The mystery of ghosts, hauntings and paranormal activity has captivated imaginations to the point of obsession. Attractions and destinations will use any distressing legend — large or small — as a way to lure visitors.
America’s incredibly diverse history contributes to its unique haunted history. Not many other nations can boast tales ranging from Creole heritage to Puritan customs. As the ghost tour industry booms in small towns, mid-size cities and large metropolitan areas alike, the nation’s notoriously haunted cities still rank as some of the top places to visit to feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
New Orleans, Louisiana
From a famous Voodoo Queen to the yellow fever epidemic in the late 19th century, groups can get both ghosts and history with a tour to some of the most interesting sites in America’s most haunted city.
“Whether it’s the cuisine, the music or the architecture, New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the world thanks to the contributions made by the people who built it,” said Thu Tran, tourism account executive at New Orleans & Company. “Many cultures including French, Spanish, African and Caribbean have combined to create modern multicultural New Orleans.
“The best way to explore infamous haunted sites and hear chilling stories of New Orleans’ past is on a guided walking tour,” Tran said. “Several companies offer paranormal or educational tours, including Haunted History Tours and Gray Line New Orleans.”
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum considers the history of health care in Louisiana. The museum is said to be haunted by Louis J. Dufilho, the first licensed pharmacist in the United States whose apothecary is located on the same spot.
Make sure to stop at Bourbon Orleans Hotel, where many spirits are said to reside, like a lonely ghost dancing beneath the Orleans Ballroom’s crystal chandelier or ghost children in the hallways, most likely from when the site functioned as an orphanage during the yellow fever epidemic.
While currently closed for tours until further notice, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is a popular spot for group tours. This City of the Dead is said to be haunted by hundreds of ghosts — most notably by the infamous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.
Voodoo was brought to New Orleans by enslaved West Africans and mixed with Catholic rituals — creating a distinct religion still prominent in modern culture.
Groups can dive into the history of Voodoo at the Historic Voodoo Museum with a self-guided tour. Local Voodoo shops allow groups to bring related items home or even receive a personal reading.
Other notable haunted sites worth stopping by are LaLaurie Mansion, Muriel’s Jackson Square and Hotel Monteleone.
New Orleans & Company
The Windy City is known not only as a bustling, culturally significant metropolis, but also for its interesting — and sometimes twisted — history.
As the hunting grounds for America’s first serial killer, groups will know they are in for stories of ghosts, murder, gangsters and much more.
Ghost Hauntings — offering private group options — is Chicago’s only ghost tour company that operates bus tours as well as walking tours.
The Original Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tour itinerary includes spots like the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the site of Fort Dearborn and Hull House — which served as an inspiration for Rosemary’s Baby.
Named for Erik Larson’s novel, the Devil in the White City Tour takes visitors to the places made famous by the author. See where the Great Chicago Fire began, the former 1893 World’s Fairgrounds and the “murder castle” of H.H. Holmes, deemed “America’s First Serial Killer.”
Another group-friendly ghost tour company is Windy City Ghosts, centralizing most of the stops in Lincoln Park.
Hear stories of paranormal encounters at Lincoln Park Zoo, originally the site of a cemetery. Today, over 12,000 bodies are still buried there.
The list could go on of haunted sites and spooky places to visit in Chicago: the Drake Hotel, Chicago Water Tower, Congress Plaza Hotel, the site of the Eastland River Disaster and many others. No matter, Chicago’s vast haunted history is not only a testament to the city’s size but its diverse story.
Portland is known for being an offbeat city, with unique experiences that are proudly celebrated — including its haunted history.
“In Portland, being labeled quirky is a compliment. Locals embrace and celebrate the city’s unique character, including the haunted stories of past Oregon pioneers and loggers,” said Jackie Hagan, domestic media relations manager at Travel Portland.
A number of tours in the city offer insights to Portland’s most haunted places.
While currently suspended until further notice due to COVID-19, Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour offered by Portland Walking Tours will have groups feeling like they are apprentices to paranormal investigators.
“Groups can explore three haunted locations — including the infamous Merchant Hotel — using electromagnetic field meters and other ghost-detecting gear,” Hagan said.
In addition, groups will learn about the Shanghai Tunnels and the notorious practice of “shanghaiing” during Portland’s industrial peak.
Want to enjoy Portland’s brewery scene too? The Haunted Pub Crawl from BeerQuest Walking Tours allows groups to quench their thirst with delicious beers while venturing through 19th-century buildings in Old Town Portland — said to be full of ghosts.
Beginning at Kells Irish Restaurant and Pub, groups will listen to ghost stories while visiting 1900s saloons, sites of opium smuggling operations and more.
Other notable sites to stop by include The McMenamins White Eagle Saloon, Lone Fir Cemetery and Old Town Pizza (downtown location temporarily closed).
If wanting to bring a souvenir of Portland home, make sure to stop at one of Paxton Gate’s two locations. While not solely dedicated to ghostly paraphernalia, the shop emanates Portland’s quirky and mysterious energy with ethically sourced insects and bones from around the world.
“A visit there feels like visiting the home of an eccentric Victorian naturalist,” Hagan said.
Hagan reminds group tour operators to familiarize themselves with business, local and statewide COVID-19 safety guidelines prior to making a trip.
From the Charter Street Cemetery to the site of where Rebecca Nurse’s apple orchard once stood, Salem is notorious for its history of the Salem Witch Trials.
Several ghost tours offered by local walking tour companies take groups to historical sites with infamous and harrowing tales.
“These sites include the location of the Old Salem Gaol (jail) where some of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials were held and the former Lyceum Hall, which stands where Trials victim Rebecca Nurse’s apple orchard once stood,” said Kate Fox, executive director at Destination Salem.
While walking tours are currently capped at 10 people statewide, a number of ghost tours will accommodate these small groups, including Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour and Salem Night Tour. Groups will listen to the history — and legends — surrounding sites like the Salem Witch House (Jonathon Corwin House), The House of The Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace, Historic Salem Jail and many others.
“Some locations may be haunted, and some may have salacious stories that make you think they should be haunted, and it’s up to the visitor to come to their own conclusions,” Fox said.
In 1982, Salem put on its first Haunted Happenings — a three-day Halloween festival. Since its inception, Haunted Happenings has grown to span the whole month of October and has included psychic fairs, haunted harbor tours, parades and much more.
This year, as indoor and outdoor capacities are limited, many events will occur virtually or have been postponed. Fox suggests that attendants keep up to date with the event’s evolving schedule.
“2020 may not be your typical Haunted Happenings, but it will be in the next chapter in the history of Haunted Happenings,” Fox said. Other locations that are essential to a full experience of haunted and historic Salem include the 1692 Salem Witch Museum, Witch Dungeon Museum, Witch History Museum and Peabody Essex Museum — where the “The Salem Witch Trails 1692” exhibition is on view through April 4, 2021.