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Haunted Places: Fact or Fiction? You Decide.
Every town and city holds their share of unsavory secrets and horror stories. Passed on from person to person like an unreliable game of “Telephone,” the good ghost stories only get better with time.
And with Halloween only days away, it’s time to dive into the creepy end, or more accurately, through the walls of hotels and homes across the country. Whether you believe in paranormal activity or not, the tales below aren’t your literary classic ghost stories by the master of horror, Edgar Allan Poe. They’re more sinister.
“And the dead know much
And the dead hold under
A locked-up story”
- Carl Sandburg
New York: Famous Ghosts of Chelsea
A call to the front desk at the Chelsea Hotel came in around 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, 1978 from someone outside the hotel. The unknown man said, "There's trouble in room 100." The bellboy ran up to the room, and meanwhile from inside room 100, Sid Vicious called the front desk, "Someone is sick. Need help." The bellboy found a 20-year-old platinum blonde lying on the bathroom floor in her blood-soaked underwear. Nancy Spungen had a one-inch knife wound in her lower abdomen. She was dead.
Built in 1884, the Chelsea Hotel is a famous, historic New York City landmark that was once a mecca for famous artists, writers and musicians. Dylan Thomas, Thomas Wolfe, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and many others have all spent time there. It’s now considered one of the most haunted places in the nation, and hotel residents report regular encounters with a variety of ghosts.
By 1978, when Nancy Spungen and boyfriend Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols moved to the Chelsea, the hotel's reputation as an artist's den had subsided. People were more into partying like rock stars than actually performing like rock stars. As the Sex Pistols’ bassist, Vicious apparently didn’t know how to play the bass. The first floor was known as the “junkies” floor, and after Vicious collapsed in the lobby from a drug overdose, the hotel manager moved the couple to the first floor.
For years, residents and visitors of the hotel claim to have seen the ghost of Sid Vicious close to the first floor elevator. In some cases, guests have reported paranormal activity in and around room 100, including large temperature fluctuations and floating orbs. Some guests have even reported loud music coming from room 100, and others have heard the loud voices of a couple arguing, but after checking, they find the room empty.
Vicious was arrested for Spungen’s murder, although the case never went to trial because he died from a heroine overdose four months later. In a movie made about Sid and Nancy in 1986, the actor playing him told the Associated Press that the Chelsea Hotel “…is a vortex – an artistic tornado of death and destruction and love and broken dreams.”
Interestingly, the hotel – now known as Hotel Chelsea – isn’t accepting (new) residents and has been under controversial renovations for several years.
Salem: Joshua Ward House
In 1784, a wealthy sea captain named Joshua Ward built a 3-story brick house on 148 Washington St. in Salem, MA., about a 45-minute drive from Boston. George Washington is reported to have specifically requested staying in this house when he visited Salem in 1789.
Before Ward built his home, a man by the name of George Corwin lived on the property. Corwin was the sheriff during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and was responsible for imprisoning over 150 accused ‘witches’ in his basement. He hung 19 people and "pressed to death" one man. Corwin reportedly “savored torturing them.” According to Unexplained Mysteries columnist Matt Forde, Corwin tied his “prone victims’ necks to their ankles until the blood ran from their noses.” Known as “The Strangler,” Corwin allegedly stole all of the victims’ possessions after they were hung at Gallows Hill.
Four years after the end of the witch trials, Corwin died from a heart attack at the age of 30. He was buried in the basement of his own home and later moved to a nearby cemetery.
In the late 19th century, this structure became an upscale hotel, The Washington Hotel. It stood vacant for years but was eventually restored. It was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1978. In the early ‘80s, Carlson Realty moved into the historic house and mysterious events started to occur.
Chairs, lampshades, trashcans and candlesticks would be found turned upside down when the staff arrived in the morning. Papers were scattered on the floor and candles were bent in the shape of an ‘s’. Fire alarms went off for no reason. One of the offices, on the second floor, was ice cold which is supposedly a sign of a haunting. And then there’s the photo: The Witch of Joshua Ward House. It’s a Polaroid taken of a realty employee but it looks nothing like the employee. Most people say the "witch" photo is just a fluke or a bad Polaroid. Even if it is, it's strange. The photo first appeared in Robert Ellis Cahill's book, New England's Ghostly Haunts, published in 1983. The original photo was brought to his attention by another employee, Lorraine St. Pierre, who had had her own run-ins with the alleged paranormal activity.
