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
Ten of the Most Haunted Cities in America, Part 1
Following my recent visit to the Historic Holly Hotel – a supposedly haunted inn-turned-restaurant in southeastern Michigan – I've begun reflecting on other U.S. landmarks that residents, visitors, and paranormal experts repeatedly claim to be haunted. San José's long-constructed Winchester House, San Diego's Whaley House, Miami's majestic Biltmore Hotel, and even the White House are just some of the atmospheric destinations that come to mind, though hundreds of allegedly haunted structures would fit the bill. Of course, some people consider whole cities to be haunted. In fact, a simple Google search will yield several top-10 lists regarding the country's most haunted American cities. From CNBC.com to TopTenz.net, various websites have compiled such lists, often citing towns like Galveston, Texas; Athens, Ohio; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and St. Augustine, Florida.
While I've never observed a restless specter, heard a disembodied voice, sensed a phantom scent, or felt an inexplicable caress, I always have been and likely always will be a hopeful skeptic – which could explain my fascination with paranormal phenomena and my eagerness to have an otherworldly experience in one of the country's most haunted destinations. To that end, I've compiled a list of 10 notoriously spooky cities, split into a five-part series. Here are the first three, in ascending order:
10. Key West, Florida
Though Key West, the tropical paradise at the southern end of the Florida Keys, might not seem like a particularly spooky town, its legendary history is rife with strange tales of pirates, rumrunners, Bahamian immigrants, and Civil War-era soldiers. One place that figures into this not-so-savory past is Captain Tony's Saloon (428 Greene St., 305/294-1838, 10 a.m.-close Mon.-Sat., noon-close Sun.). Before it was Ernest Hemingway's favorite watering hole during the 1930s, Captain Tony's was allegedly the site of the island's morgue. In addition, the “hanging tree” that grows through the saloon's roof is said to have been the site for the lynching of several convicted pirates, the ghosts of whom supposedly still haunt the premises. The cemetery behind St. Paul's Episcopal Church (401 Duval St., 305/296-5142, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily) has also been the location of many reported ghost sightings, and some visitors have allegedly heard the sound of a phantom typewriter in the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum (907 Whitehead St., 305/294-1136, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $12.50 adults, $6 children 6-12, children under 6 free).
If you'd like to visit Captain Tony's, St. Paul's, and other haunted landmarks at night, consider taking one of the lantern-led, 90-minute walking tours that have been offered by The Original Ghost Tours of Key West (423 Fleming St., 305/294-9255, $15 adults, $10 children 4-12, children under 4 free) since 1996. Reservations are recommended for these wheelchair-friendly tours, which leave nightly, rain or shine, between 8 and 9 p.m. from the Crowne Plaza Key West at 430 Duval Street. Besides visiting historic structures, you'll also be introduced to Robert the Doll, an extremely unnerving doll that was given to painter Gene Otto in the early 1900s and, according to him and his parents, was known to move around the house on his own. Today, Robert's home is the Fort East Martello Museum and Gardens on Roosevelt Boulevard.
9. Portland, Oregon
Paranormal experts cite Portland's underground fault lines and location on the Columbia River as major reasons for its haunted reputation. Of course, it doesn't help that the Shanghai Tunnels, which run beneath the city's buildings and streets, were utilized during the 19th century to kidnap men and women from bars and hotels, “shanghai” them to the harbor, and ship them to Asia as slaves and prostitutes. Today, many visitors claim to have heard strange whistling sounds, smelled inexplicable fragrances, and felt the sensation of being touched, supporting the theory that spirits still roam the tunnels. Other haunted establishments include the magnificent Pittock Mansion (3229 NW Pittock Dr., 503/823-3623, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily July-Aug., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Sept.-June, $8 adults, $7 seniors 65 and over, $5 children 6-18, children under 6 free), where Mr. Pittock's painting seems to move from room to room; the Bagdad Theater & Pub (3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503/467-7521 or 503/249-7474), a 1920s-era movie theater that supposedly houses numerous spirits; and the White Eagle Saloon & Hotel (836 N. Russell St., 503/282-6810), a former brothel and boarding house where a prostitute was allegedly killed by a jealous lover and where the basement once linked to the Shanghai Tunnels.
To experience what remains of these infamous tunnels, consider taking the Underground Portland Tour (503/774-4522, 2-4:30 p.m. daily Apr.-Nov., 2-4:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun. Dec.-Mar., $19 adults, $15 seniors 65 and over and children 11-17, $5 children 5-10, children under 5 free), which focuses on Portland's sordid and sinister underbelly and includes a stroll through Chinatown. The Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour (7-9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Thurs.-Sun. Apr.-Sept., 7-9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.-12:30 a.m. daily Oct., $19-29 adults, $15 seniors 65 and over and children 11-17, $5 children 5-10, children under 5 free), meanwhile, focuses exclusively on the paranormal side of this port town; note that no one under the age of 18 is allowed on the 10 p.m. tour. The Underground and Bizarre tours both depart from Old Town Pizza at 226 NW Davis Street.
8. San Francisco, California
Like Portland, San Francisco is a port city, with underground fault lines and a waterfront location that contribute to its ghostly vibe. Perhaps the most infamous locale is Alcatraz Island (415/561-4900 or 415/981-7625, hours vary seasonally, free though ferry fees apply), where the former Alcatraz Prison once held some of the country's most notorious prisoners. Today, some visitors swear that they've heard disembodied voices, mysterious footsteps, and slamming cell doors, lending credence to the theory that perhaps some of these inmates never left. Some of the city's other haunted places include Golden Gate Park, where the ghost of a police officer is said to roam; the Presidio, where the ghosts of sick and wounded soldiers still haunt an abandoned army hospital; the Queen Anne Hotel (1590 Sutter St., 415/441-2828 or 800/227-3970), a former girls' school whose headmistress continues to appear to overnight guests; and the restored Cameron House (920 Sacramento St., 415/781-0401) in Chinatown, where several Asian immigrants burned to death, the spirits of whom now routinely show up in photographs.
To explore a bit more of Chinatown's creepy side, join one of the SF Chinatown Ghost Tours (415/793-1183 or 877/887-3373, 7:30-9:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., $48 adults, $24 children under 18), which, on Saturday nights, include a magic and comedy show along with the walking tour. Reservations are required for these tours, which meet at the Four Seas Restaurant at 731 Grant Avenue.
So, feel free to share your own ghostly encounters in one of these spooky towns, and be sure to stay tuned for my next post about the most haunted cities in America.
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.
Photo of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum / Text © 2011 Laura Martone