Happy Halloween, Matadorians!
WHILE I’M NOT MUCH OF A BELIEVER in the paranormal, I’m a big enough crybaby that the mere thought that I could have it wrong keeps me far away from these allegedly haunted places.
If you’re in possession of greater fortitude, most are easily visitable.
Paris Catacombs - Paris, France
When Christianity flourished early in Paris' history, the practice of burying the dead on the outskirts ended in favor of church burials within the city limits. As the city grew, its cemeteries became overcrowded and increasingly unsanitary. The grounds surrounding the most popular cemeteries were so heavily contaminated by decomposing remains that a new large-scale burial ground was needed. In the late 1700s, 6 million of Paris' dead were exhumed and transferred to the underground tunnels of the Paris Catacombs. Angered by the disturbance of their bodies, hostile spirits are said to now haunt the tunnels. Visitors report not only being super creeped out at the sight of human remains arranged neatly into rows and stacks, but also by more supernatural phenomena: cold spots, feelings of being followed, shadowy figures, and even a few cases of ghost-strangulation.Photo: Steve Duncan
Island of the Dolls - Xochimilco, Mexico
Imagine you're floating lazily down a maze of pretty little canals in Xochimilco, just south of Mexico City. You see other trajineras, colorful boats carrying visitors, some playing live traditional music alongside you as you enjoy a lazy picnic lunch while looking at the wildlife and tastefully manicured gardens on islands floating nearby. Then, you look up and realize that instead of wildlife, you're actually surrounded by dolls. Your boat's gone, the music's over, and there are only dolls - disfigured, dirty, shitty dolls. Thank Don Julian Santana Barrera. The story goes that Barrera found the body of a small girl near his island on the canals. He believed he was being haunted by her ghost, and somehow thought these creepy dolls would totally NOT be evil, but rather would help keep the girl's spirit at bay. As can be expected, he spent the next quarter-century holed up in his house (I'd be afraid to go outside if outside was dolls, too) until he died...by drowning in the very river he is said to have found the girl's body. Visitors to the island are convinced that the dolls have taken on the girl's spirit or developed evil spirits of their own, and often are seen whispering to each other.
Photo: Esparta Palma
Leap Castle - Roscrea, County Offaly, Ireland
If there's a room in an old castle nicknamed the "Bloody Chapel," that's enough of a deterrent for me to never want to set foot in the building. The chapel earned its name and its history of hauntings sometime in the mid-1500s, when its priest was stabbed mid-ceremony by his lunatic brother, who left him bleeding out on the altar. The oubliette, a long, spike-adorned shaft in the back of the chapel that enemies of the castle were thrown into to die, is another likely source for the 20 or so spirits rumored to haunt the building today, the most terrifying of which is the Elemental, a hunched creature with a decaying face that smells of rotting bodies and sulfur.Photo: AlisonKillilea
Larundel Mental Asylum - Bundoora, Australia
In 1953, Larundel Mental Asylum opened its doors to hundreds of patients with different degrees of psychiatric disorders and psychoses, including one notable patient who went on after his stay in the institution to become one of Australia's most infamous serial killers. Today, the property is covered in graffiti, including pictures of monsters, straight-jackets, and freaky watchful eyes. Parts of the building were badly damaged in a fire, adding to its supposed appeal to restless spirits. People exploring the grounds have often reported loud noises, strong, unfriendly odors, and occasionally the sounds of kids crying or -- somehow even creepier -- laughing. The most common sound heard is that of a young girl's music box on the third floor. The girl is said to have died there, and sometimes appears to visitors wearing a nightgown and holding the box.
