Costumed madmen wielding fake chainsaws are fun, but sometimes you want the real deal: an authentic, hair-raising, spine-chilling walk through a place where bad things actually happened. Herewith, eight real haunted houses fit for real thrill seekers.
1. Winchester Mystery House
San Jose, California
What happens when a grief-stricken woman has a ton of dough and lot of time on her hands? Answer: The Winchester Mystery House, a seven-story mansion filled with serpentine hallways, secret passageways, and eerie staircases that lead to nowhere. Sarah Winchester constructed the bizarre mansion at the behest of spirits who were gunned down by her husband’s deadly invention, the Winchester rifle. Though the real mystery is whether she created all the nooks and crannies to house the ghosts that spoke to her—or hide from them. Book a tour, and judge for yourself.
2. Lemp Mansion
St. Louis, Missouri
Now a theater, B&B, and restaurant, the Lemp Mansion used to house the Lemp family. A powerful clan of beer barons at the turn of the twentieth century, darkness soon consumed the Lemps: By 1950, four members committed suicide, three of whom died inside their gloomy St. Louis home. And it’s their footsteps you’ll hear as you sip your brew. Once you’re buzzed, join in on a Lemp Mansion tour, which usually occur every Monday night at 7:00 P.M.
3. The Grove
A quaint, porch-front property located in a northeastern Texas river port city, the Grove has not one or two but three resident apparitions. There’s a lady in white who takes the same path through the house when she appears, a man who rustles through the lilies out back, and a Don Juan sort who makes nice with purdy ladies. Get to know the specters every Saturday at 2 P.M. or Sunday at 11 A.M., when tours are usually held.
4. The Wild, Wild West
Jerome used to be a bustling copper mining town. And though today it’s home to just 400 residents, it continues to hum and stir with paranormal activity. Ghosts of prostitutes, outlaws, and those killed from tragic mining accidents make up the otherworldly population of the town’s historic homes and buildings—which you can tour with The Wild, Wild West. Keep an eye peeled for Sammie Dean, a working gal who was strangled in the Curb District and continues to roam the alleys looking for her killer who was never caught.
5. Villisca Axe Murder House
Forget the Field of Dreams: The real reason to visit Iowa is this house of nightmares, The Villisca Axe Murder House. In 1912, a ruthless killer bludgeoned to death Josiah Moore, his wife, their four kids and two other visiting children. The attacker’s identity remains a mystery. Today, the historic farmhouse is open to tours or even staying the night. Though guests usually cut their stay short once the visions of the murderer with the axe begin. Understandable. Tour season runs March 28 to October 31: For scaredy cats, there are daylight visits Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 3:30 P.M. For die-hard ghost hunters, there are overnighters: Check in at 4 P.M., then check out—hopefully—the next morning at 9 A.M.
6. Lizzie Borden House
Fall River, Massachusetts
Even though the murders happened more than a century ago, this crime scene-turned-national landmark remains a hotbed for macabre enthusiasts hoping to meet the ghosts of Lizzie’s parents, who were hacked to death with a hatchet. Tours at the Lizzie Borden House are held from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M. every day, but let’s be honest, you want the full experience: Sleep in the bedrooms where the bludgeoning occurred, watch a grisly reenactment, then relive it all the next morning over coffee and eggs.
7. Myrtles Plantation
St. Francisville, Louisianna
It’s known as one of the most haunted places in America, and for good reason—12 plus ghosts roam the grounds of Myrtles Plantation. One spirit is Chloe, a slave girl who hangs out in the breezeway of the mansion’s general store. Another is the unnamed Ghost Girl, a young lassie dressed in her antebellum best who often materializes in pictures. Tours are offered daily, from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. You can even stay the night and experience the plantation’s dark side when the sun goes down.
8. Whaley House
San Diego, California
Once a prominent family in California, the Whaleys are now just faded apparitions drifting through the Whaley House, a sprawling mid-19th century Greek Revival mansion. But they’re not alone. Now a museum, the Whaley House has a history of hangings, suicides, and untimely deaths, making it the home to several lost souls outside the family. One such spirit is Yankee Jim, who was hanged from the gallows on the site where the house now sits. He schlepps through the house with heavy footsteps. Self-guided daytime tours are available between 10 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. Though we suggest booking a paranormal ghost hunt, which goes down from 10:30 P.M. to midnight. Check the calendar for dates.