12 Real Haunted Houses That'll Give You Nightmares

By: Cristen Conger & Jonathan Atteberry  | 
Old stone house with candles in window on foggy gloomy night, Skaneateles, New York.
Twenty-three percent of American adults say they've seen a ghost or felt one's presence. Matt Champlin / Getty Images

Some people might hesitate to admit they believe in ghosts. But if you've ever heard a chilling bump in the night, ghosts might not be such a leap. In fact, about a third of American adults believe in ghosts [source: Dolliver]. And 23 percent of adults polled said they'd personally seen or felt a ghost [source: Dolliver].

Every Halloween season, thousands of people pay to experience commercial haunted houses, where costumed actors stand in for otherworldly spirits. Customers can get the adrenaline rush of scary "monsters" popping out at them without any of the risk.


But real haunted houses are a different story. Sure, there are plenty of paranormal enthusiasts who intentionally stay in purportedly haunted hotels and hunt for ghosts. But what if ghosts found their way into your home? If the poll results we just mentioned are accurate, the sensation of an uninvited guest isn't such an uncommon occurrence.

What Is a Haunted House?

A haunted house is one where strange occurrences are the norm. According to the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), there are some things to pay attention to if you suspect you have a haunted house.

Seeing apparitions or shadowy figures, hearing weird sounds, smelling odd odors, feeling "cold spots" within a room, noticing objects that have moved or observing your pet acting agitated are all symptoms that people report in what the association calls a "typical haunting" [source: ASSAP].


Typically, a tragic event, like a murder, occurred in the home. Haunted homes could be a private residence or the setting for ghost tours.

12. Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, is one of the spookiest houses in the United States. For 36 years, proprietor Sarah Winchester ordered construction workers to work on the bizarre home (which you can still visit).

You see, Sarah's late husband had invented the Winchester rifle, and legend says she suspected that the souls of those who'd been killed by the weapon would haunt her for eternity. To confuse the spirits and distract them away from her, the mansion features 160 rooms, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors (some that open to solid walls or to nothing at all) 17 chimneys and stairways leading nowhere.


11. Lizzie Borden House

Lizzie Borden has become a fixture in pop culture history. In August 1892, someone killed her parents, Andrew and Abby Borden, inside the home with a hatchet. Lizzie was on trial for the murder of her parents, but she was eventually acquitted.

The story became national news and has continued to captivate the attention of audiences more than 100 years later. Nowadays the home is a tourist attraction. Guests can book ghost tours or a room at the bed and breakfast.


10. Whaley House

Originally built on the execution grounds of James Robinson, nicknamed Yankee Jim, the Whaley House is a real-life haunted home. In 1852, Yankee Jim received a grand larceny conviction and sentence to death by hanging. The hangman set the noose improperly, allowing Jim's feet to graze the ground, prolonging the hanging process.

In 1856, Thomas Whaley bought the land where Yankee Jim's death took place and built a house for his own family. The youngest Whaley daughter, Lillian, said she could hear the sound of boots clomping through the house and suspected it was the ghost of Yankee Jim.


Today, the Whaley House is a registered historic site and museum. Visitors and employees have reported seeing or hearing the ghosts of former owners Thomas and Anna Whaley. According to staff and guests, Thomas' ghost usually resides near the landing at the top of the staircase, while Anna's stays downstairs or in the garden.

Television host Regis Philbin is among those who claimed to have seen Mrs. Whaley's ghost. Scents of cigar smoke and perfume have also mysteriously arisen at times. Because of the frequency of such ghost sightings, the Whaley House is one of the most haunted houses in the United States.

9. Faces of Belmez

Cast faces, like this one of Oliver Cromwell, appeared in the cement flooring of Maria Gomez's home in Spain.
English School/Getty Images

It's not ghosts exactly that haunt this small cottage in the southern Spanish province of Jaen, in the town of Belmez. The house, however, stands on burial grounds dating back to 1830 [source: Schweimler]. Inside the kitchen, the floor contains an unsolved mystery that has puzzled scientists and laymen for decades.

María Gómez Pereira, who lived in the house, discovered a face peering up at her from her kitchen floor in 1971. Instead of a two-dimensional apparition, the face resembled a plaster casting that seemed to rise from beneath the house, as though there was a buried head right below it.


Spooked by the strange façade, Gómez Pereira and her neighbors attempted to get rid of it by chipping away at the cement with an axe. Yet upon doing so, they revealed more face casts, this time of older men and children.

As word spread about the so-called "faces of Belmez," scientists stepped in to verify their authenticity and test whether they were paintings or fake castings that Gómez Pereira and her neighbors orchestrated. They ruled out the painting theory, but no conclusive evidence exists to pinpoint exactly how the faces got there. Nonetheless, the faces have engendered much skepticism.

