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Winchester Mystery House
Photograph: Courtesy Winchester Mystery House

The scariest real-life haunted houses in the USA

At these super-scary haunted houses in the USA, get ready for ghost stories and sightings, too

Written by
Tolly Wright
,
Selena Fragassi
,
Sarah Medina
&
Shoshi Parks
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Anyone can claim a house is haunted. But as more and more creepy occurrences pile up, it gets harder and harder to deny that some homes really are cursed. There are haunted houses in the USA with stories so gripping and gruesome (murders, suicides...sometimes both) they’ve inspired movies, countless documentaries, and serious cult status. 

From the country's most famous tales of death and mayhem (ahem, like the home of Lizze Borden, the little axe murderer from Massachusetts) to lesser known haunts across the country, these houses are wicked all the way from their peaked attics to their dark, dark basements.

RECOMMENDED: The creepiest ghost towns in the USA

While you can spend the night at a select few of these haunted houses, you can bank on spooky stays at a whole trove of haunted Airbnbs and haunted hotels if you’re keen to sleep with your eyes open. For other good scares, don't miss the many ghost tours that run both seasonally and throughout the year in haunted neighborhoods from Savannah to Seattle. But for now, especially with Halloween upon us, take a look at these haunted houses in the USA where ghosts allegedly go bump in the night.

Haunted houses

American Horror Story: Coven reignited interest in this famous French Quarter haunt. In the series, Kathy Bates plays Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a real-life socialite and serial killer who orchestrated a torture chamber for slaves at the Royal Street mansion from 1831 to 1834 (before responders to a fire uncovered her dark secret). LaLaurie's victims are said to haunt the property to this day—from the street, pedestrians have heard shouts, moans, and weeping, while some even claim to have seen ghostly faces in the upstairs windows. Even still, the house's ghastly history hasn't stopped wealthy buyers. Before losing the home to foreclosure in 2009, actor Nicolas Cage owned it, and today a wealthy oil tycoon is said to hold the deed

Beaufort's most recognizable antebellum mansion is also one of the South Carolina town's most haunted. Though construction began in the 1850s, the house was only partially finished when it was commandeered in 1861 as a Civil War military hospital. An outbuilding behind the house served as the hospital's morgue, and bodies are rumored to be interred on the home's extensive grounds. After the house finished construction following the war's end, supernatural sightings began; among the spirits occupying the property is Gauche, a French dwarf jester that came to the area in the 16th century. In the past, he reportedly joined a young girl who lived in the home for tea parties, and wandered the grounds in full sight of gardeners and visitors. If you want to see it for yourself, the Castle is privately owned but occasionally opens for tours and events.

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According to some, Lizzie Borden still laughs about getting away with murder. Late at night she can be heard cackling at the top of the stairs near the spot she gave her stepmother "forty whacks." But she's not the only spirit who haunts the scene of Borden’s 1892 crime: guests of the museum and B&B have encountered both of her axed parents stalking the grounds, as well as a maid screaming for help. If you’re dying to see the Lizzie Borden House, aim for the anniversary reenactments every August.

The city that never sleeps is probably just too afraid to close its eyes—the House of Death, a famous brownstone off Fifth Avenue, is reportedly terrorized by a whopping 22 ghosts. Are any of them paying rent? Unlikely. In any case, the most famous ghoul among them is none other than Mark Twain, who lived here from 1900-1901, while the most heartbreaking is the ghost of a six-year-old girl whose was beaten to death in 1987 by her father, criminal prosecutor Joel Steinberg. In addition to sightings of Twain and the young girl, residents claim to have seen visions of a lady in white and a gray cat.

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The "Unsinkable Molly Brown" was one of the only people to survive the Titanic, but she wasn't entirely unstoppable: she died in New York in 1932. It's said that Brown (along with her husband and mother) still haunts the prized Victorian home, now a museum, where she spent much of her adult life. Visitors say they’ve seen apparitions in the dining room, rearranged furniture, and similarly strange occurrences in the former room of Brown's child, Catherine, who died at a young age.

At one of the most haunted houses in America, the bad energy allegedly stems from a botched appendectomy—the girl who haunts the house died during a house call at the turn of the century. In the 1990s, a family who lived in the Sallie House documented their experience on the TV show Sightings, which spoke of flying objects, frequent apparitions, and a mix of scratching, gouging, and shoving (all mainly directed at the male owner). The home is now vacant but it’s a popular pick for paranormal researchers, and even regular folks can book the house to stay the night for about $100 per person.

