Real Haunted Houses That Will Make You Sleep With the Lights On
Though only 37% of Americans believe in real haunted houses, the concept of the haunted house is so firmly woven into our modern mythology that even non-believers are susceptible to at least a few raised hairs at the thought. The haunted house is often a focal point of American horror films and staged haunted houses blossom up like poisonous flowers all over the U.S. during the month of October. But real haunted houses are different animals altogether. Carson Mansion in Eureka, California serves as the quintessential template for the American haunted house, at least as far as the exterior is concerned. But it’s what’s on the inside that separates a house that’s simply creepy from a sincerely haunted house. Today, we take a look at 5 real haunted houses that stand on U.S. soil, having scared Americans for generations.
The Lemp Mansion: Booze and Boos
History: If Wes Anderson were to direct a haunted house movie, it would be about the Lemp Mansion. The blocky Lemp Mansion of St. Louis, Missouri played host to a history marked by a myriad of eccentric characters who all left their impressions on the estate, earning it a place among the most colorful of real haunted houses. Patriarch and entrepreneur Adam Lemp made millionaires of his family by introducing light German lager to an American market in the mid-1800s. The unexpected death of his favorite son, Frederick, took an irreparable toll on the tycoon, leading to his eventual suicide. This would be the first of 4 suicides that marred the Lemp family history.
His son, William, Jr., celebrated his lavish lifestyle, marrying the gorgeous Lillian Hadlen whose obsession with the color lavender found her wearing the color exclusively, even demanding that her horses’ bridles be dyed lavender. However, William, Jr. was unfaithful, siring an illegitimate child born with Down’s syndrome. While no record of the boy exists, several accounts confirm that an ashamed William, Jr. confined an illegitimate child to the attic of Lemp Mansion until the unfortunate soul’s death at age 30. William, Jr., feeling stifled by his lavender-clad wife, filed for divorce. The proceedings found Lillian break her strict uniform of lavender for an all-black ensemble. Years followed of declining sales and the vicious grip of alcohol prohibition, finally resulting in William, Jr. selling off brewery assets well under value. He slipped into a deep depression and, like his father and sister before him, shot himself.
The fourth suicide was committed by William, Jr.’s germophobe brother, Charles. Charles had been residing in Lemp Mansion with two servants and William, Jr.’s attic-confined secret son. Shortly following the attic-bound son’s death and unceremonious burial on the estate’s lawn, Charles shot his dog in the basement of Lemp Mansion, then took his own life on the second floor.
Haunting: The amount of witnesses to the events following the tragedies of the Lemp family earns Lemp Mansion credence among those seeking real haunted houses for investigation. That’s not to say the Lemp Mansion is free from cliché haunting fare such as apparitional rapping in the night, unsettling sounds, and creaking footsteps. However, a constant air of otherworldly voyeurism hangs so heavy in the air that renovators would leave their jobs, never to return.
Today, the Lemp Mansion has been converted into a bed-and-breakfast with a dinner theater. Staff and patrons alike have witnessed glasses plucked from the bar as if by their own volition. A peeping ghost is said to peer lasciviously over the shower curtain of the women’s bathroom in the mansion’s lower level. Many speculate that this is William, Lemp, Jr. himself, looking to commit another indiscretion.
Others have seen the sullen face of his shunned illegitimate child cautiously watching from the attic window. Paranormal investigators have left toys in the attic only to find them moved the next day. His ghost has been ignorantly referred to as “the Monkey Face Boy” by those who have encountered him.
The most haunted area of the Lemp Mansion is said to be the point where the basement connects with the limestone caves that Adam Lemp used for additional brewing space. These caves were said to be a clandestine meeting place where William, Jr. would gallivant with prostitutes, safe from the eyes of his wife. These caves were also most likely be the place where William, Jr.’s illegitimate son was conceived.
LaLaurie House: Socialite Serial Killer
History: Since real haunted houses seem to be fueled by dramatic events of great tragedy and violence, it’s no wonder that the LaLaurie House of New Orleans, Louisiana is considered such a fertile ground for restless spirits. While the historical events surrounding the lavish home were highly sensationalized in the third season of televised anthology series American Horror Story, the truth about the horrors committed by Marie Delphine LaLaurie are no less obscene. LaLaurie had an extreme Jekyll-and-Hyde psychosis, presenting her enviable socialite face to society and the diseased grimace of a predatory serial killer behind the barred iron door of her attic. It’s here that she committed inhuman aberrations on her slaves, slowly and graphically snuffing their lives out with methods that transcended cruelty.