8. Blickling Hall

Around May 19 every year, Anne Boleyn's headless ghost pays a visit to Blickling Hall in Norfolk, England.
John Miller/Getty Images

In October 2007, the National Trust of England named Blickling Hall the most haunted home in the country [source: McDermott]. Located in Norfolk, England, the stately house supposedly has a special guest stop by every spring.

Blickling Hall was one of Anne Boleyn's homes as a young girl. Boleyn was the second of King Henry VIII's six wives. Obsessed with having a male heir to the throne, Henry consequently divorced Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, because none of the males she gave birth to survived.


He gave it another go with Anne Boleyn, who also failed to produce a son (but did give birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I). To arrange his second divorce, the king cooked up adultery charges against Boleyn that stuck. Her punishment of allegedly cheating on one of the world's most powerful men at that time was death.

On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded. Every year, on the anniversary of her execution, Boleyn's headless ghost reportedly arrives at Blickling Hall in a carriage drawn by a headless horseman. But she hasn't lost her head completely in the afterlife — she carries it along with her during her hauntings.

7. Rose Hall

Annie Palmer, known as the White Witch, lived in Rose Hall in Jamaica where she seduced enslaved people and lovers and then killed them.
Robert Harding/Getty Images

The tales of the murderous Annie Palmer of Rose Hall still frighten children in Jamaica. Built in 1770, Rose Hall was a former plantation and home to Palmer and her husband. Palmer grew up in Haiti and learned voodoo, which would later serve her in her dastardly schemes.

When Palmer became sexually unsatisfied with her husband, she began sleeping with enslaved Africans on the plantation. To keep them quiet about the affairs, she either killed these men or ordered others to do so. Wanting to gain sole possession of her husband's wealth, she poisoned her first husband and later married and killed two other men [source: Belanger].


Her sexual escapades continued as well. In case she encountered a man unwilling to pleasure her or an enslaved person trying to escape, Palmer had a pit dug 16 feet (4.8 meters) below the house where she would banish these people [source: Belanger]. As her nefarious reputation spread around the island, she became known as the White Witch.

According to legend, Palmer cast a fatal voodoo hex on a housekeeper who caught the eye of one of her lovers. Supposedly, the housekeeper's grandfather later strangled Palmer to death [source: Belanger]. Her body was buried in an aboveground coffin in the eastern wing of Rose Hall.

According to the lore, the White Witch's spirit, along with those she had murdered, continued to haunt the house. When new tenants attempted to move into Rose Hall, they were quickly driven away from the haunted grounds.

Eventually, in 1965, a couple bought the house and converted it into a museum. Yet even today, visitors and employees have reported hearing men's screams and doors slamming, as well as other paranormal phenomena.

6. The White House

Abraham Lincoln's ghost still hangs around the White House, particularly in the Lincoln bedroom.
Glowimages/Getty Images

It must be hard for former presidential couples to adjust to life after the White House. After four or more years, they probably get used to never having to take out the trash, wash dishes or change a light bulb, not to mention the other amenities afforded to arguably the most powerful people in the Western world.

Perhaps that's why some have stuck around after their terms — and lives — ended. That's right: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is not only the most famous address in the United States but also one of the most haunted.


President John Adams and wife Abigail were the first presidential couple to live in the White House, taking residence in 1800, and Abigail has lingered ever since. Her ghost supposedly hangs laundry in the East Room on occasion [source: McLaughlin].

Another first lady, Dolley Madison, has reportedly been quite territorial with White House renovations. During her husband's term, Dolley oversaw the landscaping of the Rose Garden, where presidents often meet with the media. When President Woodrow Wilson's wife tried to have the garden dug up, the story goes that Dolley's ghost appeared and instructed the workers not to tear up her beloved garden [source: Scott and Norman].

Going along with a rose theme, the Queen's Bedroom, once called the Rose Room, is a paranormal hotspot in the White House [source: Scott and Norman]. It not only houses the bed of President Andrew Jackson but his ghost as well — people say they've heard it walking around the room.

People have also seen Abraham Lincoln's ghost ambling down the halls and staring out of windows. He pays visits to the Lincoln bedroom at times as well.

Don't believe us? The White House website, during George W. Bush's presidency, once had a page devoted to its ghost sightings, spotted by notable residents like Eleanor Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter's daughter.

5. Deane House

James Dean in his famous car.
James Dean, seen here in a still from the 1957 documentary movie "The James Dean Story," had a passion for sports cars.
Photo by Warner Bros. courtesy of Getty Images

On Sept. 30, 1955, actor James Dean got into his Porsche 550 Spyder with his mechanic Rolf Wuetherich and set out for a race. On the way, Dean was in a car crash that injured Wuetherich and killed Dean.

