It's said that paranormal activity abounds if you know where to look, and these ghostly guided tours have the inside scoop.
Halloween comes just once a year, but the spirit world never sleeps. From coast to coast, America is full of spectral sightings and unexplained phenomena, and we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite ways to take it all in. Suspend those skeptical tendencies, summon up a sense of humor, and strap in for an otherworldly ride.
1. Ohio State Reformatory Ghost Walk: Mansfield, Ohio
Ohio State Reformatory (Sandra Foyt/Dreamstime)
Seventy miles northeast of Columbus, in the county seat of Mansfield, the Ohio State Reformatory offers a full slate of preternatural programming, from spectral tours and ghost hunts to private courses in paranormal investigation. As the former site of the state penitentiary, the Romanesque Revival building is a fount of ghostly activity, and its two-hour evening tours cover the institution’s long, gruesome history with aplomb. (Fun fact: As the stand-in for the titular prison in 1994’s Shawshank Redemption, the Reformatory is a stop on the so-called Shawshank Trail, and it also offers a History Meets Hollywood tour for fans of the film looking for a less spooky time.) Dress warmly, as the 19th-century building isn’t heated, and be sure to book in advance, as spots fill up quickly. In October, the tour schedule is set aside in favor of a month-long haunted house, so make your Halloween plans accordingly.
Guided tours are held from April to September with the occasional offering in November. $25 per person; children under the age of 13 not permitted; ohiostatereformatory.org
2. Spirited Stroll: Brooklyn, NY
Green-Wood Cemetery (Elzbieta Sekowska/Dreamstime)
A lush, tree-lined oasis of calm in middle of bustling Brooklyn, Green-Wood Cemetery covers 478 acres, and as the site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, its history is a bloody one, with nearly 400 casualties on both sides of the line. And that’s not to mention its roster of permanent residents: More than half a million dearly departed are interred here, from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Leonard Bernstein to Boss Tweed and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Wander the spirit-soaked grounds with the cemetery’s cult-favorite event, a two-and-a-half-hour, historian-led excursion that hits all the gory high notes, with a stop in the super-creepy catacombs—normally off limits—for good measure.
Tours are held annually on Halloween weekend, one on Saturday and one on Sunday (weather permitting). $25 per person; green-wood.com.
3. White House Pub Tour: Washington, D.C.
America's capital is arguably the capital of scandal and misconduct, so it’d be an understatement to say there are lots of skeletons in the proverbial closets of Washington D.C. Nightly Spirits’s White House Pub Tour introduces you to some of them. On the two-and-a-half-hour pub crawl, stops include three or four historic pubs and buildings. You'll get stories about the allegedly resident spirits and, well, spirits. (The drinkable kind, that is) There’s a specific beverage at each site to accompany the storytelling session.
Tours take place Thursday through Saturday at 8:30 p.m. $25, not including drinks, 21-plus only; nightlyspirits.com/dc-tours/white-house-tours/
4. Killers and Thrillers: New Orleans
French Quarter, New Orleans (Wangkun Jia/Dreamstime)
New Orleans—city of jazz, Mardi Gras, the two-foot drinking vessel, and voodoo. Few cities can claim a voodoo priestess as one of its primary historic personalities, but that’s just what Marie Laveau is. Her former home—and site of many legendary voodoo rituals—is just one stop on Ghost City Tours’s Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned, one of the options that falls under the company’s Killers and Thrillers duo. This 90-minute walkabout highlights the devilish deeds of the city’s ferocious women throughout history. Another option is the company’s Killers and Thrillers West, which visits the sites where vicious crimes took place and hauntings are said to linger as reminders. Both tours are so seriously scary that they’re adults-only.
Both tours take place nightly year-round; $29.95 per person, children under the age of 16 not admitted; ghostcitytours.com/new-orleans/
5. Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington: Wilmington, North Carolina
Once a fire-prone, tar-and-wood-filled community, not to mention a significant player in the slave trade, the port city of Wilmington has seen its fair share of heartache. But academic tours have you covered on that front—you won't get a serious deep-dive into the nature of such atrocities on your ghost walk. For a frothier take on historic tragedy, sign up for a ramble through the old downtown area, led by a costumed guide who customizes each excursion with stops at his or her favorite haunts (an unassuming alley, an impressive mansion, a tiny graveyard alongside a circa-1840 church) for story time. The tall tales are told in broad strokes with most of the bloody details omitted, so it’s suitable for small fry...as long as they’re not nightmare-prone.