Officials responded to a fire at the LaLaurie House in 1834 to discover the home’s cook shackled to the stove. The elderly woman admitted that the fire had been purposely set as a suicidal attempt to escape punishment from LaLaurie. Slaves in the house recognized that a trip to the attic was one way. Despite the protests of the LaLaurie family, concerned citizens and officials stormed the blazing home in an effort to save slaves from the fire.
Accounts differ of what exactly the people found in LaLaurie’s secret attic chamber. At the least, slaves were bound, naked, emaciated, and severely beaten with extremities stretched and broken. Others claim that bodies were hanging from chains, entrails tied around their waists while organs were scattered haphazardly about the scene. One nauseating account details a slave with a hole drilled in his head and a stirring stick violently inserted into the wound. Yet, even at their tamest, the reports of the horrific scene are off the charts of brutality.
The people of New Orleans obviously concurred as they formed a lynch mob, storming the LaLaurie House demanding that the once-admired socialite be brought to justice. However, her carriage plunged through the crowd and the LaLaurie family were presumed to have fled to France. Human remains were found buried in shallow graves on the property including those of a young girl. The home has been occupied by several tenants since the grotesque residence of the LaLaurie family. In addition to a home, the property has served as schools varying in degrees of scandal, a novelty bar, apartments, and a furniture store. The LaLaurie house was even recently owned by Nicolas Cage.
Haunting: Almost immediately following the vacancy of the LaLaurie family, horrific screams of agony were heard to echo from the home by passers-by. In the 1890s, during a period when the LaLaurie House was being used as an apartment building, a resident insisted he was accosted by a nude African American man in chains before the assailant suddenly disappeared. The ghost of a woman in luxurious clothing was witnessed fawning over the sleeping baby by the child’s distressed mother. Children have reported being pursued by a whip-wielding specter while other residents have observed apparitions of animals being violently slaughtered.
In the 1900s, when the residence was converted to a furniture store, the business’s owner assumed he was being targeted by vandals when he discovered an odious black liquid staining his furniture. Taking action into his own hands, he remained at the shop after closing, shotgun in hand. Though no one entered the building, the new furniture was soiled by the repulsive liquid yet again. Currently, the LaLaurie House is used for luxury apartments. Though it’s still considered the most notorious of the real haunted houses of New Orleans, paranormal activity seems to have ceased.
Whaley House: Why Not to Build a Home at an Execution Site
History: As far as real haunted houses go, the Whaley House of San Diego, California may be the ultimate in authenticity, often dubbed the most haunted house in America. Significant events occurred on the property even before the home was constructed since the grounds were used for hanging convicted criminals. Despite having attended public executions at the site, Thomas Whaley believed it was an ideal place to make a home. He erected the Whaley House a mere 4 years after watching the brutal hanging execution of James Robinson, better known as Yankee Jim. Yankee Jim was found guilty and put to death for attempting to steal a boat. While life in the Whaley House was largely mundane, a joint wedding for Whaley’s daughters ended in tragedy when the new husband of Violet Whaley left her during their honeymoon after it became clear he had wed her for money. Humiliated and heartbroken, Violet eventually shot herself.
Haunting: The Whaleys themselves expressed a belief that they were being haunted by the ghost of Yankee Jim. The lumbering footsteps of a large man were often heard thundering throughout the home. Even modern visitors to the Whaley House have claimed to hear Yankee Jim’s uproarious laughter resonating through the house. Others have seen his gigantic figure striding through the corridor, further characterized by unkempt blonde hair.
Noted TV personality Regis Philbin claims to have met the spirit of Anna Whaley while filming in Whaley House, lending further credence to the homes esteemed place amongst real haunted houses. Philbin claimed to see a gossamer spectral form floating before a portrait of Anna Whaley. Since several members of the Whaley family have been seen by visitors of the house, it’s speculated that the Whaleys remain rooted to the home because of Violet’s tragic suicide. Guests have even noted visions of a speckled dog bounding through the corridors to the dining room, an impression reminiscent of the Whaleys’ fox terrier, Dolly Varden.
Joshua Ward House: Police Brutality Goes Spectral
History: The Joshua Ward mansion is oft-cited among notable real haunted houses, largely in part to a history steeped in uncompromising sadism. Like Thomas Whaley, Joshua Ward constructed his home on a site that had been commonly used for executions. Unlike the Whaley House, the ghosts of the Joshua Ward House aren’t necessarily docile. Before Salem, Massachusetts’ Joshua Ward House was hosting the likes of George Washington, the grounds it stood on were used by the notorious Sheriff George Corwin for jailing, torturing, and eventually executing those accused of witchcraft. Corwin was said to enjoy his work, devising cruelly primitive means to force confessions such as piling rocks onto a defendant until s/he was crushed.
