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7 Historical Haunts

From an abandoned prison in Ohio to the historic Colorado hotel that inspired Stephen King to write “The Shining,” explore seven spooky spots where ghosts and other paranormal phenomena have been reported.

1. Ohio State Reformatory (Mansfield, Ohio)

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Opened from 1896 to 1990, the reformatory housed more than 150,000 men over the course of its history. Located on land once used as a training camp for Civil War soldiers, the facility was established to rehabilitate young male offenders and give them a chance to learn a trade. Initially, the concept worked and recidivism rates were low, but by the mid-20th century the reformatory had been transformed into a maximum-security prison. The huge stone structure, modeled after medieval European castles, included a six-tier, free-standing steel cell block that’s been called the largest of its kind, although many cells were just 7 feet by 9 feet and held two people. Lawsuits about overcrowding and other substandard conditions led to the facility’s eventual closing, in 1990. Several years later, scenes from the 1994 movie “The Shawshank Redemption” were filmed here. Today, the site is a popular destination for ghost hunters, who report hearing unexplained voices and footsteps and feeling unknown presences inside the abandoned prison. Among the spirits said to continue wandering the place is that of a warden’s wife who in 1950 was fatally wounded after accidentally knocking a loaded gun off a closet shelf.

2. RMS Queen Mary (Long Beach, California)

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Built in Scotland in the 1930s for the Cunard company, this ocean liner carried passengers across the Atlantic from 1936 to 1967. During its early years, Hollywood celebrities, British royalty and other distinguished guests traveled aboard the 1,019-foot-long luxury vessel, which was designed to hold some 1,900 passengers along with 1,100 officers and crew. With the advent of World War II, the Queen Mary was converted into a troop ship and painted gray, earning it the nickname the Grey Ghost. Tragedy struck in October 1942 off the coast of Ireland, when the Grey Ghost accidentally collided with one of its escorts, the HMS Curacoa, and ripped it in half; more than 300 Curacoa crew members perished. After the war, during which the Queen Mary transported more than 765,000 military personnel (including some 16,000 during one New York-to-Britain voyage), the vessel returned to service as a luxury liner. In 1967, the Queen Mary, having completed 1,001 transatlantic crossings, was retired and permanently moored in Long Beach, where it was opened to the public several years later. Since then, a number of visitors have claimed the ship is haunted, and have described such incidents as seeing people swim in the ship’s old, waterless, swimming pool, or hearing sailors screaming, accompanied by the sound of Curacoa collision.

3. Stanley Hotel (Estes Park, Colorado)


Credit: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Famous as the inspirational setting for Stephen King’s 1977 horror novel “The Shining,” the hotel opened to guests in 1909 and is named for its original owner, F.O. Stanley, co-founder of a company that made steam-engine cars known as Stanley Steamers. A Maine native, Stanley and his twin brother produced their first vehicles in the late 1890s. In 1903, F.O., who was suffering from tuberculosis, arrived in Estes Park, hoping the mountain air would provide a cure. He later purchased land from an Anglo-Irish nobleman, on which he began building the hotel in 1907. In late October 1974, Stephen King and his wife stayed at the Stanley and were the only guests there; the experience served as fodder for his best-selling book about an off-season caretaker at an old hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Today, the ghosts of F.O. Stanley and his wife, Flora, are said to roam the hotel. Additionally, legend holds that in 1911 a maid carrying a lit candle during a storm entered what is now room 217, which had an undetected gas leak. The resulting explosion sent the maid crashing into the room below; she broke both her ankles but went on to work at the hotel until her death decades later. Since then, her ghost reportedly has haunted the room, sometimes even performing housekeeping tasks. Over the years, there also have been reports of lights turning on and off on their own, objects moving and the unexplained sounds of children running in the halls.

4. Fort Mifflin (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

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Commissioned in 1771, this site served as an American military post for nearly two centuries. In 1777, during the Revolutionary War, the British army laid siege to the fort—in what was the largest bombardment of the entire war—but were held off for more than a month by American forces. The actions of the Americans made it possible for George Washington’s army to safely move into Valley Forge, where they rested for the winter. The fort was rebuilt and later served as a Union military prison during the Civil War and as an ammunition depot during World War I and World War II, before being decommissioned in 1954. Today, Fort Mifflin allegedly is haunted by a host of specters, such as the Faceless Man, believed to be the ghost of Billy Howe, the only Civil War prisoner ever executed at the fort by hanging, and the Screaming Woman, whose identity is uncertain but whose screams have been said to be so loud that the police were called on occasion.

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5. Island of the Dolls/Isla de las Munecas (Xochimilco, Mexico)

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Located along the canals of the Xochimilco district, south of Mexico City, this small island features trees hung with dolls, a number of which are headless or limbless. Legend holds that decades ago a man named Don Julian Santana Barrera discovered the body of a drowned girl near the island. Soon after, Barrera spotted a doll floating in the same section of water and decided to place the toy in a tree as a memorial to the dead girl. Before long, he was collecting old dolls and, without bothering to repair or clean them, hanging them in trees in an effort to comfort the deceased girl’s spirit. Allegedly, Barrera came to view all the dolls as possessed, and some locals have even claimed that the dolls talk to each other. Barrera continued to fill the trees with dolls until 2001, when he drowned in the canal where years earlier the girl to whom he created this creepy shrine supposedly met the same fate.

6. Whaley House (San Diego, California)

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Credit: Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images

In 1857, seven years after California became a state, merchant Thomas Whaley constructed this two-story brick building for his family, at the same spot where years earlier he’d witnessed the hanging of a thief named Yankee Jim Robinson. Tragedy soon struck the occupants of the new residence: In 1858, Whaley’s young son died of scarlet fever and one of his stores was burned to the ground by an arsonist. Later, in 1885, Whaley’s daughter killed herself at the home following a brief, failed marriage. Over the course of its history, the house supposedly has been haunted by the ghosts of Yankee Jim Robinson, Thomas Whaley and his wife, and even some favorite Whaley family pets. Additionally, visitors to the building have reported feeling presences connected to a period in the late 1860s when the site was used both a theater and a courtroom. The house, which remained in the Whaley family until the 1950s (it’s now a museum) allegedly has been the scene of a variety of other eerie activities, including windows and doors opening on their own and unexplained noises, voices and smells.

7. Aokigahara Forest (Japan)

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Situated at the base of Mount Fuji and referred to as Suicide Forest, this site is the most common place to commit suicide in Japan, whose suicide rate is higher than those of many other industrialized nations. A 1960 novel by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto helped popularize Aokigahara Forest as a suicide destination; in the book, the heroine goes there to end her life. Legend holds that in ancient times, some families who experienced a food shortage due to famine or other hardships would abandon elderly relatives in the forest to die. The ghosts of those who were abandoned are said to now haunt the forest.

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