Tours are held nightly from March 1 to November 30 and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights from December 1 to February 29. Adults, $13; seniors, students, and military, $11; children ages 6 and under, free; hauntedwilmington.com.
6. The Granbury Ghosts and Legends Tour: Granbury, Texas
Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the history. And, so legend has it, the ghosts. San Antonio is getting a lot of attention this year with its various 300th anniversary celebrations, but Granbury, a historic city that doesn't tend to get as much attention as Texas’s major metropolises, should not be overlooked. The Granbury Ghosts and Legends tour is an hour-long guided walk through the historic Downtown Square, where it’s said that the spirits of notorious figures with names like the Faceless Girl and Lady and Red still roam, trapped in another dimension. The costumed guide will share all their spooky stories and more along the way, including a bit about Jesse James's connections to the town.
Tours are held year-round on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:00 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.; $10 per person, $7 for kids 12; undergranburytours.com
7. Night Spirit Tour: Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel (Coljh09/Dreamstime)
Its facade won’t be familiar to fans of the Kubrick masterpiece, but Colorado’s Stanley Hotel played a vital role in The Shining. After an overnight in suite 217, Stephen King was inspired to write the book upon which the film was based, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the century-old property remains home to an abundance of paranormal activity, and its nightly tours explore the nooks and crannies that ghosts have been known to frequent. (Be forewarned: As a disclaimer, the hotel won’t guarantee any interactions “due to the fact that spirits are not on payroll.”) For a more in-depth experience, check into one of the “Spirited” rooms, a collection of quarters—including the suite where King laid his head—with a history of supernatural sightings.
Nightly tours are held year-round. Adults, $28; hotel guests, military, AAA, and seniors ages 55 and up, $25; children under the age of 10 not permitted; stanleyhotel.com/night-spirit-tour.html.
8. Spooked in Seattle: Seattle
Pike Place Market, Seattle (Minacarson/Dreamstime)
Spooked in Seattle promises “real ghost stories by real ghost hunters” on its tours. Sightings, however, don't carry a guarantee. The most popular offering is the 90-minute Pioneer Square Ghost Tour, which covers all sorts of locations in the city’s oldest neighborhood, from a hotel to Seattle’s oldest restaurant. You'll get the low-down from your lively tour guide about the the ghostly guests that reside in each place. There’s also a venture down into an underground area with only a flashlight—and the trusted tour guide—to steer you. Another offering is the Pioneer Square Haunted Pub Tour, a bar crawl that explores the seedy doings that went down in the city and a look at the paranormal activity that’s allegedly caused by the spirits of the people who suffered the consequences.
Guided Pioneer Square Ghost Tour is offered nightly. $17 per person, $15 students and seniors; spookedinseattle.squarespace.com/tour
9. The Original Santa Fe Ghost Tour: Santa Fe, New Mexico
As the second-oldest city in the country, it’d be shocking if there weren’t an abundance of restless souls in Santa Fe. Get to know them under the expert tutelage of Peter Sinclaire, a local who’s been communing with the area’s ghosts for 25 years. The tour winds through the streets of Santa Fe, where eagle-eyed participants might spot La Llarona, an eerie specter mourning the children she drowned in the Santa Fe River, or rub elbows with the city’s most celebrated spirit, Julia Staab, a high-society dame who loved the familial manse—now a luxury property called La Posada de Santa Fe—so much that even now, more than 130 years later, she refuses to move on. She’s been known to hang out in the men’s washroom on the ground floor, so be sure to down some liquid courage at her namesake bar before venturing in.
Tours are held on Friday and Saturday nights from March to November and Saturday nights from December to February. $16 per person; theoriginalsantafeghosttour.weebly.com.