Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia (Photo by Paul W. Faust on Shutterstock)

Have you ever seen a ghost? You may laugh at the idea, but there are plenty of eerie places across the U.S. that are well-known for being haunted, ranging from abandoned asylums to seemingly average houses or even fully operating hotels. While you probably can’t visit them all in order to decide whether you believe in the supernatural or not, you can increase your chances of an otherworldly encounter by visiting the right locations. If you’re looking to encounter a ghost, the most haunted places in the United States are where you’ll find them.

Is there such a thing as ghosts? According to a study, 63 percent of Americans believe in the paranormal in some form or another. Most common among study participants was the belief in ghosts (57%), and a third (35%) even said they’d felt an unexplained ghostly presence in their own homes. Some recalled specific encounters, including seeing previous residents appearing and suddenly disappearing, hearing doors randomly open and close, and seeing flickering lights and shadows with no discernible source. Overall, 44 percent of study participants claimed they’d had a personal experience with the paranormal!

When it comes to things people are experiencing in their spooky dwellings, a poll found that 46 percent of participants heard strange sounds, while 42 percent said the lights started turning on and off by themselves. One in three (35%) heard voices in their home. And while most Americans are sticking it out with their supernatural roommates, the poll found that one in 10 respondents actually sold their home because of a paranormal experience. Still skeptical? Nearly two-thirds (64%) said they already believed in ghosts before their experience, but 30 percent say their encounter with the paranormal pushed them to believe.

If you are on the hunt for your own encounter with the supernatural, there are lots of infamous locations across the nation that may increase your chances. To find the top five most haunted places in the U.S., StudyFinds compared experts’ lists across ten websites. Did we miss any spooky spots? Let us know in the comment section!

silhouette photography of house surrounded by withered trees
Creepy home in the woods (Photo by Rythik on Unsplash)

The List: The Most Haunted Places in America, According to Experts

1. Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA

Surprisingly, the spookiest place in the U.S. is located in sunny California! The story behind it is pretty dark, though. “Sarah Winchester […] was a bereaved woman who slowly lost her sanity to grief. After her husband and child died, a psychic told her that evil spirits were to blame,” writes OneChelOfAnAdventure. “To protect herself, she began constructing the Winchester Mystery House — filled with maze-like hallways, stairways that led to nowhere, and secret chambers.”

Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA
Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA (Photo by Uladzik Kryhin on Shutterstock)

The house was supposed to confuse the spirits, and Mrs. Winchester definitely tried hard: “This peculiar mansion in San Jose has more than 160 rooms and 2,000 doors, many that cannot be walked through.” But why were the spirits after her? “Some believe Mrs. Winchester continued modifying her home to escape the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle,” explains 10Best.

“The Winchester Mystery House is full of quirks that seemingly have no explanation, like rooms built without nails, staircases that go to ceilings, a seánce room, and items in sets of 13 (hooks, window panels, etc),” says Frost + Sun. Sadly, “Winchester passed in 1922, just under 25 years from when she started building the Winchester Mansion. Today, you can tour the mansion, which is open year-round, except on Christmas Day.”

2. Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA

As you can imagine, institutions like asylums or prisons tend to show up on lists of the most haunted buildings. One of them is our number two: “Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary was one of the most expensive prisons in the world. Today, the crumbling ruins host visitors of the mortal and ghostly variety,” explains 10Best.

Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary cell blocks (Photo by Chang Lee on shutterstock)

Penitentiaries are never happy places, but this prison has a particularly grim story: “The castle-like Eastern State Penitentiary took solitary confinement to new levels when it was built in 1829. Prisoners lived alone, exercised alone, and ate alone; when an inmate left his cell, a guard would cover his head with a hood so he couldn’t see or be seen. Reported paranormal happenings have included disembodied laughter, shadowy figures, and pacing footsteps,” according to Conde Nast Traveler.

Another reason why this place is haunted may be its “celebrity” inmates: “The Eastern State Penitentiary was once ‘home’ to several infamous prisoners, such as mobster Al Capone,” shares Frost + Sun. Which is why “today the former prison is a museum where you can learn about its history, its haunted roots, and see art installations.” Need an additional thrill? “During the Fall season, the museum hosts Terror Behind the Walls, which is probably the scariest haunted house in the USA.”

3. Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH

Just as spooky as its Philadelphia “peer” is the Ohio State Reformatory. It’s no surprise that this place is haunted — simply because of the sheer volume of inmates it held. “This Ohio prison was home to a whopping 200,000 inmates over the 104 years it was in operation, and has been famed as one of the most haunted sites in the U.S. ever since,” says One Chel of an Adventure. “Visiting in the fall brings some special spooks. For those touring near Halloween, you can take part in [the tour] Escape From Blood Prison. Get the scare of your life trying to escape the Ohio State Reformatory while undead inmates chase you and blood drips from the walls and faucets!”

