A field guide to visiting the locations of real ghost stories
Real ghost stories and the places that inspired them are scattered around the world. Surprisingly, you can visit many of them, and sleep, dine or drink in countless. Almost any destination has its share of tales. I make it my work to explore both, the stories and the destination.
My name is Todd Atteberry, and I’m at various times a writer, artist, photographer, musician – in other words, barely employable. I’ve wandered somewhat extensively the eastern half of these United States, as well as Ireland and England, looking for history and haunts.
On occasion I have witnessed the supernatural on my travels. I’ve heard the laughter of a niece of Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, who has been dead nearly two centuries. In fact, I’ve seen the specter of a full garbed Revolutionary War soldier twice in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. I was locked out of Jerusha Howe’s bedroom in Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Massachusetts, the hook thrown on the door from the inside of an empty room. I’ve seen the white lady in the George and Pilgrim Hotel in Glastonbury, in Great Britain. And I swear I was set upon by a host of ghosts in the Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Those however, are exceptions. When visiting the sites of real ghost stories, the best you should hope for is a mood, a setting that quickens the pulse and brings your senses to life. Best of all are the times and places where the present disappear and you feel yourself beginning to time travel.
A place with a gothic mood, steeped in the past will go a long ways towards creating those feelings, and also makes for an interesting place to have drinks or dinner, or to spend the night. If you don’t mind sharing your bed with ghosts.
Real ghost stories run in the family
My own search for real ghost stories began in my family home, long ago.
October of 2018 and I was in the kitchen of the family home. I’d lived here taking care of my parents for nearly a decade. Mom had died. Dad was in a nursing home. I was about to shut off the light and go to another part of the house when I got a whiff of dad’s cologne.
It wasn’t wafting through the room. It wasn’t subtle, as his cologne was never subtle. There’s something about an Aqua Velva Man. Foul smelling stuff but that’s what he liked, strong and manly.
I chalked it up to my imagination, but the scent held on. I said aloud to the silent house, “dad must have just died, and laughed at myself. Those with a gothic disposition are prone to making superstitious statements like that, and I felt kind of stupid for falling into the same trap.
I came upstairs and sat down at my desk and started to work when the phone rang … it was the nursing home. “Come right away.”
That wasn’t the first real ghost story in this house for me. They started before I was five. Not disembodied scents, lights switching on and off, footsteps or any of the smaller pantheon of ghostly occurrence, though those all came later. The first time was a full bodied apparition, and it wouldn’t be the last time I saw it here.
My parents told me it was my imagination, so I spent most of my childhood believing I was crazy. People who believed in such things are crazy, right?
Then when I was in my thirties I told my mother that and she laughed. Turns out she’d seen it too, as had her mother. My dad wouldn’t talk about what he saw, but he was afraid of the house. I thought the spirits in this house had finally found peace while I lived elsewhere for over thirty years. But over the past couple years I’ve come home to find two house guests, sitting on my porch at night, having chose not to stay in the house alone after disturbing occurrences.
And those are the just the people who will talk about it. So it’s safe to say, growing up in this house and coming back to it, I come by this shit naturally. I didn’t have to look far for real ghost stories.
Real science versus real ghost stories, who comes out on top?
So the first question to decide if real ghost stories are in fact real, is are there really ghosts? Having run across them in a number of locations, a number of times, you’ll never convince me otherwise. What are they? Beats the hell out of me.
It’s arrogance to say they don’t exist. There is too much evidence, stretching back far too may years, across too many cultures and civilizations to say with any degree of certainty that nothing is there. Or that it’s simply our imagination, our just awakened mind experiencing half dreams.
On the other hand, it’s also arrogant to state with certainty what they are and the rules of how they operate. If anyone actually knew that shit, it would be easy to prove they exist?
Science can’t prove it because of its own limitations. A scientist has to look at evidence and apply it to what we know of the rules of nature. The same for the historian, the archaeologist. They can only speak on what they can back up with sound evidence. That causes egos to get in the way and when that happens, people start speaking loudly and with certainty over things they know nothing about.
Science gets things wrong all the time. On The Origin of Species is filled with inaccuracies, even if the basic theory is somewhat sound. These people with initials behind their names are only qualified to speak on the existence of things they understand and are within their realm. No one knows the laws of the supernatural, so no one can explain it, nor offer evidence that any scientist could accept as truth. It’s not in their DNA.
The favorite setting for real ghost stories? The haunted house
Growing up in this house gave me some good insights on haunted houses. The modern version of TV paranormal investigators are somewhat laughable. The house I live in is as haunted as most any I’ve heard of, that didn’t have money or TV ratings involved. I could list between 15 and 20 unexplained occurrances, but those stretch over 25 years. What are the odds that a team of investigators is going to hit the house on the right night to experience an encounter?
When other kids were reading books on their favorite baseball players, I was studying the haunted houses of the past. It was the golden age of haunted house films, and I saw far too many of those for being that young. That led me to gothic literature, because let’s face it, ghosts are the realm of the storyteller, not the scientist.
