Aug 7, 2009
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We’ve all experienced it: an ill wind, a weird sound in the dark, that feeling of being watched. Most of the time it’s nothing. It’s just, as the saying goes, your mind playing tricks on you. Or so you tell yourself, just so that you can forget it and get back to real life.
Quite simply, when there are bills to pay, a mortgage to sweat out and a boss that won’t stop riding you, there’s just no time for the paranormal. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And it doesn’t explain why every culture throughout history, from ancient Egyptians to 21st century Middle England, has a documented and thriving belief in spirits and their incarnations. Of course, you’ve every right to dismiss this whole business as child’s play, and stop reading right here. And odds are you’ll never be proven wrong. But if even a single doubt lingers, you might try visiting some of these places, and see for yourself how easy it is to stay a non-believer.
The Campground Haunted Massacre Attraction, Fort Mill, South Carolina
There’s no obscene history to the campground attraction, but the owners have done everything they can think of — and that includes witchcraft and the occult — just to scare the hell out of you. Proud members of The International Association Of Haunted Attractions and devoted attendees of the Annual National Halloween, Costume & Party Show in Chicago know a thing or two about the joy of fear.
Besides the fact that camping in the woods is a naturally ghoulish pastime, when you’re told about werewolf sightings and, in all seriousness, about the mental hospital just down the road, things can become a little spine tingling.
Moscow’s Underground, Russia
In a city that is nearly 900 years old, what you see is rarely what you get, especially in Moscow, where centuries of bloodthirsty dictators, unrelenting communists and whimsical czars have made the ability to dip below the radar a matter of survival — hence the city’s vast underground network of tunnels, plunging down some 700 meters on 15 different levels.
It is here that you will find a network of abandoned bunkers, supply depots, massive vaults, and subway tunnels that, over the centuries, have been home to hobos, dissidents, artists, and exiles. Moscow’s mole men, who call themselves the Diggers of the Underground Planet, have rediscovered ghastly relics like the torture chamber built by Ivan the Terrible in the 1580s and a pond that was the site of a mass suicide. And though they won’t take you to see these two sites, the Diggers do take visitors on tours.
Brissac Castle, Loire Valley, France
This particular castle is as ornate and indulgent as French castles get. With seven floors and over two hundred rooms, no expense was spared for this Loire Valley marvel when it was rebuilt in 1633. Ceilings are painted with gold and the tapestry collection is breathtaking, as is the wood-carved furniture and columns made of glass crystal.
It wouldn’t be a bad place to live, except for the fact that it’s haunted by the ghost of Jacques de Breze’s wife, Charlotte, and her lover. Both were assassinated, and Jacque de Breze sold the castle right after their deaths. Legend has it he couldn’t stand the nighttime moaning of the ghost lovers, while he slept alone.
Dragsholm Slot, Hørve in Sealand, Denmark
Not all phantoms are ill-tempered, and as proof you need look no further than the gray lady of Dragsholm Slot. Once a fair maiden, the gray lady haunts the halls eternally looking to do good and make sure that everything is in order, as a token of her gratitude for having a painful toothache cured right before her death.
Slightly less helpful is the white lady. Another noble maiden, she kept up a secret love affair with a commoner until the day they were both caught, and was then imprisoned inside the castle by her father. In the early 1930s, one lucky tourist managed to poke a finger hole through a piece of crumbling mortar and ended up discovering a skeleton wrapped in a dress. Needless to say, tourism is still going strong.
Hacker House, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The legend of the Hacker House goes back centuries, and it is continually evolving, as terrible events continue to plague this ill-omened house. It rests upon a Native American mass grave, where several dozen bodies lay, aged 20-25 and deposed execution-style, but in such a way that has baffled archaeologists because there was no evidence of weapons or struggle. And indeed Cherokee lore says that the place is cursed, a place, “where the brave may not walk, as his prayers would not be answered.”
Further evidence of evil play came in 1821, from signed affidavits given by Continental Army soldiers claiming to have had a gun battle with dozens of undead. A century later, the Hacker House was a hospital and laboratory. Though reports are unclear, several bodies were excavated after a great fire in 1930, and they were found to be curiously hollow.
