Photo by Flickr user timoni west
Demon babies, lost souls, ax murderers -- these are not just actors in scream-inducing haunted houses that pop up this time of year. There are plenty of houses in the U.S. where some say these creatures dwell.
According to some local lore, these ghostly residents sometimes show up as the result of a tragic murder, while others were simply invited in by owners with séance rooms and professional ghost whisperers. Over time, as the homes become enshrined museums and the frightened-but-excited Yelp reviews start pouring in, it's hard not to believe the spooky stories.
So if you want an authentic haunted house experience, these six places are the way to go.
Photo by Flickr user Paul Sableman
The Lemp Mansion in St. Louis has had many lives, but it's really known for the three that have ended here. Since the 33-room home was built in the early 1860s, it has been used as a residential property, office space, a boarding house and now it's a restaurant/dinner theater/inn. It was first purchased in 1876 by William J. Lemp, heir to the once-thriving Lemp Brewery business, who turned it into a 19th century symbol of decadence.
But the family's picture-perfect extravagance didn't last. After Lemp's son Frederick died young of a heart failure in 1901, Lemp went to his home office and shot himself in the head. In 1920, Lemp's daughter Elsa committed suicide the exact same way, reportedly due to problems in her marriage. In 1922, after the brewing business had gone bust, William Lemp Jr. became the third Lemp to shoot himself in the house.
The three dead family members are rumored to make spectral appearances at the home from time to time, as are the spirits of William Lemp Jr.'s wife Lillian wearing a lavender dress and his secret son Zeke, known as the "monkey face boy" who was rumored to live in the attic. Guests and staffers have reported drinking glasses flying around, a piano playing by itself, vanishing tools and strange sounds.
The Victorian Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is clearly the brainchild of a crazy person.
When Sarah Winchester began construction on what was an unfinished farmhouse in 1884, she had lost husband William Winchester and their infant daughter Annie to disease. A spiritualist in Boston told her the family had been haunted by the spirits of people who had been killed by the Winchester rifle, a product originally manufactured by her father-in-law. Winchester's response was to head west and build a huge mansion with no architectural plan, staircases and doors (like this one) that lead nowhere, secret passageways behind the walls and a séance room. All in an effort to confuse the ghosts.
Since 1923 it's been a tourist attraction for spirit hunters and people who don't mind getting lost in the home's confusing passageways. Reported ghostly occurrences have included disembodied breathing sounds, one of Winchester's workmen in overalls who won't stop working on the house, flooding in isolated areas with no other damage, the inexplicable smell of chicken soup, a helpful female servant who asks visitors questions and the presence of Winchester herself.
Photo by Flickr user Phillip Pessar
In 1893, 27-year-old Frank Stranahan became the first non-native person to live in the center of what is now called Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He created a thriving business trading with the Seminole Native American tribe, married schoolteacher Ivy Julia Cromartie and built this house in 1901.
Despite his success, Stranahan became extremely depressed -- maybe as a result of the two hurricanes and Great Depression that had hit the area by 1929. He tied himself to an iron gate and threw himself in the river in front of his home.
Now the restored Stranahan House Museum offers tours and mock Victorian funerals featuring Stranahan as a character. There have been many reports of spirit manifestations over the years, including Frank, who is said to continue supervising the home's operations and scaring away unwanted visitors by banging on the house.
Ivy's presence, which reportedly comes with the smell of her perfume, tends to lay a gentle hand on guests to help them up the stairs to the attic. Ivy's cantankerous father Augustus has been seen in his old bedroom, throwing books around to show his displeasure. Ivy's brother Albert, who rented a room in the home at one time, has been heard flirting with some visitors and telling others to get out. Ivy's sister Pink, who had trouble having a child when she was alive, has been seen in the house holding a baby. And finally, a candy-loving Seminole girl has been heard singing and has supposedly moved tasty treats into a pile in the attic.
Lizzie Borden House
Photo by Flickr user Jimmy Emerson, DVM
Want a little ax murder with your breakfast? Head to the Lizzie Borden B&B in Fall River, Massachusetts, 50 miles south of Boston.
Guests staying in the authentically-furnished, two-story Victorian home get a free tour, which includes the opportunity to take photographs in the spots where the famed ax-wielding murderess (probably) killed her father Andrew and stepmother Abby in 1892. The most popular room is the one where Abby was killed, according to owner Leeann Wilber, and there are no refunds if you get creeped out and run away in the middle of the night.
According to HauntedHouses.com, a resource for finding haunted attractions, there are five ghosts that have continued to haunt the property since the murders took place: Andrew, Abby and Lizzie Borden, plus the spirits of Borden housemaid Bridget "Maggie" Sullivan and her beheaded cat.
Jane Addams Hull House
Photo by Wikimedia user Zagalejo
Charles J. Hull was a Chicago real estate mogul who built this home on the city's west side in 1856. In 1889, social workers Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House as a social settlement that would provide childcare for working mothers, citizenship classes, a library and an employment bureau, along with other social services. Eventually it expanded to include 13 separate buildings. Addams lived in the main home full-time until she died in 1935.
In 1913, lots of people in the neighborhood got the idea that a devil baby was living at the Hull House. As rumor had it, a devout Catholic woman had married an atheist man who cursed their child by declaring that he'd "rather have the devil in his house." Addams claimed there was no such thing, but not everyone was convinced. People still head to the Hull House museum on the University of Illinois Chicago campus looking for a child with pointed ears, a tail, scales and horns, who has been seen peering out of the Hull House attic window.
Addams may have refuted the existence of the devil baby in her home, but she definitely believed it was haunted. Charles Hull's wife had died of natural causes in what later became Addams' bedroom. She and her visitors were frightened by the frequent sound of footsteps.
Photo by Flickr user Nick
Cranston, Rhode Island's Sprague Mansion was the first home of the Sprague Print Works in 1808, a textile mill that is the only continuously operational textile printer in the country. The wealthy Sprague family, including William Sprague IV who governed the state from 1860-1863, lived there for three generations. Now the two-and-a-half story, Federal-style estate is open to the public for spooky tours.
This time of year, tourists and locals look forward to the Sprague Mansion Ghost Party, where they keep an eye out for specters that may remain on the premises. According to legend, these could include Amasa Sprague, William's murdered brother who co-owned the Print Works; Kate Sprague, William's wife who was a known fashion icon; Charlie, a miserable former butler at the house who has been said to make contact through Ouija boards and a creepy man in black who stands on the stairs.