Countless American cities pride themselves on local ghost lore. Salem—the site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials—hosts an annual “Festival of the Dead” featuring haunted houses, ghost tours and psychic readings. And New Orleans is home to the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience, which melds together culture and mystery every Halloween.
Local ghost lore stirs excitement and drives tourism—but for many Americans, ghosts aren’t just fictional creatures invented for amusement. One in three Americans believe that ghosts exist—and around one in four Americans believes that they have seen a ghost, according to a recent poll. Perhaps more shocking, one in four Americans believes that they live in a haunted house. American port cities like New Orleans, Savannah and Portland report more than their fair share of paranormal activity—but some of the most haunted places in America may surprise you.
Paranormal activity statistics
- One in four Americans believes that they live in a haunted house. (House Beautiful)
- 44% of people suspected or knew that they were moving into a haunted house. (House Beautiful)
- 35% of people found erratic pet behavior to support the idea that their home was haunted. (House Beautiful)
- 34% of people say they would inform a buyer about paranormal activity before selling a property. (House Beautiful)
- 27% of people would only share information about paranormal activity in their home when asked by the buyer. (House Beautiful)
- 23% of people said they wouldn’t share any information about paranormal activity in their home with a potential buyer. (House Beautiful)
- Although religious affiliation declined over the past 40 years, belief in the afterlife remained constant. In 1978, around 70% of people believed in the afterlife, and about 74% reported the same in 2018. (New York Times)
- California real estate agent Randall Bell says that stigmatized property can sell for 10% to 25% less than a non-stigmatized one. (JSTOR Daily)
- Those who attend worship services frequently are less likely to say they’ve seen a ghost. Just 11% of those who attend religious services weekly say they’ve witnessed a ghost. Meanwhile, 23% of people who attend services less frequently say they’ve witnessed a ghost. (Pew Research Center)
Most haunted places in America
Some of the most haunted cities in America happen to be port cities—yet they have more in common than just commerce. These old cities are steeped in history, home to mystery, murder and paranormal activity—or so the lore goes.
Most haunted cities
One of the most haunted places in the U.S. is Savannah, Georgia. Founded in 1733, locals report that Savannah’s many Civil War-era buildings and cemeteries are said to be home to ghosts, hauntings and paranormal activity.
The Marshall House, for instance, was used as a hospital three times, once during the Civil War, and again during Yellow Fever epidemics. Today, the house is an operating hotel, and guests report faucets turning on without being touched and ghosts of children running down the hallways.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Perhaps unsurprising, the old city of New Orleans, Louisiana comes in as one of the most haunted places in the U.S. for its infamously haunted houses, plantations, churches and graveyards. Its history of Voodoo, a religious practice characterized by “magic and witchcraft,” adds an ominous flair to the southern city. This city is home to the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience, which melds together culture, mystery and adventure on Halloween weekend.
New Orleanians know how to party—even the ghosts. Patrons of the 200-year-old Old Absinthe House bar report seeing bottles and glasses move around the bar on their own and doors open and close without being touched.
Chicago is a sprawling metropolis, home to more than 2.5 million people, so you may not expect it to be one of the spookiest cities in the country. Established in 1833, the Windy City has long been home to chilling incidents and serial killers. Infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone was responsible for the murder of an estimated 200 people—including seven men in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre at 2122 North Clark Street in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The building where the massacre occurred no longer stands, but certain tours still take visitors by the site.
Chicago was also home to the first known serial killer in American history, H.H. Holmes. Holmes murdered at least nine women in a Chicago building, which came to be known as “Murder Castle.” This building was torn down in 1938, so spectators can no longer visit the site. However, Chicago visitors looking for a ghostly experience can visit another of the city’s haunted buildings—the Congress Plaza Hotel—which was frequented by celebrities, presidents and Al Capone himself in its heyday. Today’s visitors report unexpected elevator stops, whispers and moving objects appearing on certain floors.
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine was founded in 1565. As the oldest city in the United States, it’s no surprise that locals report dozens of haunted locations. St. Augustine’s Old Jail housed the city’s worst criminals. The inmates were subjected to horrors like torture and starvation. Today, the jail is open for visitors, who report hearing footsteps and the clanking noises of men in chains. Other reports include sinister laughing, barking dogs and a cold hand touching their shoulder or tugging at their hair.
You may know that the spooky season classic “Halloweentown” was filmed in Portland, Oregon. But the city is known for more than a lighthearted Halloween movie.