According to legend, however, Dean's Porsche wasn't finished spreading misery.


For instance, the car supposedly broke a man's legs when it rolled off its trailer during transport. The list of tragedies associated with the car grew longer every year until the car was, perhaps mercifully, lost during transport [source: Katz].

The Deane House in Alberta, Canada, is the haunted house equivalent of James Dean's cursed set of wheels. And just like Dean's Porsche, the house was mobile. Built in 1906 for Superintendent Captain Richard Deane of the Mounted Police, the house moved from its original location in 1914 to make way for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

Only after moving again in 1929 and becoming a boarding house, however, did the house become a magnet for tragedy. In 1933, a 14-year-old boy, suffering from epilepsy, took his own life in the house's attic after being bullied at school [source: Belanger].

Perhaps the most shocking event in the history of the Deane house, however, was the 1952 murder of Irma Umperville by her husband Roderick. Roderick stabbed and strangled his wife in front of their two children before killing himself in one of the home's apartments, adding one more tragic tale to the home's history [source: GhostStory.co.uk].

With such a violent past, it's no surprise that some say the house remains haunted today. Reports of strange sightings and unexplained laughter emanating from the foyer have surfaced for years.

4. Villisca Ax Murder House

After the murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their Fall River, Massachussets, home in 1892, the property became a bed-and-breakfast that's still in operation [source: Villisca Ax Murder House].

If the owners of the Villisca Ax Murder House have similar plans, they might consider changing the name to something more inviting. Then again, maybe a murder-themed B&B could be a big draw for people with a little morbid curiosity, but they'd need to have strong stomachs; the crime that took place at the home was so horrific that it changed the house forever.

On the evening of June 9, 1912, Josiah Moore, wife Sarah and their four children left their home to attend a function at a local Presbyterian church. The family had also invited Lena and Ina Stillinger, friends of the Moore family children, to spend the night at the Moore house following the event.

After the family and their guests returned home and turned in for the night, an intruder — or perhaps a group of them — entered the house and used Josiah Moore's axe to crush the skulls of every person in the house while they slept. Yes, even the children died that night.

The next morning, a neighbor noticed that the Moore residence was suspiciously quiet. By noon, the entire town was in fear. Because no one was ever convicted of the murders, suspicion dogged some of the town's residents for years.

Today, the home is open for tours and overnight visits, though visitors should expect uninvited guests. Numerous psychics have studied the house and declared the property haunted by the victims of the murder, and strange phenomena like falling lamps, flying objects and mysterious voices are supposedly common.

Although reports of hauntings have increased greatly since the home's restoration, the ghost stories stretch back to the time of the murders themselves.

Visiting Villisca

Like several other haunted homes that mysteriously apparated onto our list, you can stay at the Villisca Ax Murder House — if you dare. Make sure to bring a sleeping bag and a pillow, as visitors have been known to have a tough time getting sleep in any of the murder house's beds, according to the official Villisca Ax Murder House website. Imagine that.

3. Monte Cristo Homestead

That bucolic view of Junee, New South Wales, Australia, doesn't exactly make you think of haunted houses, does it? But this is indeed the hometown of the legendary Monte Cristo Homestead.
Peter Walton Photography/Getty Images

That bucolic view of Junee, New South Wales, Australia, doesn't exactly make you think of haunted houses, does it? But this is indeed the hometown of the legendary Monte Cristo Homestead.

Theories vary regarding why some houses are haunted and others seem free of things that go bump in the night, but as we've seen from several other examples on our list, tragedy seems to be a common thread. It's no surprise, then, that the Monte Cristo Homestead should have such a well-known reputation for paranormal activity.

Originally built for the Crawleys in 1884, the Monte Cristo Homestead initially seemed like an ideal setting for the family and its growing fortune, but that soon changed when one of the Crawley's servants dropped their infant daughter down a staircase, killing her. The servant insisted a force unseen pushed the child from her hands [source: Belanger].

In 1910, Christopher William Crawley, the head of the Crawley household, died of heart failure. His passing marked a change in his wife, Elizabeth Crawley. She became extremely reclusive over the next two decades of her life and, according to some, extremely cruel.

Several tragic deaths took place at the household while Elizabeth lived there. A pregnant servant fell to her death from a balcony, and another servant, this time a young boy, burned to death [source: Belanger].

After Elizabeth died, the house fell into disrepair and suffered at the hands of looters and vandals before Reginald Ryan, a local man, purchased it in 1963. He and his wife, Olive, immediately knew there was something eerie about the home. Strange lights were common, and the couple could feel the presence of ghosts and cold spots throughout the property.

They invited psychics into the home, who reported strong paranormal activity as well, raising suspicions that the house held terrible secrets in its walls. Today, visitors can test those claims themselves by taking a tour of the property and its grounds.

