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Frighten the Family: Haunted U.S. Spots

by Angelique Platas

Sep 2, 2018

© Steveheap | Dreamstime.com


Vacationing to see historic sites and landmarks has always been a particular interest among avid travelers, but add in a hint of true crime, spooky stories and potential ghost hunting, and you have yourself an epic haunted history tourism experience. Explore the country’s most haunted destinations and alleged spooky sites with this list of must-visits for the haunted history fan in your family.


While researching the most haunted sites in the United States, one destination that kept coming up was Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia — and with a name like that, it’s no wonder. The historic site’s history holds up to the creepy name, later changed to Weston State Hospital.


Built in 1858 and accepting patients in 1864, the asylum, designed by architect Richard Andrews, was built to improve health and wellness through natural elements, including light and fresh air.


While a massive structure — actually the largest hand-cut stone building in North America — Trans-Allegheny was only designed to comfortably house up to 250 patients, but, by the 1950s, had more than 2,400 in its care. With thousands of patients running the gamut of afflictions from epilepsy to alcoholism, patients were “treated” to a slew of inhumane procedures, some in an attempt at rehabilitation and some just to keep the hospital itself under control.


Hundreds of patients died over the course of the hospital’s career from electroshock therapy, lobotomies and a variety of restraints, ultimately forcing the asylum to close in 1994. The medical practices and building structure were no longer deemed fit by medical standards.


Now an institution in haunted history and ghost hunting tourism, The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum offers historical day tours, ghost hunts, paranormal tours by flashlight and even an annual Asylum Ball. Some brave guests opt to stay overnight and get the full experience, or add on a cemetery barn tour on the asylum property.


While in West Virginia, make another stop at the Moundsville Penitentiary. During its century-long tenure, Moundsville was known as the most violent correctional facility in the country. Nearly 1,000 prisoners were forced to live in cramped and poor living conditions, sparking murderous riots throughout the facility. In addition, many prisoners were sentenced to the electric chair or gallows before the penitentiary closed in 1995. The conditions tested the limits to what confined humans could handle, and Moundsville quickly became a must-stop for haunted history tour-goers.


Less of a structure and more of a kidnapping route, The Shanghai Tunnels in Portland, Oregon, were alleged some of the most underrated forms of human trafficking. Known to be a dangerous port town in the 19th century, swindlers and thieves would prey on unsuspecting men visiting pubs and bars in the area, wait for a vulnerable moment and force them through trapdoors hidden within the saloon or nearby. The victims would drop down into the underground tunnels where they would then be held captive, drugged and eventually dragged to the harbor to be sold as slave labor on the ships.


The act became known as “Shanghaiing” a victim, as many of the ships were setting sail to East Asia. According to local legend, the network of tunnels is haunted by the lost souls that essentially died the day they were kidnapped.


Historic groups like Portland Walking Tours and Cascade Geographic Society take intrigued visitors down for a firsthand look at the tunnel system. They provide the flashlights and more in-depth tales behind the horrific history.

LaLaurie Mansion, New Orleans © Zeitgeistagency | Dreamstime.com


New Orleans has some haunted history, but not many stories hold a candle to the LaLaurie Mansion in the French Quarter of New Orleans. American Horror Story: Coven fans may remember the Kathy Bates’ character, based on the real-life, 19th-century Louisiana socialite, Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie.


Madame Marie’s parties were legendary. While her guests explored her mansion set in the center of town, she tortured and murdered her victims, always her slaves, two floors above the party in her attic.


Finally, in 1834, police arrived to put out a kitchen fire, but soon discovered the bodies of several brutally murdered victims. Once word got out, a mob formed around the mansion, but Marie fled to France and disappeared from New Orleans all together.


The house of horrors is now privately owned and cannot be visited by guests, but tourists can see the outside and hear more about the haunted history with most haunted itineraries in the city, including Ghost City Tours and Free Tours by Foot.


Over in Philadelphia, the Eastern State Penitentiary was the first of its kind, noted as the first prison to enforce solitary confinement. With a long history of notable inmates, events and punishments, Eastern State was known to be a place for prisoners who needed to truly repent and feel regret for their crimes, built under classic Quaker values.


The prison accepted its first prisoner in 1829, first female inmate in 1831 and was already under investigation for cruel punishment practices and financial fraud before construction even completed in 1836. In 1842, Charles Dickens visited the Eastern State Penitentiary and wrote, “The System is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement, and I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong.”


Visitors tour within the prison walls year-round for its incredible history, but, more frequently, in the fall for Halloween theatrics.


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