Image: Franklin Castle
Tabitha Kaylee Hawk  /  Flickr photo
From San Diego to St. Francisville, La., we offer you a spooky tour of the most haunted homes in the nation.
By
updated 10/25/2010 7:52:13 AM ET 2010-10-25T11:52:13

We like to be creeped out, don't we?

To kick off this Halloween season, we have chosen 10 homes in the U.S. notorious for their haunted history and spirits who like to visit. Some are privately owned homes, some are now bed-and-breakfasts, some have historic designations, and one is even the seat of our government.

Take a deep breath and let's visit some of the most notable haunted homes in the U.S.

Image: Winchester House
Courtesy of Zillow

Winchester House
Location: San Jose, Calif.
Notable ghost: Sarah Winchester

As one of two homes in California sanctioned by the U.S. Commerce Department as being haunted (the other is the Whaley House, below), the magnificent Winchester House stands alone as perhaps the most bizarre haunted home in the U.S. It was inspired and designed by Sarah Winchester, widow of William Winchester, founder of Winchester rifles. Legend goes that Sarah was deeply affected by the deaths of her daughter, Annie, in 1866 and then her husband, William, in 1881. Sarah consulted a medium who instructed her to build a house to ward off evil spirits. Construction on the Winchester House started in 1884 and continued for 38 years — until Sarah's death in 1922.

Sarah reportedly held nightly seances to gain guidance from spirits and her dead husband for the home's design. What resulted was a maze-like residence full of twisting and turning hallways, dead-ends, secret panels, a window built into a floor, staircases leading to nowhere, doors that open to walls, upside-down columns, and rooms built, then intentionally closed off — all to ward off and confuse evil spirits.

Image: Lizzie Borden House
dbking  /  Flickr photo

Lizzie Borden House
Location: Fall River, Mass.
Notable ghosts: Andrew and Abby Borden

Who killed Andrew and Abby Borden with an ax on the morning of Aug. 4, 1892 in this Fall River, Mass., home? To this day, no one truly knows. Lizzie Borden, the daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby, became the prime suspect and eventually, the subject of a popular children's rhyme.

Andrew was a widowed cabinet-maker and had two daughters, Lizzie and Emma Lenora. In 1865, he married Abby Durfee Gray and then in 1872, he bought the home so he could be closer to the city's downtown district. Reports say the Bordens were not a loving family unit and the stresses of step relatives created much tension in the house, which were only escalated by the Borden girls' fears that their father was bequeathing his assets and property to the stepmother's side of the family. Lizzie was indicted for the crime, and then acquitted by a jury. It was the trial of the century. She and her sister eventually moved to a home on French Street, and the murder home is now a bed-and-breakfast where Andrew and Abby are said to still roam.

Image: LaLaurie Mansion
Courtesy of Zillow

LaLaurie Mansion
Location: New Orleans, La.
Notable ghosts: Victims of Madame LaLaurie

Horrific stories of torture and abuse inflicted on slaves who worked in this house were reported in the 1830s and the abuser was said to be Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a socialite of great wealth and prominence in New Orleans. Delphine and her husband, Dr. Louis LaLaurie, would host elaborate parties at the house, but soon, stories of vicious cruelty emerged. In one tale, Delphine was whipping the child of a slave when the child broke away and ran to the roof, falling to her death. But the turning point came when a fire broke out in the mansion and when help arrived, they witnessed horrific scenes of punishment and torture inflicted on the slaves. Delphine fled, never to be seen again.

The home has undergone many changes and owners over the years, with one of the most recent owners actor Nicolas Cage. Cage said of the LaLaurie house, "You know, other people have beachfront property; I have ghost-front property." Unfortunately, Cage lost the property in a foreclosure auction.

Image: The White House
Courtesy of Zillow

The White House
Location: Washington, D.C.
Notable ghosts: Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln

It makes sense that a home this old and with so much history has a lot of ghosts. Abigail Adams, wife of second president John Adams, is considered to be the "oldest" ghost in the White House since she and John were the first to live in the big, drafty home that was still unfinished when they moved in on Nov. 1, 1800. She was known to hang her laundry in the East Room and is still "spotted" there to this day. But perhaps the most notable ghost is 16th president Abraham Lincoln, who reportedly had psychic powers and even anticipated his assassination days before. Many former presidents, residents and heads of state have seen Lincoln or felt his presence throughout the White House, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who fainted at the sight of him.

Other famous ghosts include Dolley Madison, who stands watch over her Rose Garden; seventh president Andrew Jackson has been heard laughing in the Rose Bedroom; third president Thomas Jefferson plays his violin in the Yellow Oval Room; ninth president William Henry Harrison haunts the White House attic; and British soldiers are seen walking the hallways.