The question “are ghosts real” is answered by each individual based on personal experience and more often than not, a feeling. A good storyteller, author, filmmaker, even innkeeper can make you believe, even if just for a few moments. That’s usually enough to open the door in your mind just a crack, to let in possibilities.
Because what is a haunted house but a house of possibilities? It’s a place where all is not as it seems, where invisible hands move freely, and sometimes you see the results of those hands. Sometimes you feel their cold touch on the back of your neck. You don’t come away from the experience like the survivors of an investigation into Hill House, or Hell House with a firm belief in what you experienced. The haunted house raises more questions than answers.
Why do you find real ghost stories concentrated in towns and districts?
There are those who claim entire towns or parts of towns to be haunted. There is likely some truth in that.
Like any other experience, the longer people inhabit a place, the more likely it is that something will occur, and this is true for the supernatural as well. It’s no accident that towns thought to be among the most haunted are our older towns, where more people have lived, and died. Plymouth, Mass., one of the oldest towns in the U.S. is thought by many to have more than its share of hauntings. Four centuries of life will do that to a place. But what many people don’t realize is that Plymouth was build on the site of a native American village, wiped out by plague. When the Pilgrims started building their town, the landscape was already littered with skulls and bones. There were real ghost stories in Plymouth before European settlers ever got here.
A bit north of Plymouth is Salem, infamous for the witch trials. It’s generally assumed the tales of witches were all horrifyingly false, but it has a reputation of being a haunted city, with real ghost stories to be found in a number of its ancient houses. Could it be ancestral guilt leaving a stain on the civic psyche? Or could it be that people expect it to be haunted, and so their imaginations make it so?
Awakening one night in the Salem Inn to the sound of moaning had me convinced the stories about the place were true. Had the wind not continued to periodically shoot down the chimney and produce the sound again, I’d still believe what I felt the instant I woke up, rather than the dawning realization that there was a natural explanation for my experience. That doesn’t discount all those who have had other experiences in the Salem Inn. It just shows me that it’s easy be deceived, particularly when you want to be.
Are any real ghost stories true?
It’s easy to be deceived because for some of us, we want to believe. We need to think there’s more to this world than meets the eye, than can be explained by science and math. We want to believe in something more human, that consciousness gives us something special.
You frequently hear that ghosts are spirits who aren’t at peace. But who is to say that those we don’t hear from are at peace? Who is to say the old tales of Hades or Hell aren’t true, and ghosts are merely those fighting to keep away from that boat across the river Styx, ferried across by Charon? When your favorite paranormal researcher on television tries to send away the ghost, who is to say they aren’t being sent to eternal damnation?
The truth behind real ghost stories isn’t easily told. Because those who know aren’t of this earth to tell their tale.
Ghosts are a physical, sometimes visible proof that that life does not end with death, and that can be a comforting thought for many. But in reality everything we know about them is just conjecture. They’re a blank canvas for our imagination, a portal to some of our deepest and most crucial thoughts and beliefs.
Perhaps wondering whether consciousness exists beyond death makes a person think more about consciousness during their lifetime, then whatever they are, ghosts have a valuable purpose.
The best in haunted travel tips
To hell with Holiday Inn and Applebees. These haunted hotels, bed and breakfasts, inns and pubs ooze character and are often a better value than the chains. This isn’t paranormal investigation. It’s where to go to feel the kind of atmosphere where you can believe anything can happen at any moment. And get a pint and a great bacon cheeseburger in the process. Pick a category below, or browse by region and start exploring the macabre side of travel.
The haunted house is the bedrock of gothic horror. Luckily, historic homes that are open to the public often have their own ghosts. With others you can be content standing outside in the dark of night, peering up at the darkened upstairs corner window. Public buildings of the past aren’t without their own charms, and quite often their own spirits.
So you want to sleep with the spirits? Looking for a room with its own ghost? The bogeyman under the bed? What hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts give the most chills for the buck? Wanna sleep like the dead? Haunted accommodations can be found here …
I like spirits of all sorts, and luckily there is a plethora of haunted pubs, inns and restaurants where you can indulge in both. Whether you’re looking for top shelf spirits, or you’re more of a fish and chips and pint type of traveler, you’ll find a bit of both in here.
“Out, out, brief candle,” were the words put into the mouth of Lady Macbeth when she spoke on death. Death is the ultimate misery, the ultimate curiosity and it’s something we all face. Some run, some embrace the thought. You find us loitering in cemeteries on moonlit nights. These are places where death has stained the landscape black.
Some towns and cities are more haunted than others. From the free for all weirdness of Salem, to the genteel southern charm of the ghosts of Charleston, South Carolina, a spooky town can keep you entertained for days. Herein is a guide to some of the creepier towns, villages and cities that make for curious destinations.
We needn’t always wander alone in search of chills. From the over the top, ghastly thrills of Horseman’s Hollow, to the more traditional Legend of Sleepy Hollow recanted in the very same Old Dutch Church, to the horrors of our fellow man in Cry Innocent in Salem, there are plenty of opportunities to sit back and be entertained. Or if you’re feeling energetic, how about a ghost walk?