Haunting: Unlike most estates considered to be real haunted houses, the Joshua Ward House has actually turned up some fairly disturbing physical evidence. In the early 1980s, a Polaroid snapped for a realtor caught an image that unmistakably resembles the cloaked distorted apparition of a woman. Theories point to this being the ghost of a woman accused of witchcraft and subsequently executed by Sheriff Corwin. Over the years, witnesses claim to have seen a similar specter roving about the corridors of the manor.
Poltergeist behavior such as overturned items, melted candles, and books shooting from shelves have been attributed to Giles Corey, a man tried for being a warlock who did not survive Sheriff Corwin’s methods of interrogation. Corwin himself is said to stalk the passages of the Joshua Ward House with a string of spectral strangling incidents reported in the ‘80s. The recurring apparition of a man seated in a rocking chair also draws parallels in appearance to Corwin.
Winchester Mansion: The Strangest of the Real Haunted Houses of America
History: Located on 6 sprawling acres of land in San Jose, California, Winchester Mansion may not boast the number of documented paranormal events as other structures deemed real haunted houses. However, Winchester Mansion holds its own among the most haunted places in America with the sheer bizarreness of its history. Following the devastating deaths of her daughter and husband, Sarah Winchester employed the services of a medium on the urging of a friend. At this point, Winchester was a millionaire, having inherited over $20 million from her husband, William Winchester, who revolutionized armed combat in the Civil War with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Sarah Winchester also received 48.9% of the company, leaving her vastly wealthy but ultimately shattered by the loss of her family. Her meeting with the medium proved to be life-changing. After perfectly describing the appearance of Winchester’s deceased husband, the medium proceeded to explain that the family had fallen under a curse resulting in the death of Winchester’s husband and sole child. The furious spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles were said to be pursuing the Winchester family. However, the medium comforted Winchester with a solution: move to California and build a house so bizarre and confusing that the spirits will have no choice but to relent.
Surprisingly, Winchester gripped this cartoonish solution with deep faith. She relocated to California and, upon locating a 6-room home in the midst of construction, began a 36-year stream-of-conscious home improvement project. While Winchester seemed to have a knack for drafting plans, the results were intentionally confounding. Staircases climbed to nowhere in particular, doors opened to dangerous falls to the lawn far below, and a labyrinth of corridors and rooms built upon rooms was haphazardly constructed. No endgame was ever in sight as Winchester would consult with the spirits nightly and meet her foreman every morning with her latest ideas. It’s said that the labyrinth brought her comfort that the spiteful spirits would never find her. At times, she approached construction of the Winchester Mansion with a strange sense of meticulousness. She tried to use the number “13” whenever possible with windows presenting 13 panes, floors consisting of 13 planks, and walls consisting of 13 panels.
However, many of her designs were dashed to pieces when the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake sent the top 3 levels of the Winchester Mansion spilling into the estate’s gardens. Viewing the earthquake as an admonishing threat from the spirit world, Winchester boarded up portions of the mansion, hoping to trap malignant spirits who had been caught unaware by the earthquake. She furiously drafted plans for chimneys, though these were superfluous to the home’s 47 chimneys already in place. These new chimneys served no purpose at first glance, though some speculate their addition was inspired by a belief that spirits could easily exit through them. Construction on the Winchester Mansion finally ceased when Winchester died in her sleep in the early 1920s.
Haunting: Most of the intrigue of the Winchester Mansion exists in the construction of the house itself, separating it from other real haunted houses famed for their paranormal events. However, the Winchester Mansion is not devoid of reported hauntings. Visitors have claimed to encounter the ghost of Sarah Winchester, now a part of the spirit kingdom she was trying to confound. The same milieu of haunted clichés abound as well, with cold spots, strange voices, banging doors, and footsteps peppering the labyrinthine structure. At times, windows have been known to shatter as if of their own accord.
The concept of real haunted houses is often dismissed with theories of psychological herd-following, sleepwalking hallucinations, and even chemical interference attributed to the houses themselves. Yet, the naysayers are often as hard pressed to turn up evidence as the believers. In the end, anyone who believes that a place can have a certain feeling to it can understand both the allure of and the aversion to a haunted house.