Image: Franklin Castle
Tabitha Kaylee Hawk  /  Flickr photo

Franklin Castle
Location: Cleveland
Notable ghosts: Babies crying

Finally, a haunted home that really looks haunted. Complete with a tower, turrets, balconies, stone outcroppings, gargoyles, wrought-iron fixtures and fences, this imposing, Gothic-style Franklin Castle is said to be Ohio's most haunted home. It was built in 1860 for Hannes Tiedemann, an immigrant from Germany who became a wholesale grocer-turned-banker. Depending on who you believe, Tiedemann was either an evil tyrant who had a hand in mysterious deaths that occurred in the home between 1865-1895 — including the deaths of three babies — or he was a decent and hard-working man, but faced unfortunate circumstances. There have been many owners of the home including a German singing society and a church group.

Presently, it is owned by an Internet businesswoman who wanted to renovate the home, turn it into a B&B and hold "haunted mystery weekends" — but a fire in 1999 derailed her plans. It is rumored that Franklin Castle will be listed soon. In the market for a haunted house? Amenities include sounds of footsteps, babies crying, and doors slamming … and no one's there. How many agents dare to appear for this broker's open house?

Image: Sprague Mansion
Cranston Historical Society

Sprague Mansion
Location: Cranston, R.I.
Notable ghosts: Amasa Sprague, Charlie the butler

One of Cranston's most prosperous families, the Sprague family, owned Cranston Print Works, a textile mill that was the first to make calico prints and help pioneer chemical bleaching. When William Sprague died in 1836, he left the business to his two sons, Amasa and William II. Amasa concentrated on the family business while William II focused on politics, serving as a U.S. Representative, governor and U.S. Senator. On Dec. 31, 1843, Amasa was found shot and beaten on the road between his textile mill and his mansion. A man was hanged for the crime, but later found to be innocent. The true killer was never found. The Sprague family's fortunes eventually faded and the Sprague Mansion changed ownership many times until the Cranston Historical Society saved it from demolition in 1967.

Hauntings of the mansion most often observed include Amasa in the wine cellar and a spirit thought to be "Charlie the butler" descending the main stairway. Legend goes that Charlie's hopes and dreams of riches were dashed when his daughter did not marry the wealthy homeowner's son.

Image: Chambers Mansion
San Francisco Properties

Chambers Mansion
Location: San Francisco
Notable ghost: Claudia

In the prestigious Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco is the Chambers Mansion, which was built in 1887 and named after its first owner, Richard Chambers, who was a silver mine tycoon. Legend goes that Chambers lived here with his two nieces who hated each other. When Chambers died in 1901, the nieces inherited the mansion. One reportedly bought the house next door and moved in while the other sister, Claudia, stayed. Claudia reportedly loved pigs but met her fate one day when she was nearly cut in half from what her family called a "farm implementation accident."

Ghost expert Jim Fassbinder, who conducts haunted home tours in San Francisco, "claims that an insane member of the Chambers family, who was kept in the attic, chased Claudia downstairs into the Josephine room and killed her." The mansion was eventually converted to the Mansion Hotel in 1977, where celebs such as Barbra Streisand, Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams stayed. Many guests have reported strange occurrences while staying there.

Image: Myrtles Plantation
Wikimedia Commons

Myrtles Plantation
Location: St. Francisville, La.
Notable ghost: Chloe

Take an historic old, antebellum plantation home from 1796, surround it with trees draped with Spanish moss, and set it in voodoo-rich Louisiana and you have the perfect setting for ghosts. But, you need mayhem and history to generate ghosts and there are lots of both at the Myrtles Plantation. In 1808, Clark Woodruff took charge of the plantation from his deceased father-in-law, Gen. David Bradford, where he kept things running along with his wife, Sara, and three kids. Legend has it that Woodruff also took a special liking to a slave he owned named Chloe. But Chloe was immensely jealous of Woodruff's family and baked a birthday cake filled with poisonous oleander leaves. Woodruff's wife, Sara, and two of their children died. Chloe confessed, but fellow slaves retaliated, hanging Chloe and dumping her body in the Mississippi.

Lots of other natural deaths occurred in the home, but the only other murder was when plantation owner William Winter was shot and killed in 1871 while standing on the front porch. He supposedly staggered inside, dying on the 17th step of the home. Myrtles Plantation is also reportedly built on the site of an old Indian burial ground and during the Civil Warn Union soldiers ransacked the home. While it is hard to separate fact from fiction, popular sightings of ghosts around Myrtles Plantation include the large mirror in the home that contains the spirits of Sara Woodruff and her children, ghosts seen around the 17th step and, of course, Chloe who is outside, tending to her plantings. The house is on National Register of Historic places and is now a bed and breakfast.

