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Hair-raising encounters: the 5 most haunted places in the US

While many celebrate Halloween with quirky-kitschy revelry at pumpkin festivals and costume parties, others take the season to the next level, connecting with the spirits at the heart of what the holiday is about. Ghostly encounters have been reported in many locations across the US, and we’ve come up with a list of the most haunted places, sure to yield encounters with the apparitional kind.

A group of people walk inside the decaying interior of the Eastern State Penitentiary; there is a soft blue haze lighting up the prison; US most haunted places
Though there aren't any regular ghost tours at the Eastern State Penitentiary, the location does play host to a Halloween party once a year © Windsketch / Shutterstock

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia continually operated from 1829 to 1971, and its legacy has hugely impacted the incarceration system in the United States. It relied on isolation as a form of rehabilitation, and the unique wheel-and-spokes design became a blueprint for hundreds of prisons constructed afterward. During its 142-year tenure, the penitentiary housed the likes of Al Capone and Willie Sutton (the latter almost escaped via tunnel), along with thousands of other inmates.

You won’t find any ghost tours here – the staff likes to keep the focus on the inmates as real people with real lives – but spectral hauntings and energies of prisoners past have been reported by many a visitor. During the Halloween season, the prison plays host to a haunted house within its storied walls, so you can wander the halls with monsters and spirits, fictional and maybe real.

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A pair of statues and a fountain sit outside the ornate Winchester Mystery House; US haunted places
The Winchester Mystery Mansion is nearly 100 years old and is still an architectural conundrum © SanSeven / Shutterstock

Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA

In 1881, Sarah Winchester found herself a widow of the heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune after her husband, William Wirt Winchester, died of tuberculosis. Sarah had lost her young daughter a few years earlier. Accounts say Sarah, grief-stricken, consulted a medium who instructed her to move out west and create a home for herself and the souls of those killed by Winchester rifles, or else they would haunt her forever. 

Construction on the now-famous mansion in San Jose began in 1884 and continued over the course of 38 years, resulting in a sprawling 24,000-square-foot Queen Anne-style house that today remains at once an architectural marvel and conundrum. The house features 160 rooms, 47 stairways and fireplaces, six kitchens, and 13 bathrooms (though only one was functional, supposedly to confuse the spirits). 

The structure was not built according to a plan, and the resulting house features a number of strange features including stairs to nowhere, interior windows and more. In today’s currency, the house is estimated to have been built to the tune of $71 million.

Upon her death, the house continued to confuse outsiders – it was omitted from her will and eventually was sold for a mere $135,000. Today, the mansion is open for tours, giving curious visitors a chance to decide if spirits reside in its odd halls or if the construction was merely a creation from a woman driven by depression and loss.

A woman in a white nurses uniform holds a bottle of water while staring directly at the camera; us haunted places
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum has a deep history of severe mistreatment of its patients © Eva Hambach/ Getty Images

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia

Opened in 1864, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (later renamed the Weston State Hospital) was originally designed with the hope of successfully treating those with mental illness and disabilities; the Gothic building and National Historic Landmark was a Kirkbride design, which valued the importance of natural air and light. However, these ideals soon gave way under crushing overcrowding. '

Originally designed to hold 250 people, the asylum eventually held 2,400 patients at the population’s peak in the 1950s, all under horrifying conditions; patients experienced barbaric treatments including lobotomies and forced comas. The most unruly were kept in cages and shackles. 

The hospital eventually closed in 1994, and the majority of the patient ward buildings fell into decay. Today the main building is open for historic and paranormal tours, and some of the wards (in various states of decay) are accessible during ghost hunt tours. 

A line of decaying mausoleums sectioned off by rusty gates in the St. Louis Cemetery; us haunted places
Wander the country's oldest active cemetery in the City of the Dead © John Wang / Getty Images

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans 

Dubbed the City of the Dead, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest active cemetery in New Orleans, originally built in 1789. In its 200-year-plus history, the cemetery is supposedly home to 100,000 ‘residents’ housed in more than 700 tombs. Those laid to rest there include the famous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, along with several other notable figures from the Crescent City’s history. 

Wander the maze-like pathways of this above-ground cemetery, taking in the elaborate mausoleums, the worn lists of names and, of course, the site’s extensive history. You might get to meet one of St. Louis’ residents.

An important note before you go: unaccompanied visits to the cemetery are not permitted. You must visit with a licensed tour guide approved by the New Orleans Archdiocese.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville, KY

Opened in 1910, Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a state-of-the-art tuberculosis hospital designed to keep patients in isolation from the rest of the general population; the building was originally designed to hold 50-60 patients, but soon it became clear the need was much greater, and the building was expanded to hold more than 400 patients.

The sanatorium was so insular it had its own zip code and post office, and it grew its own food and raised its own livestock. As its web site puts it, once doctors and patients alike went to Waverly, they became ‘permanent residents.’ Once the cure for tuberculosis was found in 1961, the hospital was decontaminated and converted into a geriatric care facility until its closure in 1981. 

Today the sanatorium is regarded as a highly haunted location, with spirits of patients wandering the halls and occasionally making themselves known. Waverly plays host to paranormal tours year-round, and you can even spend the night in the hospital.

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