American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Four Spooky Ways to Spend Halloween, Part 1
Holidays come and go, but one of the most popular is undoubtedly Halloween. Mardi Gras, Fourth of July, and Christmas might be big moneymakers, too, but what other holiday justifies the opening of seasonal establishments like costume shops and haunted houses, entices countless hordes to join cemetery and ghost tours, and inspires cable networks like AMC and SyFy to celebrate with nonstop, season-specific programming, from serial killer movies to zombie flick marathons?
In less than a week, All Hallows' Eve – indeed my favorite holiday – will be upon us, and as I've indicated in two previous posts – “Autumn Adventures” and “Halloween Weekend in New Orleans” – there are plenty of ways to celebrate this one-of-a-kind holiday, from corn mazes and boo-at-the-zoo events to spooky festivals and vampire balls. While I've had fun participating in all of the above activities, I admit to having four favorite ways to celebrate. Here are two of them:
1. Visit a seasonal haunted house.
Throughout the United States, many towns and cities boast seasonal haunted houses, the kind of autumn-only places designed to scare visitors with darkened labyrinths, gruesome tableaus, chainsaw-wielding thespians, strobe lights, and other fright-inducing devices. Although opinions vary as to the best and scariest of such establishments, many spook-lovers favor Pennsylvania's Terror Behind the Walls ($20-25 pp, $79 for After Dark VIP Tour) at the Eastern State Penitentiary (2027 Fairmont Ave., Philadelphia, 215/236-2985, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, extended hours on show nights, $7-12 per daytime tour, $12-15 parking per car), one of the country's largest haunted houses. Contained within the confines of an enormous abandoned prison, Terror Behind the Walls can be a truly frightening experience, seamlessly combining six different attractions: the supposedly haunted Cellblock 12, which is filled with electrifying Tesla Coils and zombie-like inmates; an abandoned prison hospital; a disorienting maze known as The Gauntlet; a brand-new 3-D experience called The Experiment; the foggy, flashlight-illumined Night Watch; and the brand-new Break Out! portion, featuring a simulated prison break. Celebrating its 20th year, Terror Behind the Walls will run through Saturday, November 5.
Other popular seasonal haunted houses include Ohio's 7 Floors of Hell (19191 Bagley Rd., Middleburg Heights, 7-10 p.m. Thurs. and Sun.-Mon., 7 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat., $20-30 pp), a Cleveland-area attraction that's open through Halloween night, and Georgia's NETHERWORLD Haunted House (6624 Dawson Blvd., Norcross, 404/608-2484, hours vary nightly, $22-28 pp), an Atlanta-area fright fest that runs through November 5. According to my colleague Katy Ryan, author of Moon Kansas City, Missouri has at least two terrifying locales: The Beast (1401 W. 13th St., Kansas City, 816/842-4280 or 816/842-0320, hours vary nightly, $23-37 pp) and The Edge of Hell (1300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, 816/842-4279 or 816/842-0320, hours vary nightly, $23-37 pp), for which combo tickets ($36-50 pp) are also available. Meanwhile, one of my favorite haunted-house experiences occurred on The Queen Mary (1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach, 877/342-0738), which, in addition to featuring the annual Queen Mary's Dark Harbor ($20-60 pp) through Halloween night, is generally considered one of the most haunted places in California.
2. Tour an actual haunted locale.
Given that Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, that I've long been a horror film aficionado, and that I was born and raised in New Orleans, considered by many one of the most haunted cities in America, it probably comes as no surprise that I often have spooky thoughts on the brain. No wonder, then, that I jumped the gun a bit and posted a five-part series about the country's 10 most haunted cities back in August, two months prior to Halloween. Even though all of these places – which include Key West, Portland, San Francisco, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Charleston, Chicago, Salem, Savannah, and New Orleans – are potentially creepy any time of the year, they can be especially atmospheric during the Halloween season, when the temperatures are cooler and many of us are susceptible to spooky suggestions.
As I've listed in that comprehensive series, all of these supposedly haunted cities feature several creepy locales, including Alcatraz Island and Gallows Hill. Naturally, America boasts countless more spine-tingling landmarks and locales, many of which are especially fun to visit around Halloween. Now, for instance, is a perfect time to stroll through a haunted graveyard like Bachelor's Grove Cemetery (143rd St. and Ridgeland Ave., Midlothian, Illinois, sunrise-sunset daily, free), a Chicago-area site where visitors have seen floating lights and apparitions, or a haunted battlefield like Gettysburg National Military Park (1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 717/334-1124, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct., 6 a.m.-7 p.m. daily Nov.-Mar., free though admission rates apply for the on-site museum), where 51,000 soldiers died in the Civil War's bloodiest battle. Just bear in mind that such places are sanctuaries that deserve respect, and for safety's sake, it's also advisable to visit cemeteries, battlefields, and other similar locales, especially remote ones, with someone else.
Of course, scare-seekers will find no shortage of haunted buildings in this country. Beyond those that are mentioned in my “haunted city” series, you might also appreciate a visit to Northern California's Winchester Mystery House (525 S. Winchester Blvd., San José, 408/247-2101, rates and hours vary), a bizarre mansion famous for its pointless doors, random staircases, and oddly-shaped rooms, all of which were constructed by Sarah Winchester in the hope that she could stave off death. Other supposedly haunted structures include Southern California's Whaley House (2476 San Diego Ave., San Diego, 619/297-7511, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily in summer, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.-Tues., 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. in winter, $6-10 adults, $5-10 seniors 65 and over, $4-5 children 3-12, children under 3 free), which I admittedly visited during the daytime, and southern Louisiana's Myrtles Plantation (7747 U.S. Hwy. 61, St. Francisville, 225/635-6277, tour times vary daily, $8 adults, $4 children), which was built in the late 1790s and is now considered one of America's most haunted homes.
For additional ways to celebrate Halloween, stay tuned for my next post. In the meantime, how do you plan to embrace the holiday?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.