That chill in the air and long, dark nights can only mean one thing — Halloween is here! With the spookiest day of the year at our doorstep, is there a better way to celebrate than to share some ghost stories?
With the COVID-19 pandemic making nearly any travel risky, we focused on scary stories from around the world, if only to have a little seasonal escapism. The pandemic has slowed a bit but continues to make travel potentially unsafe, especially for the unvaccinated, so we’re doing a mix this year. Two of the locations will be in the continental United States, meaning you can visit without getting on a plane (though, again, we suggest you travel only if you’re vaccinated). The third location is outside of the United States and one of the more terrifying places we’ve ever come across. In fact, let’s start with that one!
Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland
The idea of any particularly haunted graveyard can be an unsettling thought, but Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard is notoriously one of the most haunted and active spots in the world. It certainly looks the part, at least, with its aging and sometimes moss-covered graves and a certain heaviness hanging over the yard. The graveyard is over 400 years old and over a million guests tour the grounds each year. You may even come across the grave of a certain dark wizard, Thomas Riddle…
First, let’s start with the most famous ghost story connected with the kirkyard, that of Bloody Mackenzie. Sir George Mackenzie was a lawyer known for his prosecution of the Covenanters, a religious and political movement that was brutally suppressed during Mackenzie’s career. Thousands of Covenanters were imprisoned, tortured, and killed, with many held at a section of the Greyfrairs now called Covenanters’ Prison. For his brutal and dark deeds, Mackenzie’s mausoleum, called the Black Mausoleum, was left untreated. The tomb was like any other until 1999, when a vagrant broke into the mausoleum for shelter. Since then, the Mackenzie Poltergeist has become the “most well-documented paranormal phenomenon in the world,” according to the Scotsman newspaper. Visitors have reported being attacked and leaving with scratches and bruises or passing out. The Scotsman reported over 450 recorded attacks in 2006, only seven years after the attacks began. You can still access the Black Mausoleum through a guided tour — if you dare.
From one tale of terror to one of terrier, we have one of the sweeter stories we’ve ever shared in this series — the legend of Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye terrier who was taken in by a retired police officer, John Gray. When John died, Bobby was known to pay vigil and guard his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard. This vigil lasted until Bobby passed away from old age, 14 years later. For his otherworldly loyalty, Bobby was buried at Greyfriars (with a matching grave to his master) and given his own statue. Today, guests rub the nose of the statue out of respect, and because this gesture is such a popular tradition, his nose has changed color from a painted grey to a polished bronze! To this day, people leave gifts or treats for the good boy, and if some are to be believed, Bobby may have stuck around to collect them. Guests will often report seeing a Skye terrier, only for it to vanish, or hearing disembodied barks around the graveyard. If the choice is between meeting a violent poltergeist named Bloody Mackenzie or a loyal dog that like treats, we know who we’d rather bump into at the graveyard!
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA, United States
Closer to home is the Eastern State Penitentiary, both a historic and reportedly haunted site in Philadelphia. The prison was a marvel when it first opened in 1829 with the experimental goal of reforming criminals through extreme isolation — an elongated timeout in a sense. While we now know that isolation is pretty harmful to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being, especially in extreme examples like solitary confinement, at the time it was considered a humane and model way to reform prisoners and allow them to reenter society.
The prison has had many famous inmates while it was running, including Al Capone (whose lavish cell you can still see today). We’ve mentioned Eastern State before, once as part of an East Coast historical tour and the other because of the prison’s annual haunted house attraction. While a prison is a good setting for a fun haunted house attraction, the concept is based on very real reports of the supernatural within the prison walls.
You would expect anywhere that’s been featured on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted Live and Syfy’s Ghost Hunters to deliver, and Eastern State does on shear atmosphere alone. With much of the prison in a state of “stabilized ruin,” you get the sense of decay and death that most horror films would kill for. But it isn’t just the look and feel of the penitentiary that leads people to think it’s haunted. No, the ghosts do that on their own. Many visitors and tour guides have reported hearing disembodied voices and laughter, sometimes even seeing the shadow of a former guard or a quick figure in the corner of your eye. Even Eastern State’s most famous inmate, Al Capone, reported being haunted by a spirit named Jimmy. If you’re curious about the history of the prison, Eastern State Penitentiary offers daytime tours, virtual tours, and (for the brave) night tours during the summer months.
LaLaurie Mansion, New Orleans, LA, United States
Disclaimer: This location has some mentions of torture, suicide, and slavery that some readers may find disturbing, especially if they research deeper into the topic. Reader discretion is advised.
Heading south from Philadelphia, we eventually make our way to New Orleans. We’ve already covered one place in the Big Easy that’s famous for its ghost, Muriel’s Jackson Square, but it’s probably not the most famous haunt in a city famous for its connection to voodoo and the supernatural. That prize likely goes to the former mansion of one Madame Delphine LaLaurie, now simply known as the LaLaurie Mansion. For years, Delphine was a wealthy socialite and slave owner in the upper crust of New Orleans society. While there were rumors of her being a particularly cruel slave owner (including a period where her slaves were taken away after a young enslaved girl chose to jump from a window to escape her punishment), nothing seemed out of the norm for Southern slave owners at the time.
That is, until a fire broke out at the mansion. When firefighters put out the flames, they found a 70-year-old enslaved woman chained to the stove. When she was freed from her shackles, she led them to the attic, where seven slaves were found harmed with spiked collars around their necks. As more details about the torture she had inflicted on her slaves emerged, a mob formed and caused Delphine to flee to Paris, where she died. While the most outlandish claims, particularly the pseudo-medical experimentations, are likely totally fabricated, the level of cruelty and torture was enough to outrage even other slave owners to the extent that she was driven from her home.
Since then, the mansion has had many owners, including a short period where it was owned by actor Nicolas Cage. LaLaurie’s story is also a central theme of the third season of the TV show American Horror Story, entitled Coven, with actress Kathy Bates portraying Madame Delphine LaLaurie. Of course, there are also stories of ghosts and other things that go bump in the night. It isn’t just marketing that causes Mr. Cage to refer to it as the most haunted house in America. There are over 200 years of ghost stories saturating the mansion. Though the public is no longer allowed inside, there have long been stories of groans and phantom footsteps where the enslaved were kept and tortured. When the building housed an all-girls school for African American students, numerous girls reported being attacked (with cuts and bruises to prove it) by “that woman.” Other stories are readily shared by locals and tour guides, so if this interests you, we highly suggest a nighttime tour of the city.
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There’s nothing like a good ghost story this time of year. The only thing better is more than one! We hope you have a safe, fun, and of course, spooky Halloween this year. Happy Halloween!