied during his presidency and Mrs. Adams has been seen frequently in the East Room, which is where she hung her laundry.
Mary Todd Lincoln reported seeing the ghosts of both Jefferson and Tyler in the Yellow Oval Room. When Ellen Wilson asked for the rose garden, originally planted by Dolley Madison, to be dug up, workers reported spotting the ghost of Mrs. Madison, protecting her beloved rose garden. Periodically, areas of the White House are reported to smell like roses, something frequently attributed to the ghost of Mrs. Madison. Abraham Lincoln’s son, who died in the White House at only 11 years-old, has also been spotted in the building.
The most frequently seen and most famous ghost spotted in the house though is Abraham Lincoln. Among those who reported seeing or feeling the presence of The Great Emancipator include Eleanor Roosevelt; President Truman; Jacqueline Kennedy; President Truman’s Daughter, Margaret; Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands; President Dwight Eisenhower's press secretary, James Hagerty; Liz Carpenter, press secretary to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson; Grace Coolidge; Winston Churchill; Theodore Roosevelt; Tony Savoy, White House operations foreman; Mary Eben, Eleanor Roosevelt's secretary; Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Maureen Reagan, and her husband.
I’ve actually been to the Whaley House and even if you don’t believe in hauntings, it’s hard to deny that the luxurious, beautiful home still has an eerie, uncomfortable vibe to it. Even before the Whaley House was built, there was reason to be wary of the property –it was where early hangings took place in San Diego.
Image via Alik Griffin [Flickr]
The most famous story occurred in 1852, when a man named “Yankee” Jim Robinson was caught after stealing a rowboat. While his two accomplices were sentenced to only a year in prison, Yankee Jim was charged with grand larceny and sentenced to execution by hanging. If you think that sounds like an extreme punishment, you’re right. In fact, records of the event say that Jim was laughing all the way up until he died, apparently believing that the whole thing was an elaborate joke. When he finally started choking, he certainly started to believe it was real –unfortunately, it was a slow, painful realization as Jim was so tall that his feet were still scraping on the dirt.
Because of the property’s history, Thomas Whaley bought the land for a song. By 1857, his brick home was completed. It was furnished in mahogany and rosewood furniture and Brussels carpet. Soon it was known as one of the finest homes in Southern California and became a gathering place for locals. In fact, the home was so well-built that it ended up housing the city’s first commercial theater, the county courthouse and a general store. Within a short amount of time though, it became apparent that perhaps Whaley should have listened to his neighbors and avoided building a home on the property where Yankee Jim met his maker.
The first tragedy occurred when Thomas and Anna Whaley lost their 18 month-old son Thomas, Jr. to scarlet fever in 1858. Years later, their daughter Violet returned home from her honeymoon after her groom disappeared. It turns out the man was a con artist who was only after the large dowry afforded by such an affluent young lady. Violet was shunned in the community after she returned without her husband and without a chaperone –something simply unheard of during the late Victorian period. She was further embarrassed when her divorce went through and in 1885, she shot herself in the chest in the family home.
After this terrible event, Thomas soon moved his family to a new home in Downtown San Diego, leaving the home vacant for a few decades before his son, Francis, eventually moved into the old residence. While no other outright tragedies occurred, more of the aging Whaleys died in the home, including Thomas’ wife, Anna; his sons, Francis and George; and his daughter Corinne Lillian.
These days, the home is said to be one of the most haunted in America, harboring the spirits of Yankee Jim, baby Thomas, Violet, Thomas Whaley, Anna, Francis, George and Corrine. Those who work in the home-turned-museum report inexplicable cold spots, the smell of cigar smoke (a favorite of Thomas), flickering lights, moved furniture, heavy footsteps when no one else is around, and, on rare occasion, the sounds of a baby crying. Regis Philbin has reported encountering the ghost of Anna Whaley when he visited the home in 1964.
Banghar Fort, India
Image via Parth Joshi [Flickr]
While the name might lead you to believe it is simply a military installation, the Banghar (or Bhangarh) Fort is actually an entire city in Rajasthan, India. The fort was built in the 17th century by King Madho Singh and despite its abandonment, it is surprisingly well preserved. Even so, the local townspeople rarely visit and the Archaeological Survey of India, who maintains the property, forbids visitors from staying after sunset because of the dark legends surrounding the city.