Image: Stranahan House
Elmschrat  /  Wikimedia Commons

Stranahan House
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Notable ghost: Frank Stranahan

The Stranahan House was one of several structures built between 1893-1906 along the New River in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by an enterprising young man named Frank Stranahan. Frank arrived in 1893 to operate a barge ferry across the river and was the first non-Indian to live in what is now the center of Fort Lauderale. Soon, this prime location spawned other businesses for Stranahan, including a trading post, post office, bank and hotel. He became a powerful land owner in the area and soon, the Stranahan Trading Post became well-known. He married school teacher Ivy Cromartie and built her a home right on the New River in 1906, the Stranahan House, which still stands today as the oldest remaining structure in Broward County. Frank and Ivy were considered Fort Lauderdale's First Family.

This is also where Stranahan's story turns grim. He suffered from depression and his mental health could not endure a hurricane that devastated his businesses, or the financial effects of the Great Depression. Stranahan committed suicide on June 23, 1929 by strapping a large iron gate to his ankle and throwing himself into the New River. There are many reports of Frank Stranahan's ghost in the Stranahan House, as well as the ghost of Ivy Cromartie. Other ghostly presences include six family members and the apparition of an Indian servant girl near the back of the home. The Stranahan House is now open to public tours.

Image: Whaley House
David Schwartz  /  Flickr photo

Whaley House
Location: San Diego
Notable ghost: "Yankee Jim" Robinson

In 1849, as news of the Gold Rush broke, young Thomas Whaley moved from New York to California and opened a hardware store in San Francisco. Arson destroyed his business in 1851, so he moved to San Diego — the present day Old Town San Diego — where he set up general store businesses. Always the entrepreneur, he also started a brick-making business and used those kiln-fired bricks to build a granary. Then, in 1857, he built an adjacent two-story Greek Revival brick building where he and his wife, Rachel Pye, lived. It was considered the "finest new brick block in Southern California" by the San Diego Herald, and cost $10,000. The walls were finished with plaster made from ground seashells.

The site of the house is also where gallows once stood and where "Yankee Jim" Robinson was hanged for attempted grand larceny. Whaley reportedly witnessed the hanging, but was not fazed by it, since he bought the property a few years later, removed the gallows, and built the Whaley family home on the site. Shortly after moving in, heavy footsteps could he heard throughout the house "by the boots of a large man." Whaley concluded it was Yankee Jim, whose spirit is alive and well two centuries later. Two later tragedies occurred in the house: the Whaleys' second child, Thomas, Jr, died at 18 months of scarlet fever and their fifth child, Violet, committed suicide in 1885. The home was designated a California State Historic Landmark in 1932 and is open to public tours.

An aside: Thomas Whaley had some prominent family history: His grandfather, Alexander Whaley, supplied George Washington with badly needed muskets during the American Revolution's Battle of White Plains and his mother, Rachel, made some shrewd real estate deals including buying "Sheeps Meadows," which was used as grazing land in New York City. It is now known as Central Park.

But, wait. Where is the Amityville Horror House?

Image: Amityville Horror House
Courtesy of Zillow

Amityville Horror House
Location: Amityville, N.Y.
Notable ghost: None

We saved the least haunted home in America for last, but felt the need for inclusion because it is a notorious home that was the scene of a horrific murder in November 1974. The Amityville Horror House is perhaps the most "commercialized haunted house" in America. It is where 23-year-old Ron DeFeo, Jr. killed his mother, father, two brothers and two sisters with a rifle as they slept in their beds. The Lutz family purchased the home in 1975 for $80,000 but left after 28 days in which they described many supernatural events occurring such as slime oozing down walls, strange odors, moving furniture, swarms of flies in the dead of winter, and slamming doors, to name a few.

Soon a best-seller was born, "The Amityville Horror: A True Story," which also subsequently generated nine movies. In reality, the Amityville story was more fiction than fact. DeFeo's lawyer, William Weber, admitted that he along with the Lutzes "created this horror story over many bottles of wine." After the Lutzes moved on, several families have lived in the home for decades each and have expressed nothing horrific occurring. As a matter of fact, the home was just recently sold to a couple who report that the only thing scary about it are the people who come gawking.

For more real estate news, check out the Zillow Blog.