Ohio State Reformatory
Ohio State Reformatory cell blocks (Photo by ehrlif on Shutterstock)

And while it didn’t host famous mobsters, the reformatory is linked to horror author Stephen King. In case you can’t make it around Halloween, they hosts tours all year long. “The [former] prison, the same location where [the movie] The Shawshank Redemption [– based on King’s novel –] was filmed, now holds regular ghost hunts where visitors report hearing shrieks and the sound of doors slamming. The most terrifying part of this prison, however, is the solitary confinement wing; here, people have seen shadowy figures and felt the club of a murdered guard still on patrol. Other haunted sites in the city include the Bissman Building (home of a specter with a top hat and a little girl ghost) and the Renaissance Theatre (where you might hear disembodied laughter and creepy music),” writes TimeOut.

Frost + Sun shares more intriguing history: “The Ohio State Reformatory is an infamous prison that was run from 1910 to 1990. It was ordered closed due to overcrowding and inhuman conditions alleged by the prisoners. [The prison] is also home to the annual Parapsycon, a paranormal and psychic convention.”

4. Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO

You probably have heard of this one, even if the name doesn’t ring a bell! “This sprawling mansion has housed many famous guests, including Stephen King, who reportedly used the hotel as inspiration for his book The Shining. Several paranormal shows have documented the ghostly activities at the Stanley Hotel, with rooms 401 and 217 supposedly being the most actively haunted,” says Travel + Leisure.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado (Photo by Glenn Taylor on Shutterstock)

The hotel’s fame even reaches beyond U.S. borders! “As the inspiration for Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining, The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, is considered one of the most haunted places in the world,” adds Best Life. “Rumor has it the original owners of the hotel, Freelan Oscar and Flora Stanley, haven’t left the residence since they opened it in 1909. According to guests who have stayed there, Mr. Stanley frequently shows up in photographs, Mrs. Stanley can sometimes be spotted playing the piano, and, if you listen closely enough, you can often hear the sound of children’s laughter echoing through the hallways. To catch a glimpse of the spirits yourself, you can book a room at the hotel, or, if you’re too scared, you can take a tour during the light of day.”

Before “The Shining,” the hotel did not benefit from its ghosts at all though. “The Stanley Hotel was rumored to be haunted long before Stephen King used it as the inspiration for his novel-turned-film. The rumors almost put the hotel out of business until King’s third novel became a bestseller. Today, the hotel embraces its spooky vibe and offers ghost tours of its property,” adds Frost + Sun.

5. TIE: Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast in Fall River, MA / R.M.S. Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA / St. Augustine Lighthouse in St. Augustine, FL

Not one, not two, three places share the final spot on our list! They all got equal numbers of expert mentions, and our list just wouldn’t be complete without them. At least the first of the three you’ve surely heard of. But do you know the backstory? “In 1892, Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother were found bludgeoned to death in their own home. Nearly everyone in Fall River, Massachusetts thought Lizzie was to blame — she had an inheritance to incentivize her, after all. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict her, and Lizzie walked free. Guests and employees alike report all sorts of strange occurrences in the house, such as hearing footsteps from empty rooms, seeing apparitions, and more. You can still visit the Lizzie Borden House today… and you can even spend the night in the bed & breakfast,” shares OneChelOfAnAdventure.

Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast
Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (Photo by EQRoy on Shutterstock)

The next haunted place stands out based on its location alone — it’s a docked ship: “You’ll need your sea legs and a bit of bravery to board this haunted vessel, which coincidentally ran its last voyage on Halloween 1967. Now permanently docked in Long Beach, California, the R.M.S. Queen Mary is believed to host spirits of deceased crew and passengers from its former 31-year tenure at sea. Book a Haunted Encounter tour to potentially encounter the alleged ‘lady in white’ and even various children,” suggests Country Living.

And finally, the last place on our list is a building in a city that’s already pretty haunted. “The oldest city in America is sure to host some ghosts, right? You bet. In St. Augustine, one of the spookiest places in Florida, a range of ghosts counts among the city’s local characters,” reports TimeOut. “Chief among them is a Spanish soldier who has been spotted sitting atop an old fort, watching for ships along the shore. Nearby, former patients of the Spanish Military Hospital (who passed away long ago) still linger within the historic building, moaning and crying. Over in Huguenot Cemetery, the ghost of Judge John B. Stickney roams, visibly unhappy after thieves snatched his gold teeth while his coffin was being relocated closer to his family. And, of course, St. Augustine’s iconic lighthouse is home to lighthouse keeper Mr. Andreu, who fell to his death while painting the tower — so yeah, you could say this town is cursed.” As for the lighthouse, “one tour guide told the St. Augustine Record in 2014, ‘I’ve had a few arm hairs plucked off me in the basement of the keeper’s house. Rather recently I had my ankle grabbed. That was pretty amusing since it was in the middle of my tour so it looked like I just randomly tripped over air,'” adds Best Life.

St. Augustine Lighthouse
St. Augustine Lighthouse (Photo by Carmen Ziss on Shutterstock)

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About Clio Rourke

I'm a freelance writer with experience in advertising and public relations.

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