Ghost stories are fun. Though folk tales and flatout fabrications abound, the best of them possess a kernel of historic truth that prompt us to ponder the lives of those who inhabited the world before we came along.

From Hollywood horror hotspots to dilapidated colonial settlements, here are the most haunted places in America. Fact or fiction, funny or frightening: you decide.

The White House, Washington D.C.

Home to every American President since 1800, the White House in Washington DC is a hub of paranormal activity. Indeed no spectre seems so active as President Abraham Lincoln. A frequent visitor to those who sleep in his former bedroom, Lincoln’s lively apparition has been spotted by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, and sent scores more running and screaming.

Even Winston Churchill swore that he saw the deceased President smiling by the bedroom’s fireplace. Having just risen from a hot bath, Churchill was naked during the encounter (save for a smouldering cigar), and refused to sleep in Lincoln’s old bedroom on all subsequent visits to the White House.

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The White House / Pixabay / CC0

112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York

Here, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family in 1974. One year later the the Lutz family moved in, suffered a bout of physical injuries caused by unseen forces, glowing red eyes, rotating crucifixes and general madness before moving out.

It’s upon these experiences which best-selling book, The Amityville Horror, and its eponymous Hollywood blockbuster are based. Though the story has been subject to scathing scepticism, some may be worried to know that the Lutz’s passed a polygraph interrogation about the hauntings.

Cape May, New Jersey

Sun on your skin, a warm ocean breeze and white sand between your toes – by day Cape May seems far from frightening. But the pleasures of America’s oldest seaside resort, established in 1620, are said to be enjoyed by both the living and the dead.

At night, the cheerfully-coloured Victorian mansions take on a spooky silhouette. Resident paranormal investigators lead ghost tours down dark streets lit by flickering gas lamps, telling grisly tales of the old wooden buildings now infamous for unearthly happenings. Conveniently, many of the most haunted estates have been converted into lovely inns and quaint B&Bs. Sweet dreams.

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Cape May / Pixabay / CC0

Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania

With the lives of nearly 8,000 civil war soldiers lost during the decisive Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, many visitors claim they can still hear the cannon fire and bloodcurdling screams of soldiers.

The deceased don’t seem limited to the battlefield either, with apparitions of ghostly horsemen roaming as far as Gettysburg College. Indeed, believers have sworn witness to entire battles raging throughout the area – soldiers stuck performing their final acts of patriotism like broken records on an eternal loop.

The RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

The Queen Mary served as an ocean liner, warship and swanky cruise ship before being converted into a proper luxury hotel, permanently docked at Long Beach in 1967. But the souls of passengers who died aboard the ship’s tumultuous past have reportedly remained – and these ghosts keep today’s guests rolling in.

Haunted highlights include the sounds of phantom children playing in an empty nursery, and the particularly rowdy spirit of a purser murdered in Cabin B340 (sadly, the cabin is no longer rented out due to the safety hazards of flying furniture).

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The Queen Mary by Chris Michaels on Flickr (license)

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky

More than 8,000 people perished behind the immense gothic façade of Waverly Hills, a hospital opened in 1910 to treat Kentucky’s tuberculosis epidemic. However, in 1962 the sanatorium was converted into a home for individuals with mental illness. This is when Waverly Hills earned its frightening reputation.

The facility turned rife with stories of suicide, medical mistreatment and grotesque experiments upon patients. In 1982 the state of Kentucky finally forced the centres closure due to “patient neglect”. This is easily one of the most haunted places in America – prime ghost hunting territory. But be warned, those who died here did not do so happily.

Overnight stays are a tour option for daring visitors, and mysterious orbs frequently appear in photographs of the Sanatorium’s dark, crumbling halls.

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Waverly Hills Sanatorium by Louisville Images on Flickr (license)

Jerome, Arizona

Once a buzzing mining town during the days of America’s Wild West, Jerome’s population plummeted from 10,000 to 100 when ore deposits ran out during the Great Depression. The spirits of past residents have remained however, with reports of sharp-shooting spectral cowboys and disembodied miners strolling the old cobblestones and checking into haunted hotspots like the Jerome Grand Hotel.

Today, the veritable ghost town has been transformed into a vibrant artists’ community, with cheap rents and phenomenal views over Arizona’s Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim inspiring a new wave of residents to establish art galleries, cafes and wineries.

The Stanley Hotel, Colorado

Ever woken up at night to find your blankets stripped off and folded neatly at the foot of your bed, or played billiards with an invisible opponent?

These are the types of phantasmal encounters that turned the posh Stanley Hotel into an almost-abandoned spook house. However, a single serendipitous night in the hotel’s eerie atmosphere was enough to inspire author Stephen King horror classic, The Shining.

Now over a century old, The Stanley attracts a steady stream of visitors eager to partake in paranormal investigation tours, search out similarities between King’s novel and their lodgings, or just enjoy the stunning Rocky Mountain wilderness at The Stanley’s doorstep.
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The Stanley Hotel by wakedawg on Flickr (license)

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
cover image from: Pixabay / CC0