Photo: Fernando de Sousa
Tower of London - London, England
Since the 1070s, the Tower of London has been used as a royal residence, menagerie, mint and treasury, and weapons arsenal, but it's remembered most often as a torture chamber and prison used by English monarchs to appease their taste for violent punishment. Anne Boleyn, famously executed here in 1536, haunts several areas of the Tower, especially the place where her execution happened. Her ghost has been seen floating around the Chapel Royal, usually headless. Another victim of Henry VIII, the Countess of Salisbury, managed to run before being beheaded, but executioners chased her down with an axe and hacked her to death instead -- a gruesome scene that you can still see being repeatedly played out by spirits on the Tower Green.Photo: sksamuel
Linda Vista Hospital - Los Angeles, California, USA
The Linda Vista Hospital flourished in Los Angeles' earlier years, but as its East LA neighborhood transformed, so did its clientele and staff. In the 1970s and '80s, the quality of care in the hospital took a turn as doctors chose to move to facilities in more affluent neighborhoods, leading to an unusually high death rate at Linda Vista. By 1991, the hospital was defunct and quickly abandoned. In the following years, the building deteriorated rapidly, and reports of cries in the night, unexplained voices, visions of apparitions, and sounds of disembodied insanely creepy humming were on the rise. Urban explorers swear that a little girl still hangs around one of the old surgical rooms and occasionally tries to grab a living person's hand for comfort. The hospital is on track to be converted into senior living apartments shortly, in case you have any grandparents you particularly dislike.Photo: Neil Kremer
Aokigahara Suicide Forest - Base of Mt. Fuji, Japan
The dense Aokigahara forest was a popular suicide destination even before Wataru Tsurumi's 1993 bestseller The Complete Manual of Suicide listed it as an ideal place to die. Suicides here were so prevalent that in the 1970s annual sweeps were instituted by the government to remove the bodies -- most of which were found in various stages of decay, hanging from trees in homemade nooses. With approximately 70-100 bodies recovered here each year, it's shockingly likely that the sounds of wailing heard through the trees might be from actual living people committing suicide, but many believe the forest is cursed by the tortured souls of those who died here. I don't think I'd like to find out either way.Photo: Simon le nippon
Edinburgh Castle - Edinburgh, Scotland
Castle dungeons, especially ones with a 900-year history, are expected to have seen some rough times. The dungeons at Edinburgh Castle held a wide variety of kooky personalities, including Lady Janet Douglas, an accused witch who was later burned at the stake (along with around 300 other women over the castle's history), and Duke Alexander Stewart of Albany, who escaped by killing his guards and burning their bodies. When visiting, expect to see their ghosts, plus the spirits of a headless drummer, a phantom piper, a dog wandering the dog cemetery, and many other departed prisoners roaming the halls. Visitors also report a creepy feeling of being watched, unnatural temperature fluctuations, sounds of breathing coming from who-knows-where, and, worst of all, unseen things touching their faces.Photo: photojenni
Igorot Burial Caves - Echo Valley, Sagada, Philippines
For centuries, the dead bodies of prominent citizens in the small mountain town of Sagada have been hung in coffins all along the cliffs in Echo Valley in the Philippines. The tradition stems from the Igorot belief that hanging the bodies of the dead gets them closer to heaven, along with the added benefit of keeping their bodies away from scavenging animals. As the tradition dates back centuries, some coffins have fallen from the cliffs in various states of decay, leaving the grounds below a bit horrifying. Along with the coffins mounted on the cliffs, piles of coffins fill the burial caves below. According to Sagada locals, it's not just coffins and remains all up in the Echo Valley. Whispery voices are heard, along with a wayward shadow or apparition here and there. The caves in particular have been rumored sites of ghostly mischief, though the Igorot generally say that if you just show some respect and leave the coffins alone, you'll make it out of the valley unscathed.
Photo: Rick McCharles
Cecil Hotel - Los Angeles, California, USA
The Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles has a reputation for not being a place anybody other than transients, addicts, serial killers, and really misguided tourists might want to stay. First associated with sketchiness in 1947 with the still-unsolved Black Dahlia murder case, the hotel was the backdrop for multiple mysterious deaths in the years that followed. After a rash of suicides and a few in-room murders, the Cecil gained notoriety when it became known as the residence for serial killers Richard Ramirez (The Night Stalker) in 1985 and Jack Unterweger (The Vienna Strangler) in 1991. And then there was Elisa Lam, who disappeared from the hotel earlier this year. Shortly after her disappearance, a CCTV video was released of her in the Cecil's elevator (her last known whereabouts), frantically pushing buttons, hiding, peeking furtively out into the hallway, and creepily waving her arms in the hallway. Weeks later, after hotel residents complained of foul-smelling, weird-tasting, discolored water, her body was found at the bottom of one of the rooftop water tanks -- an area closed off by an alarmed door. With no visible signs of trauma and no illicit substances found in her system, her death was ruled an accident. If you can believe that she accidentally stripped naked, climbed up one of the ladderless 8-foot-tall water tanks, slipped inside, and shut the tank behind her, then yeah, there's nothing scary about the Cecil at all.