Under Portland’s city streets are a network of catacombs called the “Shanghai Tunnels” that were used to transport goods from the city’s port to downtown businesses. Local lore says that these tunnels were also used for far more sinister activities including murder and kidnapping, illegal drugs sales and leading customers to opium dens. Today, local tour guides take visitors through parts of the Shanghai Tunnels that haven’t collapsed and their ghostly history.
Most haunted homes
More than 30% of people believe that they live in a haunted house. If you’re looking to visit some of the most haunted places in America, you may want to start with this list.
Whaley House and Museum (San Diego, California)
Before the Whaley House was built, James “Yankee Jim” Robinson was hung for grand larceny on the home’s property. Thomas and Anna Whaley later built a home on the property, and reported hearing Yankee Jim haunting the halls. Thomas, Anna and their four children all died in the home and reportedly still haunt the halls.
House of Death (New York, New York)
A seemingly idyllic building in the desirable Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City is nicknamed the “House of Death” for its reported hauntings. Famed author Mark Twain lived in the home in the early 1900s, and residents have reported seeing his ghost walk the halls in a white suit.
Constructed in the 1850s as a standalone home, the building was converted to apartments in 1957. Over time, 22 deaths were reported to take place in this building. In the 1980s, a disbarred attorney named Joel Steinberg beat a six-year-old child to death here. A previous resident, Jan Bryant Bartell, told the story of her haunting in a book called “Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea.”
Winchester Mystery House (San Jose, California)
In 1881, Sarah Winchester inherited $20 million and a 50% stake in Winchester Repeating Arms Company when her husband William died of tuberculosis. Her infant child had passed away a few years earlier, leaving Sarah alone in New Haven, Connecticut. The widow moved to San Jose, California and purchased an eight-room farmhouse that she spent the rest of her life renovating into a 25,000 square foot mansion.
The home still stands, with its 160 rooms, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 47 stairways and 17 chimneys. Legend has it that the mansion is haunted by anyone killed with a Winchester rifle. Sarah is said to have continued adding rooms to accommodate these ghosts. The home is open for visitors brave enough to roam the halls.
The Lizzie Borden House (Fall River, Massachusetts)
Is Lizzie Borden’s former residence the most haunted house in the U.S.? Locals think it’s one of them. The Lizzie Borden House, now a bed and breakfast, is the past home of Andrew and Abby Borden. Lizzie had a contentious relationship with her father Andrew and stepmother Abby, and is said to have murdered them gruesomely with an axe. Guests of the Lizzie Borden House report hearing screams, sinister laughs and seeing Lizzie’s ghost at the top of the stairs.
Franklin Castle (Cleveland, Ohio)
Franklin Castle was built by Hannes Tiedemann in the 1800s. Tiedemann had a reputation of being cruel—and this reputation was supported by the mysterious deaths of multiple members of the Tiedemann family. After Tiedemann moved away, the house was occupied by the German Socialist Party, which was rumored to harbor Nazi Spies. Since then, investigations have found human bones in the walls.
Author Bill Krejci, who wrote “Haunted Franklin Castle,” says visitors to the home may hear unexplained footsteps in the ballroom on the top floor and the giggling of nonexistent children. The home remains a private residence, so it isn’t open to visitors. But ghost tours often pass the home to recount its cursed past.
Marshall House (Savannah, Georgia)
As one of the most haunted places in the U.S., Savannah, Georgia features the haunted “Marshall House” — which served as a Union hospital during the civil war, housing patients with yellow fever and battle wounds. Reports include ghosts in the hallways and foyers.
Stigmatized property is a location “that has been psychologically impacted by an event which occurred, or was suspected to have occurred, on the property, such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind,” according to the National Association of REALTORS®. An example of stigmatized property might be a home that was used as a brothel or is rumored to be the site of a homicide.
Stigmatized properties, while having no physical issues, may experience lower home values and could even lower the values of the homes around them. However, even if the home’s market value is lower, it doesn’t typically affect homeowners insurance costs. Homeowners insurance is designed to cover a home’s estimated rebuild costs, which are different from how a home’s market value is determined. But, it’s still important to shop with multiple insurance companies to find the best coverage for your home’s needs at a price that fits your budget since insurance companies have their own rating algorithms, which cause different premiums. You may want to get quotes from some of the best home insurance companies to see what you’d get for your money.
Do sellers have to disclose if their house is haunted?
So what happens if you’re trying to sell a house you believe to be haunted? Do you have to let buyers know that it’s haunted? In most states, no. However, in New York, courts can rescind the sale of a home if a seller fails to tell a buyer about any stories of paranormal activity that they have created or perpetuated.