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Photos: Haunted destinations

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  1. Bran Castle

    Bran Castle, Dracula's castle, in fog, Transylvania. (Gavin Quirke / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The Myrtles Plantation

    Now a bed and breakfast, this antebellum estate northwest of Baton Rouge has been called "America's Most Haunted Home." Reported phenomena include an oil portrait whose features become animated, a "bloody handprint" on the adjacent wall, and doors that open and close by themselves. (Courtesy of The Myrtles Plantation) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pfister Hotel

    Built in 1893, the Pfister is the most regal address in Milwaukee, Wis., having hosted every U.S. president since William McKinley and scores of celebrities. But rumors abound that late at night, the spirit of hotel founder Charles Pfister, who died in 1927, arrives to check in. Some guests report hearing strange noises and having paranormal experiences. (Morry Gash / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Alcatraz

    The former maximum security facility on an island in San Francisco Bay was once home to Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. It is no longer used as a prison, but visitors and tour guides have claimed to hear screams, slamming cell doors, and footsteps. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Amityville house

    The house at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York, gained infamy in a best-selling book and several movies. Former owners reported creaking noises, voices, the music of a full marching band in the middle of the night, foul odors, and a black, shapeless apparition. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Edinburgh Castle

    This ancient stronghold overlooking Edinburgh is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions. It is reputed to have many ghosts, including a drummer who only appears when the castle is about to be attacked, and a piper who disappeared in the tunnels underneath it. (Jonathan Smith  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Paris Catacombs

    In the 1800s, Paris’s cemeteries were coming dangerously close to being filled, so some bodies were moved to tunnels that had been dug beneath the city by workers quarrying for building materials. Bones and skulls are stacked up throughout the Catacombs, and visitors have reported strange voices. (Fred De Noyelle / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Hotel Chelsea

    A familiar haunt for artists and bohemians in the Chelsea district of New York City since it was built in 1883, the Hotel Chelsea still puts up guests today ... if they don’t mind sharing accommodations with the reputed ghosts of former residents Dylan Thomas, Eugene O’Neill, and Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Eastern State Penitentiary

    Located in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, this prison was designed to encourage solitude, supposedly helping prisoners open themselves up to God. But it is said that many went mad instead ... which may explain the eerie noises that have been reported since it closed. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Hotel del Coronado

    In 1892, a young woman checked into this luxury hotel on California’s San Diego Bay to meet her husband. He never arrived, and a few days later, she was found dead on the hotel steps. Since then, guests and staff have noticed the pale figure of a young lady in a black lace dress.... (Nathan Hughes) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Inverary Castle

    It is said that the ghost of a harpist who was hanged in 1644 for peeping at the lady of the house can be seen wandering this castle in western Scotland, and can be heard playing every day in its library. The castle is home to the 13th Duke of Argyll today, but sometimes opens its doors to brave visitors. (Graeme Cornwallis / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. New Orleans

    The Big Easy’s French Quarter is well-known to tourists for its hot jazz and spicy food. But New Orleans is also the historic center of voodoo traditions that African-Americans brought to Louisiana during the days of the slave trade. Although those customs were suppressed by slave owners, they linger on today. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Petzow Castle

    This 18th-century castle near Potsdam in eastern Germany is a hotel and restaurant today ... but its corridors harbor a dark history involving murderous barons. (Sven Kaestner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Forks, Washington

    Michael Gurling, right, of the Forks, Wash., Chamber of Commerce, talks about the bonfire location on a beach in LaPush, Wash., that is portrayed in Stephenie Meyer's wildly successful vampire-themed "Twilight" books and movies. (Ted S. Warren / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Point Hicks Lighthouse

    In 1947, the keeper of this historic lighthouse on the eastern coast of Australia mysteriously disappeared. Afterward, many visitors have claimed to hear his hobnail boots at night, and it’s said his ghost continues to keep the tower’s brass doorknobs polished to this day. (Oliver Strewe  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Salem, Massachusetts

    The location of the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692, dramatized in Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible,” is today a mix of important historical sites, New Age boutiques, and witch-kitsch attractions. The Salem Witch Museum claims to be the most visited one in town. (Ed Young / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Sleepy Hollow

    This picturesque village 30 miles north of New York City was immortalized in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving’s classic tale of schoolteacher Ichabod Crane and the fearsome Headless Horseman. Irving implied that the apparition Ichabod saw was a fake, but a number of visitors also have claimed to see the Horseman, supposedly a Hessian trooper whose head was carried off by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War. (Susan Rosenthal / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Stanley Hotel

    This neoclassical hotel in Estes Park, Colo., was the real-life inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining.” It is named for Freelan O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, whose ghost has been reported visiting its billiard room and bar. Guests also complain about children playing in the hallways at night ... even when no children are checked in. (Rob Lee) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Tower of London

    The ghosts of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, just two of hundreds of victims executed on Tower Hill over the Tower of London's bloody 900-year history, are among many that have been seen in what is called England's most haunted building. Legend has it that in 1816, a guard died of fright after seeing an apparition of a bear approaching him. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The White House

    America's most famous residence is the setting for a number of ghost stories, some of which have even made it onto the official White House Web site. The spirit of Abigail Adams supposedly continues to do laundry in the East Room, while the ghost of Dolley Madison has been reported looking down upon the Rose Garden. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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