Experimental documentation by a Dr. Johnas Hacker seemed to indicate that the hollowing was a result of the experimental medicines ingested by his patients. Rebuilt, the house was turned into a funeral parlor where things went predictably unwell. Now people seem to have smartened up. It is possible to take tours of Hacker House, but don’t nobody live there .
Pollepel Island, Hudson River, New York
The island has a morbid history, having been strategically important during the American War of Independence. Later, in the early 1900s, the island was bought by a Scotsman, Francis Bannerman, who decided to turn it into an homage to Scotland. A firearms maker, he built a warehouse in the style of a Scottish castle, complete with crenellated towers.
But after his death in 1918, the smooth-running Scottish enclave experienced a series of disasters. Two hundred pounds of powder and shells exploded, blowing half a building onto New York City. Lightning bolts seemed to torment the flagpoles to the point of disintegration. And in a coup de grâce, a massive storm on the Hudson caused a freighter and passenger barge, the Pollepel, to explode and crash into the island. Now all that’s left are the remains, and what the Dutch refer to as the Heer of Dunderberg, a fiend (and his goblins) who inhabits the Highlands and doesn’t like visitors.
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California
When Sarah Winchester’s husband died in 1881, she got a case of the spooks. The gun maker’s widow became convinced that she needed protection from the evil spirits of all the people killed by Winchester rifles. (Winchester Model 1873 was affectionately known as “the gun that won the West.”) Her spiritual counselor advised her to find a house that would attract good spirits, but confuse evil ones.
Instead of moving, however, the widow hired a team of carpenters and craftsmen to add rooms to the Victorian mansion indefinitely. The expansion continued for 31 years until her death in 1922. After Sarah’s death, the workers began hearing their names being whispered from the deserted hallways, as well as footsteps; one of them claimed to see the widow’s ghost. They all decided to look for new work shortly thereafter.
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
This magnificent castle is typically medieval, perched atop a rocky crag, giving it an amazing vista of Scottish hills. But inside the empty halls and narrow streets of Edinburgh, there are the echoes of the dead. At least, that’s what has been reported. Hot spots for specters include the castle’s prison cells, the South Bridge vaults and Mary’s King Close, a disused street used to quarantine and eventually entomb victims of the plague.
There are also reports of ghost dogs, a headless drummer, and the bodies of prisoners taken during the French seven-year war and the American War of Independence. In fact, there was such a glut of reports that in 2001, a scientific research team headed by Dr. Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire, set out to find quantitative proof.
Alcatraz, San Francisco, California
Lionized in the recent action film The Rock and the classic, Escape from Alcatraz , America’s most infamous prison has a concrete reputation. It stems from the likes of gunners like Al Capone and Clyde Hicks, and the fact that no one has ever escaped successfully in the 29 years that it held prisoners.
Officially opening its doors in Civil War times, the Rock was transformed into a brutal prison in 1933. Its warden, James A. Johnson told each new prisoner: “Take each day of your sentence one day at a time. Don’t think how far you have to go, but how far you’ve come.” A firm believer in tough love, several prisoners died in the Hole — cellblock D — often from self-inflicted wounds. And that’s the source of most of the reports of inexplicable crashing sounds, cell doors mysteriously closing, unearthly screams, and intense feelings of being watched.
Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania
In a remote corner of Carpathian Mountains in Romania, the tale of Count Dracula played out. The legend of the count dates back to the 15th century, and is based on Prince Vlad Tepes (Vlad, the Impaler) or Vlad Dracula (Vlad, son of the Dragon), a ruthless defender of Christianity.
The Count is best known for routing an army of 20,000 attacking Ottomans, and impaling them, rectum to sternum, in surrounding forests. In this bastion of gothic architecture it is possible to retrace the journey of Bram Stoker’s vampire hunter, Jonathan Harker, along the Bargau Pass and up to Dracula’s infamous Bran Castle.