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It's the age-old tale of neighbors at war: a woman named Kate Batts believed her neighbor, John Bell, cheated her out of some land. Lying on her deathbed in the early 19th century, she swore she would haunt him forever. The result was mayhem for the Bell family, which said they experienced physical attacks and heard chains dragged across floors and noises in the walls. They even claimed to see odd-looking animals on their farm, like a dog with a rabbit's head. Although the property's cave and reconstructed cabin are temporarily closed, they can sometimes be toured, a particularly popular activity during the annual Bell Witch Festival.

8. Snedeker House | Southington, CT

When the Snedeker family lived here in the 1980s, the drama they experienced in this haunted house (and former funeral home) was so crazy it ended up inspiring a popular horror flick called The Haunting in Connecticut. During a two-year span, the Snedeker parents claimed to have been physically assaulted and sodomized by demonic spirits, and said their son Philip was often visited by a creepy man with long black hair.

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All the beer in the world won't lead to happiness. So is the case with the Lemp family, purveyors of Lemp Brewing Company, a stalwart in St. Louis before prohibition hit. Four members of the family killed themselves between 1904 and 1949, three of them inside the 33-room Victorian mansion where they allegedly still reside and haunt guests. It has since been turned into a restaurant and inn where you can spend the night and even partake in a ghost tour—just go a little easy on the beer during your stay, okay?

This brick mansion, built in 1784 for prominent merchant Joshua Ward in 1784, is the exact site where Sherriff George Corwin (a major figure in the Salem Witch Trials) lived, died, and was buried in 1697. Corwin was known as "the strangler" for the 19 men and women executed for witchcraft under his watch. He is said to still creep around the grounds, with some visitors claiming they have been "choked" by him (old habits die hard, after all). But apparently, Corwin isn’t alone: one of his victims was famously captured in all her disheveled glory by a realtor taking photos of the property. Is it photoshop, or is it poltergeist? We’ll let you decide.

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Sarah Winchester's husband developed the "gun that won the West," but it came back and hit her in the butt. After losing her husband and young daughter, the widow consulted a spiritualist who alleged the family was being haunted by Native Americans, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by her husband’s famous rifle. It was recommended that Winchester move west and use her $20 million inheritance to continuously build a home to appease the spirits. What was erected between 1884 and 1922—now known as the Winchester Mystery House—was a sprawling 160-room mansion with haphazard architecture that leads touring guests to nowhere.

A total of 11 reported spirits (from passengers of a shipwrecked ferry to a former slave) are known to haunt the grounds of this Southern plantation. Of course, the most prominent ghost is said to be Grace Sherwood, a woman who was accused of witchcraft in the 1700s and was tried by ducking. These days, when you visit the historic house-museum to admire the Federal-style architecture, listen carefully: you might hear Grace yelling at Tobias, her dead dog.

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The waiters at this inn won't be the only ones dressed up in Civil War-era clothes—keep an eye out for long-dead Confederate soldiers clad in similar outfits. During the Battle of Gettysburg, many of the South's soldiers died while hiding in this home, which explains the one-hundred-plus bullet pocks in the brick walls. After the fighting in the area was over, the house became a hospital for soldiers. You can learn about the weird supernatural occurrences that continue to take place on the property by booking a ghost tour or an overnight stay.

On June 10, 1912, Josiah and Sarah Moore, along with their four children and two visiting guests, were bludgeoned to death inside this quiet Iowa home. The crime remains unsolved and much of the house is still preserved exactly as it was on that fateful night. The property doesn't have any running water or electricity, which provides that special ‘ambiance’ for the many who have shelled out over $400 to stay the night. But visit the Villisca Axe Murder House at your own risk: in 2014, a paranormal investigator who booked a room wound up stabbing himself by morning.

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15. Franklin Castle | Cleveland, OH

On Cleveland's Franklin Boulevard, locals still whisper rumors about the original owner of the 20-plus-room, 19th-century dwelling. In just a few short years in the 1890s, the mansion became the place of death for four of Hannes Tiedemann's adolescent children and also his wife. Though Tiedemann was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, today some people claim he hung his 13-year-old illegitimate daughter and made it appear like a suicide, and killed his mistress in a secret passage. Known as "the most haunted house in Ohio," the castle is rumored to have been visited by ghosts ever since.

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