Hauntings in America — East Coast ghosts

by Laura Townsend Elion on October 6, 2010


If you’re like me, you’re mourning the end of the summer. If I could, I’d be outside with a jar trying to capture and save that last hellishly hot day so that on the coldest darkest day of February, I could sniff and feel the essence of summer. Given my love of all things tropical, crisp winds, apple harvests and changing leaves are a scary thing. As I write, that first cool breeze of Fall is already breathing down my neck like a desperate pursuer catching up to an intended victim.

Halloween – that other scary thing – will be upon us before you know it. Wal-Mart rolled out the costume aisle where I live while I was still trying figure out my Labor Day plans. While intermittent 90-degree days still linger on, my tree started dropping leaves that are undeniably yellow because of the impending autumn – not because of drought. It’s time to get real…scary.

If the end of October seems like a good time to escape the madness and mendacity of school, work, and the thought of Christmas shopping, why not go somewhere truly frightful? Here’s a list of some of the best, most ghoulish places to spend All Hallow’s Eve, American style. (Entries followed by the designation (NPS) are run by the National Park Service).

My list will be presented in three postings. This, the first, will focus on the East Coast. Tomorrow, I will look at the middle swath of the country. Finally, I take a look at the West Coast. There are plenty of hauntings to go around.

Lexington/Concord, Massachusetts- I’ve been there and nothing says fall splendor like this corridor. Chock full of Americana and colonial battle sites, it also reeks quantities of ambiance that make you look for the headless horseman from all angles. The end of October finds the fall foliage to be the perfect set dressing for a spooky good time. The Colonial Inn in Concord, my favorite, is a quaint little place that for extra fun hosts its own ghost legend, complete with a haunted room (#24). There’s a cemetery full of old gravesites near the inn. Nearby Boston is also riddled with spirit-filled places (and I don’t mean just the bars!) Note: I’ve personally stayed at the Colonial Inn – both in and out of room 24- and it’s a picture-perfect New England inn.

Pirates are a perennial favorite in the costume department and several places can set you up with the necessary location for that swagglers’ garb. Key West, Florida (of course) is infamous for its pirates, and its never-need-an-excuse-for-a-costume vibe. But Charleston, SC was also a popular destination for pirates, especially their jail, which features a special tour for Halloween. Labeled as ‘not for the easily frightened,’ the area also provides many activities such as hayrides and corn mazes for the littlest swashbucklers. (Family-friendly warning — The “Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest” in Key West runs the week of Halloween and contains adult-oriented events/themes, although a website reminds participants that nudity is illegal). Other pirate happenings are going on in Key Largo, Maine and St. Thomas. You can find the venue of your choice at: http://www.noquartergiven.net/calendar.htm

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – A Civil War giant, the battlefields of this small Pennsylvania town resonate with ghostly ambitions. The Jennie Wade House is reputed to be haunted by the young woman who was the only citizen of Gettysburg killed during the battle of Gettysburg. Ghost tours (fee charged) are available there, and at the Haunted Orphanage, Dobbin House, and the National Cemetery. Do-it-yourselfers will find no shortage of hints on the internet of free places to ghost hunt, like Sachs bridge – a covered bridge now closed to traffic, it was used as a field hospital by the rebels as they retreated from Gettysburg, they also used the rafters to hang three of their own soldiers who were suspected northern spies. Visitors report hearing phantom horses hooves gallop through the empty site. Plus, that slice of Pennsylvania countryside hosts plenty of spots for Fall fun for the littlest trick-or-treaters. (NPS)

If your thoughts run to murder most foul, you can tour the Lizzie Borden house (Fall River, Mass.) where the infamous killings took place. Actually, you can stay there, too – it’s now a bed and breakfast. Allegedly Lizzie Borden hacked her father and stepmother to death but was acquitted of the crime and possibly took the truth to the grave with her. Guests tell of hearing footsteps and furniture being moved on the (uninhabited) floors above them, a woman weeping, and some have reported being tucked in by a woman in a turn-of-the-century dress. If you make it to breakfast, you’ll be served the same morning meal that the unfortunate Bordens ate the morning of their death. You can stay in Lizzie’s own room, or one of the rooms where her parents’ bodies were found. Sweet dreams!

Salem, Massachusetts – Almost too obvious, this town is famous for its witchiness. Home to the notorious 1692 Salem witch trials, the area brims with sorcery like a witch’s kettle although despite popular legend, those convicted of witchcraft were hung, not burned at the stake. None were immune from the paranoia, as even children were accused. Nineteen were executed, several died in prison. In the fields and meadows that once hid the accused and their betrayers, you can attend what is billed as one of the nation’s largest outdoor Halloween parties featuring haunted houses, psychic fairs, children’s events and other nocturnal novelties. Home as well to the “House of the Seven Gables.” And, if you’ve seen all the black hats you can manage, the town, a historic seaport, features one of the most impressive collections of marine art in the States at the revered Peabody Essex Museum (I’ve personally been and can attest).

As we get ready to look at more haunted spots a bit further to the west, tell me, what’s your scariest place?

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