Paranormal investigators, tour guides, and travel agents share their favorite stories from some of the spookiest sites open to the public.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: A haunting history lesson
The three-day Battle of Gettysburg claimed the lives of more than 50,000 men from both the Confederate and Union armies, making it the deadliest battle of the Civil War. ‘It’s only natural there is some residual energy here,’ says Joe Svelha, manager of Ghostly Images of Gettysburg Ghost Tours. ‘I’d say it’s the most haunted small town in America.’
The story: A few years back, Svelha was leading a group of schoolchildren on a history tour of the Jennie Wade House, the site where Jennie Wade—the only civilian remembered to have died in the Civil War—was killed by a stray bullet. The group was walking down the stairs from the second floor, when Svelha and the children noticed a young boy in Civil War-era attire standing on the landing.
A moment later, the boy vanished. So did the students, who dashed back up the stairs in fear. After the sighting, the group didn’t stick around to finish their tour. ‘They went straight back to their bus and left,’ he says.
Savannah, Georgia: Spooky southern charm
It would be hard to conceive of a city more conducive to ghost stories than the perfectly historic Savannah, Georgia. For Kelly Hudler, a travel agent based in Jacksonville, North Carolina, it’s one of her favorite spooky spots in the South.
The story: While Savannah is brimming with haunted hotels, taverns, and town squares, Hudler says the home at 432 Abercorn Street on Calhoun Square is perhaps one of the eeriest places she’s ever visited. ‘The house gives you a bad feeling,’ she says. Longtime residents also say that the home—which was originally completed in 1868 for Civil War General Benjamin J. Wilson—emits a negative energy. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the house has been abandoned for years.
New Orleans, Louisiana: The city of the dead
Chalk it up to cursed land, yellow-fever outbreaks, or the fact that half the city has burnt to the ground twice. Many locals will say that they cross paths with New Orleans’ ‘past residents’ all the time. ‘If paranormal activity occurs when there is a death associated with heavy emotions,’ says Sidney Smith, owner of New Orleans Haunted History Tours, ‘then New Orleans is unparalleled.’
The story: One of the most infamous landmarks in the French Quarter is the LaLaurie mansion at 1140 Royal Street. The home was built in 1832 for New Orleans socialite Delphine LaLaurie, who lived there just two years when a fire broke out. When officials responded to the blaze, they discovered LaLaurie’s tortured and mutilated household slaves, according to a report published in the New Orleans Bee the following day.
The townspeople found out as well and attacked the residence in retaliation, destroying much of it. Tour the outside if you dare. ‘We’ve had maybe 100 people faint in the exact same spot over the past 20 years,’ says Smith. ‘We don’t talk about it before the tour, either. It’s just always the exact same spot.’
Oregon City, Oregon: Traveling homes and disrupted spirits
With a tiresome history bound to the Oregon Trail, England’s Hudson Bay Company, and historical churches, cemeteries, and homes (along with their owners’ graves) being picked up and moved from one part of the city to another, it’s only natural that parts of Oregon are never truly at rest.
The story: Paranormal activity at the Ermatinger House—the third oldest home in the state of Oregon and the oldest in Oregon City—is what first got Rocky Smith, owner of Northwest Ghost Tours and founder of the Oregon Ghost Conference, interested in leading tours. In the mid-1800s, when the home was first built, it was frequently used for town meetings and city decisions. One guest, who many believe was a steamboat captain who frequently boarded at the Ermatinger house, still has a presence today; in particular, at his favorite seat at the head of the dining room table.
‘My first experience in the house was when I was locking up one night and walked behind the chair,’ says Smith, noting that the way the table is oriented the chair would have had to have been pushed in in order for him to walk by. ‘And when I came back inside the chair had moved out about two feet. It would have been in my way if it had been pulled out when I left the room.’ Smith says the chair often pulls out about 20 times a day. ‘You will leave the room and come back and it will be pulled out.’
New York, New York: The city that never sleeps
Combine a chaotic founding with a history of power struggles, racial tensions, and unchecked egos, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for paranormal activity.
The story: Douglas McMillan, founder of the Bronx Paranormal Society, doesn’t take the term ‘haunted’ lightly. ‘When I do an investigation it is with the intention of disproving the haunting, not proving it,’ he says. That said, there are a few local spots he has investigated and proven to have paranormal activity.
The first is an apartment on Colonnade Row, a swath of apartments on Lafayette Street in Manhattan, where McMillan hosts paranormal lectures and investigations. ‘One night I was doing an investigation there with three other people, and a minute after we turned the lights off we had an experience—all three of us,’ he says. ‘Essentially, a shadow manifested and made a circle of the room.’