Oct. 31 is rapidly approaching and, although I'd argue that the most frightening thing I've seen this month is a Donald Trump bumper sticker, Halloween is the perfect day to distract ourselves from what often feels like our country's run-up to the apocalypse. Some people love to celebrate the fall holiday with pumpkin picking and hay rides — but if your favorite thing about Halloween is the opportunity to be scared out of your wits, then chances are you're likely to be found at a haunted house this upcoming weekend.
Halloween is more than a chance to take a whirl through your local haunted hayride; it's also the perfect opportunity to learn about the creepiest spots all across the country. If you're an aficionado of all things scary, I'm sure you know about plenty of places that are famous solely for being haunted.
But, as it turns out, a number of famous historical sites are also considered by many to be haunted — you'll recognize all the places on this list, but their source of fame isn't derived from their creepiness factor. So, if you've been putting off a visit to any of these locations, now you have incentive to plan a trip. You'll get a history lesson and a good ghost story — what more could you ask for? Personally, I'm adding a few places to my bucket list as I write this.
You'll never look at these five historical sites and landmarks the same way again:
1. The White House
Whoever moves to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January should come prepared for more than just politics as usual — they should get ready to contend with ghosts and apparitions, too. (Luckily, Hillary Clinton lived there for eight years and and she's unshakable — so I'm sure she'll be just fine.) According to the History Channel, ghostly presences have been experienced by presidents, first ladies, and staffers over the years. They've reported strange, inexplicable noises and many report seeing apparitions. Who are these ghosts who just can't stay away from the White House?
- First Lady Abigail Adams used the White House's East Room to hang the wash. People claim to have seen her apparition walking towards the room with her arms outstretched as though she's carrying laundry.
- The voice of David Burns, who sold the government most of Washington, D.C.'s land (including the area where the White House was built), has been heard by multiple people. In her memoir, seamstress Lillian Rogers told the story of a valet who heard a ghostly voice coming from the Yellow Oval Room saying, "I’m Mr. Burns." A similar story emerged during the Truman administration — a guard heard a similar voice and words, but didn't think much of it because the current Secretary of State was James Byrnes. He later learned, however, that Byrnes was not in the White House that day.
- Although Andrew Jackson won his second bid for the presidency (he was defeated by John Adams the first time he ran), he remained bitter toward anyone and everyone who had supported Adams four years earlier. Mary Todd Lincoln, who was a big fan of seances, claimed that she heard Jackson stomping and cursing in the corridors of the White House. Although some of this could be chalked up to her interest in the occult, Jackson's bedchamber is widely considered to be the most haunted room in the White House.
- The most commonly spotted former president (in ghostly form, of course) is Abraham Lincoln. Grace Coolidge claimed to have seen his ghost, while Lady Bird Johnson reported "feeling his presence" while watching a TV show about the former president. However, it was during Franklin D. Roosevelt's term that sightings of Lincoln's ghost skyrocketed — Eleanor Roosevelt said she felt his presence while working in his former study, and guests, including Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, claimed to have seen Lincoln's ghost. There's an interesting explanation of why Lincoln is the White House's most prolific ghost — some psychics believe that Lincoln's ghost turns up to aid in times of crisis, as well as to try to complete the work that his early death left unfinished.
2. Alcatraz Island
This popular tourist destination has an eerie past: Located on an isolated island in the San Francisco Bay, America long sent its most dangerous criminals to this prison. Although some men unsuccessfully attempted to escape (and drowned in the process), there was no shortage of violence or bloodshed within Alcatraz's walls — suicides and murders were common occurrences. Some of the prisoners' ghosts still roam the halls of the closed-down prison — Cell 14D, a solitary confinement cell where a prisoner died under extremely mysterious circumstances, is considered to be an especially haunted area of the prison.
If you take a tour of Alcatraz next time you're in the Bay Area, be on the lookout for Al "Scarface" Capone. Rumor has it the infamous inmate became paranoid that his fellow prisoners were trying to kill him, and requested to skip the prisoners’ weekly recreation period in favor of playing his banjo in the prison's shower room. Today, multiple staff members report hearing the sounds of a banjo coming from the very same room where Capone played his instrument.
3. The Hollywood Sign
Hollywood is not known for being especially kind to aspiring movie stars — and in 1932, one young actress named Peg Entwistle, supposedly despondent over her career prospects, jumped 45 feet from the Hollywood Sign's "H," plunging to her death and providing an example for anyone who wants to talk about how cruel the film industry can be to actors. But ironically, in death, Entwistle actually did become a Hollywood icon — according to Vanity Fair, joggers on the Griffith Trails have reported sightings of Entwistle's ghost. The reports of the actress haunting the landmark date back to 1940, when the "H" toppled over; some speculated that Entwsitle's ghost was involved. Other witnesses have reported seeing the apparition of a disoriented blonde woman, and these sightings are often accompanied by the inexplicable aroma of gardenias — Entwistle's favorite perfume scent.
4. The Gettysburg Battlefield
Gettysburg is the home of the historic battle in which the Union army defeated the Confederates, leaving nearly 50,000 men (and 5,000 of their horses) dead on the battlefield. A large number of Confederate soldiers never received proper burials, and their spirits reportedly haunt Gettysburg to this day. A number of areas in the town of Gettysburg are reportedly haunted, such as Daniel Lady Farm, which was used as a hospital for wounded and dying Confederate soldiers; similarly, paranormal investigators claim that the ghost of Union soldier James Culbertson is a frequent visitor to the Gettysburg Hotel, along with a mysterious female apparition who has been spotted dancing in the ballroom. A 90-minute "Ghost Train" tour takes visitors across the battlefield itself — staffers and visitors claim to have seen the souls of soldiers near the tracks, accompanied by the smell of cigar smoke.
5. The Empire State Building
One of New York City's most famous landmarks, the Empire State Building was constructed in 1931 — at 102 stories, it remains one of the tallest buildings in the city. The beautiful art deco structure boasts amazing views, but it has an eerie past: Since the building's construction, at least 14 people have died by suicide or attempted to jump from the observation deck. In 1947, five people died by suicide within a three-week span, prompting the construction of a fence around the observatory's terrace.
Visitors have reported seeing a number of spirits on the observation deck; but the Empire State Building's most famous ghost is Evelyn. Dressed in 1940s-style apparel, Evelyn been spotted pacing the 86th-floor Observation Deck in visible distress before rushing through the safety fence and jumping. It is believed this is the ghost of Evelyn McHale, a woman who jumped from the building after losing her husband in World War II.
If you can't book a trip to New York or Los Angeles in time for Halloween, be sure to keep these sites in mind when you're planning your next vacation. You just may return home with fantastic memories of amazing landmarks — and a story of seeing a ghost.