Photo: Jim Winstead
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The final grisly resting place for an estimated 14,000 men, women, and children prisoners of the Khmer Rouge, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh has seen a lot of horror over the last few decades. In a place that housed thousands of gruesome stories, it's not unexpected to hear rumors of restless spirits. Museum workers are known to leave food out during their meal breaks as an offering for the spirits -- they say they can't eat in peace without doing so, thanks to poltergeist activity and loud crashes. Security guards say they've seen dark figures wandering the property at night and routinely hear screams and pounding noises from inside the buildings, and other workers say the spirits of the dead enter their dreams at night. As terrifying as the thought of thousands of tortured spirits roaming the site of their brutal murders sounds, the reality of what actually happened in those rooms sounds a hell of a lot scarier.
Photo: Franck Vervial
Lemp Mansion - St. Louis, Missouri, USA
The Lemp family's St. Louis legacy began in 1838 when Johann Adam Lemp built his small shop to sell groceries, household items, and his own homemade lager. The light beer was such a hit that Lemp went into the brewery business, making himself and his family extremely wealthy. Despite their success, the Lemp family endured no less than 4 suicides (and the unfortunate murder of a dog), all of which happened inside the Lemp mansion. Once the last remaining Lemps were gone, the mansion was turned into a boarding house and the building began to deteriorate. This is when people started calling it haunted, after hearing weird things like footsteps, knocks, and other strange sounds. Today, you can rent out rooms in the mansion, where you can check out the apparitions, moving objects, and leave a toy for the ghost of William Jr.'s illegitimate son in the attic. He's everyone's favorite.
Chernobyl - Pripyat, Ukraine
300,000 people were evacuated from areas surrounding Chernobyl on April 26, 1986. Hundreds of residents and members of clean-up crews died from radiation poisoning, and people living in neighboring towns have also been suffering from the effects of radiation for years. While the area's been empty for nearly 30 years, the site and its surrounding abandoned villages have been the scene for multiple accounts of strange experiences. Witnesses have reported seeing shadowy figures moving around in the streets and buildings, particularly near the Pripyat hospital, but the most unnerving reports actually came BEFORE the disaster. Reports of a winged, giant dark figure -- shaped like a man, but with glowing red eyes -- began to pop up in the area around Chernobyl a few weeks prior to the accident. People also reported experiencing nightmares and threatening phone calls, all surrounding sightings of what became known as the Black Bird of Chernobyl. Sightings escalated until the morning of April 26. After the meltdown, the Black Bird of Chernobyl was never seen again.
Photo: Kyle Taylor
Shanghai Tunnels - Portland, Oregon, USA
Portland's underground network of tunnels were in heavy use during the 1850s through the 1940s for human trafficking and other seedy purposes. Many of those who were "Shanghai-ed" (dropped into the tunnels via trap doors hidden in bars and other unsavory establishments to be sold as labor on long sea voyages) didn't make it out of the tunnels alive. The dark and dusty passages are now home to the spirits of former tunnel workers and those who were trapped and imprisoned here, including "Strawberry Shortcake," a little girl who lives in the basement with Nina, a long-dead prostitute.Photo: masha/scott
Cannibal Village - Nabutautau, Fiji
In 1867, Christian missionary Reverend Thomas Baker visited a small village in the mountains of Fiji. Shortly after their arrival in Nabutautau, the reverend and his Fijian guides were axed, cooked, and eaten. Over a century later, cannibalism has come to an end in Fiji, but the spirits of the missionaries have yet to calm down. The villagers in modern-day Nabutautau believe they're still being haunted by the spirits of those eaten on that day, and that the woods surrounding the site of Reverend Baker's beheading are cursed as punishment for the misdeeds of the past. Reports of hearing strange noises, crying, yelling, and footsteps in the woods have been common for generations, along with rumors of apparitions moving between the trees at night. Hoping to put the curse to an end, in 2003 villagers from Nabutautau held a reconciliation ceremony for the descendants of the killed missionary in an effort to make amends for what their ancestors did to Reverend Baker and his group. Apparently, it didn't help.