5 Real-Life Haunted Houses
Winchester Mystery House
Sarah Winchester (of the Winchester rifle clan) was a woman desperately trying to escape the demons of her family. When her baby daughter died in 1866, she fell into a deep depression. When her husband died of tuberculosis in 1881, Sarah moved from New Haven, CT, to this spooky house in San Jose, CA, convinced that she was being chased by death including the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles.
Strangely, she believed that to save herself, her new house had to remain under constant construction. So she hired a crew to build. Day and night. For 38 years. When she died, the eccentric abode -- full of labyrinthine rooms and lavish details, plus a stairway to nowhere -- was a seven-story architectural portrait of madness.
The hulking house (now only four floors, due to damage from the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906) hides spirits in its dark recesses -- perhaps those of Sarah, her family or the unknowns she was hoping to escape.
In the séance room, visitors have reported stabbing pains, glimpses of women's silhouettes and (shudder) cold breath on their necks. The room also has a closet with no floor (looking straight down into the kitchen below) and an exit via a secret passageway -- if you can find your way out.
Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast and Museum
On an unremarkable morning in Fall River, MA in 1892, a maid awoke to Lizzie Borden yelling that someone had murdered her father -- his head had been bashed in with a hatchet. Upstairs, Lizzie's stepmother was found bludgeoned to death. Even though 32-year-old Lizzie was acquitted for the crimes in court, the townspeople always believed she was guilty.
In the downstairs sitting room, check out the crime-scene photo of Andrew Borden slumped and bloodied on a couch. Then try not to get chills when you sit on a similar plush velvet couch in that exact spot.
Villisca Ax Murder House
This nondescript house in remote Villisca, Iowa is ordinary in every way -- except for the "Ax Murder House" sign out front. One June night in 1912, a family and its houseguests -- two adults and six children in all -- were brutally murdered as they slept. To this day, not a soul knows who did it, or why.
Tours have been cut short by moving objects and echoes of children's laughter -- and then there are the sleepovers. Owner Martha Linn simply leaves you at the house (without electricity or running water) to slumber among its mysterious movements. "Everyone comes out of there with some story," Linn says.
The Lemp family was wealthy and weird: wealthy enough to build a ballroom and pool in the 33-room home in St. Louis; weird enough to put them underground, accessible via a subterranean passageway. Over the years, things got weirder: The mansion was home to three suicides, and the family was rumored to hide an illegitimate child in the attic. Now a restaurant and inn, the mansion is reportedly haunted by its former residents.
Overnight guests have reported intense feelings of being watched and have complained of disappearing belongings. One woman's phone went missing -- and called her husband at the same time every hour for days.
As legend has it, a slave named Chloe in St. Francisville, LA -- rumored to have been the master's mistress -- had her ear cut off after she eavesdropped on business dealings. In an act of twisted logic, Chloe baked a cake with poisonous oleander leaves, hoping to make the family sick so that she could nurse them back to health and regain their favor. Instead, the master's wife and two of their children died, and Chloe was hanged.
The plantation is now an inn, where assistant manager Hester Eby says guests have seen ethereal kids on the lawn. Photos of a mirror in the foyer reveal handprints and faces; guests often report that one of their earrings disappears, perhaps because one is all Chloe needs.