2. Lalaurie House

What secrets does this New Orleans cemetery hold?
Kevin Leigh/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Standing three stories high on Royal Street in New Orleans, the Lalaurie House was once the envy of the city's high society. In 1831, a beautiful socialite by the name of Madame Lalaurie purchased the house with her third husband, Dr. Louis Lalaurie [source: Cable]. By all appearances, Madame Lalaurie lived a charmed life.

Like many of the wealthiest members of society, Madame Lalaurie owned enslaved Africans. By law, slave owners needed to keep enslaved Africans well-fed, clothed and cared for, but a series of incidents made some of Lalaurie's peers think the socialite was, at best, neglecting those duties and possibly much worse.

A neighbor confirmed those suspicions when they saw Lalaurie chase a child of an enslaved person through the courtyard, into the house and onto the roof. Moments later, the child fell to her death [source: Cable].

Lalaurie received a fine and had to sell the enslaved people in her home, but relatives purchased them and sold them back to her immediately. Although her reputation suffered because of the incident, she remained a popular figure in town until a fire, set by one of the enslaved people, brought the attention of the entire community to the Lalaurie House.

As the fire burned, several people broke down the door to the slave quarters, and they pulled seven severely maltreated and malnourished people from the building, two of whom later died from their mistreatment. Two others were found buried on the premises. The citizens of New Orleans, disgusted and furious with Lalaurie, chased her out of town, looted her possessions and nearly destroyed the Lalaurie House [source: Cable].

Madame Lalaurie herself, having fled to Paris, was never brought to justice for her crimes. The house itself later was remodeled and retains little of its original layout, but it remains well known as one of the most haunted places in New Orleans.

1. Borley Rectory

January 1955: A group of young men digging at Borley rectory in search of the skeleton of a nun thought to have died mysteriously there.
Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Getty Images

Unlike many of the other houses on our list, you won't be able to take a tour of the Borley Rectory; the building caught fire before being demolished in 1944. Built in 1863 at the request of the Rev. Henry Bull, the rectory had always provided its residents with plenty of ghost sightings [source: Taylor].

The source of the sightings traced back to a story of a nun and a monk who, centuries ago, fell in love and attempted to elope. They were caught, however, and the monk was hanged. His would-be bride suffered an even worse fate, being walled up within her convent and left to die. The Borley Rectory was built on this haunted ground, and its residents suffered accordingly.

Eventually, a newspaper sent an investigator to dig into the stories surrounding the rectory. The investigator, Harry Price, became one of the first "ghost hunters" for his use of cameras, fingerprinting kits and other measuring equipment. Price reported many of the same things past residents had — strange sounds, ghost sightings, objects moving from one place to another — and his reports only added to the Borley legend.

By the time Price's investigation was in full swing, the Rev. Lionel Foyster was living in the rectory with his wife, Marianne, a particularly frequent target of haunting. Unlike previous encounters, Marianne's were allegedly quite violent. Cryptic messages even began to appear on the walls of the rectory, though only when Marianne was at home.

The Foysters moved out, but Price remained committed to finding out all he could about the building. At one particular séance, Price said he learned the names of the nun and the monk who tragically attempted to escape those many years ago. At another one, Price said that a spirit warned that the rectory would burn to the ground and, in the rubble, the remains of the nun would be found.

The prediction ultimately happened; within the year, a new owner accidentally set the rectory on fire, and the remains of a young woman were found in the cellar. Whether they were the remains of the love-struck nun remains unknown, but they were given a Christian burial all the same.

With that burial and the destruction of the Borley Rectory, the haunting finally ended.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Belanger, Jeff. "The World's Most Haunted Places." New Page Books. 2004. (Sept. 25, 2008) http://books.google.com/books?id=kt3C3YT-MbUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+world's+most+haunted+places&hl=en&ei=SXjlTt3UONKDtgfH2LW7Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CEwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=deane&f=false
  • Cable, George Washington. "Strange true stories of Louisiana." Charles Scribner's Sons. 1889. http://books.google.com/books?id=c4UEAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA200&dq=lalaurie&hl=en&sa=X&ei=5hPuTuycG4-utwfwv9m5Cg&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • Diehl, Daniel. Donnelly, Mark. “Haunted Houses: Guide to Spooky Creepy and Strange Places across the USA.” Stackpole Books. 2010. http://books.google.com/books?id=_OB7x4gj0qoC&pg=PT147&dq=villisca+haunted&hl=en&ei=1XvlToDiNMS4twfLv5HzAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CEMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
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  • Villisca Ax Murder House. "History of Villisca Ax Murder House." (Jan. 2, 2012) http://www.villiscaiowa.com/history.php