There are a few legends as to how the city became cursed. In one story, a wizard specialized in black magic, Guru Balu Nath, lived in the town and demanded that no houses in the area could be taller than his home or else the shadow of a home falling on his own would result in the destruction of the fort. In another tale, the wizard Scindia fell in love with the beautiful princess of Banghar. One day, he offered her a potion that would force her to fall in love with him. Seeing through his ruse, she dumped the bowl of potion on a nearby boulder. The rock immediately started rolling down a hill towards the wizard. Just before he was crushed, he recited a curse on the city that would result in its permanent destruction. Soon after the curse, the fort was invaded and everyone in the town, including the princess, was killed.
Either way, locals believe the town is still cursed and that the ghosts of the 10,000 people who lived in the fort now haunt its premises.
The fort is believed to be the most haunted place in India and many believe that anyone who stays there after dark will never return from the village.
Image via Simon [Flickr]
I wrote about Aokigahara a few years back when I covered some of the creepiest spots on Earth, but it’s worth touching on again in this context because it truly is a spooky place. As the world’s most popular spot for suicides, there’s no wonder the forest has a reputation for being haunted. While statistics vary and the government has stopped releasing the numbers in hopes that it might curb the number of suicides in the forest, estimates say that around 100 people end their lives in Aokigahara every year.
Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, the forest itself still invites a sense of dread and signs everywhere beg visitors to reconsider their decision to commit suicide; tape used to mark off areas where volunteers have searched for bodies remains strewn across the park; and the dense vegetation and minimal wildlife leave the setting eerily quiet. The forest, often called the “sea of trees” is so dense that it is believed many people who did not intend to commit suicide have died in the area simply because they could not find their way back to the main trail –something believers can blame on evil spirits lurking in the forest.
Aside from the suicides in the area, many also claim the forest was once a popular location for the practice of ubasute (the abandonment of the elderly in distant locales during periods of drought or famine, where the family member was left to die). While some officials claim this practice is largely myth, if Aokigahara was a popular location for the act, you could certainly imagine the spirits of those left to die remaining to haunt those foolish enough to venture into the ghostly forest.
You can find a wonderful, though exceptionally creepy photo essay on the forest at Punyari’s Island Adventures.
The Manila Film Center
Image via Michael Francis McCarthy [Flickr]
You wouldn’t think a film center completed in 1982 would be considered such a foreboding place, but when you hear the story of the Manila Film Center, you’ll understand why it belongs on this list. In 1981, the First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, decided her country needed a national film achieve. Plans were developed and the 1st Manila International Film Festival was scheduled for one year later.
As you can imagine, one year from inception to grand opening doesn’t leave much time for construction, so 4,000 workers were hired to complete the structure on time, working in three shifts across all 24 hours of the day. At 3 AM on November 17, the rushed scaffolding collapsed and 169 workers fell into the quick-drying wet cement below. Rather than immediately rush help to save the workers, the Marcos administration refused rescuers or ambulances until an official statement was prepared. It wasn’t until 9 hours after the collapse that rescuers were finally allowed to assist those who had fallen.
Because the incident was handled so badly, there are stories that the First Lady ordered cement to be poured over the workers, burying all the workers, many of whom were still alive. According to this story, the bodies of all the men were left in the building’s foundation. Official government records show that of the 169 workers, all were removed from the concrete and not more than a dozen died, all of whom were given a proper burial. Given how badly the incident was handled, it’s not entirely surprising that many locals refuse to believe this version of events, though it still seems unlikely that all 169 workers were buried under concrete and left there.
Given the horrific event, it’s no wonder that the building was reputed to be haunted. Tales claim that the site was plagued by mysterious sounds, voices and poltergeists. Either way, the building does seem to have a bit of a curse. Just one year after it was opened, the building was severely damaged in the 1990 Manila earthquake. It remained abandoned until 2001, when it received a full renovation. Then, earlier this year, a fire hit the center, rendering it once again, totally inoperable.
Obviously, there are plenty of other places out there reputed to be haunted. If you know of any good ones, let us know. Maybe we can include them in another article on the subject, and, if nothing else, you’ll help add to the ghostly vibe of the conversation in the comments.