After doing a quick search on the status of the Joshua Ward House now, an article posted on the website Salem Uncommon, in early 2014, declared the house for sale for $900,000. But a click on the commercial property link takes you here: “The property you are searching for is no longer an active listing.”
Louisiana: The French Quarter
Halloween in New Orleans is, of course, a party holiday. It also attracts people who are interested in the macabre and supernatural. A ghost story can’t be written without mentioning New Orleans, which always makes the top-10 most haunted cities list.
Probably the most famous haunted house in the French Quarter is the LaLaurie mansion. Socialite Madame Delphine LaLaurie and her husband, Dr. Louis LaLaurie, owned the mansion at 1140 Royal St., located at the dark and quiet downriver end of the Vieux Carre, in 1834.
It was here that firefighters were called to extinguish a blaze that started in the kitchen. They were shocked to find a torture chamber in the attic where the madame slowly murdered chained slaves. After the fire, more tales of LaLaurie's cruelty surfaced, including an incident in which she reportedly chased a slave girl with a whip until the scared girl jumped from the roof to her death.
The LaLaurie legacy remains because of sightings of a small child wandering the building's rooftop, as though seeking escape from long-ago brutality, only to plummet toward the ground and vanish.
The original chronicling can be found in a report by the New Orleans Bee newspaper, which states a mob stormed the mansion, ripping out walls and ransacking furnishings. The madame ran away to Paris and never admitted to any of her crimes.
San Diego: Hotel del Coronado
Kate Morgan’s ghost is so famous she has her own story on the hotel’s website. Hotel del Coronado has been experiencing paranormal activity for as long as the hotel has existed – 125 years.
Legend has it that Kate checked into the hotel in 1892 and never checked out. She spent five lonely days waiting for a man who never arrived. She was found dead on an exterior staircase leading to the beach with a gunshot wound to her head. The lovesick woman killed herself, according to the San Diego coroner, although that’s debatable.
Her spirit refuses to leave the former guest room she used to occupy. According to Christine Donovan, "The Del’s" historian and author of the book “Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado,” Kate is a relatively harmless ghost. “She generally limits her activity to fleeting appearances and inexplicable antics,” says Donovan. “Guests in Kate’s room report everything from breezes that come from nowhere to having to deal with a television set that turns on and off by itself.”
Then there’s the time a young couple – away for a romantic Valentine's weekend – experienced a string of supernatural occurrences, culminating in their covers being ripped off in the middle of the night by a ghostly apparition.
Kate has been seen walking down the hallways, through the garden, and along the beach. One of the most “active” areas of the Hotel del Coronado is the resort’s gift shop, called Established 1888. Originally located in the lower lobby level, this specialty store – which showcases the hotel’s vintage history – has a hard time keeping glassware from “flying” off shelves or pictures from falling off walls.
When Established 1888 relocated (now adjoining the lobby), it was thought that the ghostly pranks would stop. Instead, the new space is as active as the store’s former residence. Memorabilia related to Marilyn Monroe’s 1958 hotel filming of “Some Like It Hot” seems to be the most prone to tumbling, so some long-time shop employees speculate that The Del’s resident ghost doesn’t like sharing the spotlight with Hollywood’s biggest star.
Donovan, who keeps files on guests’ paranormal experiences, received this one from a visiting business executive. “At about 2am, I was awakened by exceedingly cold temperatures and the ceiling fan working at high speed. The fan remained on for about 30 seconds and then stopped. Later, I awoke to find that all of the bed pillows had been stacked pyramid style on top of my computer.” This gentleman took his first paranormal experience in stride: “I learned that ceiling fans have a mind of their own and pillows are best placed on a computer,” ultimately concluding that Kate Morgan “is a great addition to your housekeeping staff.”
Guests also send Donovan "mysterious photos taken at the hotel, some of which feature inexplicable transparent 'globes' of light, sometimes with multiple patterns that arch across an entire image…"