Certain houses' reputations precede them. The Amityville house, for example, hardly needs an introduction: It is the real-life site of an alleged haunting in New York that spurred both a book and multiple films. On the West Coast, in sunny San Jose, the Winchester Mystery House acts as both tourist trap and ghostly hotspot: Original owner and designer Sarah Winchester built the bizarre, sprawling mansion with its own séance room and continuously added new rooms to confuse the spirits she thought were stalking her.
Science may suggest that ghosts are a figment of the imagination, but what's the fun in that? (Researchers who've tried to unearth proof of the paranormal have failed, but they have managed to create the illusion of ghosts, suggesting that hauntings are all in people's heads.) It's hard to hear the horror stories from Amityville or tread the halls of Sarah Winchester's creation without getting a little chill down your spine. In that spirit, we're highlighting some of the lesser-known "haunted" houses in the country. These homes may not really be haunted, but they sure feel that way. [Are Ghosts Real? The Pseudoscience of Hauntings]
The governors of Delaware might get more than they bargained for when they move into their official residence in Dover. Woodburn Mansion, built in 1798, has housed the state's governors since 1965. It's also allegedly the home to some mostly friendly ghosts, including the spirit of the builder, who quaffs any wine that might be left out each night. Visitors and residents have reported seeing the man, Charles Hillyard III, wearing a 1700s-style powdered wig and breeches. Another ghostly resident is a small girl in a gingham dress, supposedly sighted by guests during the inauguration of Gov. Mike Castle in 1985. (Photo Credit: National Park Service)
In Ohio, this imposing Cleveland home has a reputation for horror. Also known as the Tiedemann House, this home at 4308 Franklin Ave. was built in 1881. The haunted house rumors started around 1965, according to The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, which dismisses the tales as "spurious." (Photo Credit: Christopher Busta-Peck)
Spurious perhaps, but spooky nonetheless. According to legend, the house is full of hidden passages and rooms, used to conceal liquor during Prohibition. Several of the Tiedemann family children died while the family occupied the home (perhaps not an unusual occurrence in the late 1800s, but enough to fuel later rumors of murder and mayhem). Perhaps the creepiest tale is that an occupant once found piles of baby bones in one of the secret rooms. [10 Ghost Stories That Will Haunt You for Life]
Colorado's most famous spooky spot is the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, which inspired the Stephen King novel "The Shining." But the snowy ski town of Aspen has its share of things that go bump in the night.
Pioneer Park, or the Henry Webber House, is one of the few old structures left in Aspen. It was built in the 1880s and is supposedly haunted by the wife of the builder, Henry Webber. According to the Aspen Times, Harriet Webber died suddenly in 1881, only a year after the couple arrived in the then-mining town and set up a shoe business. Harriet's last words were allegedly, "Henry will know," spurring rumors that her death was a murder or a suicide. In fact, she died of strychnine overdose, which doesn't rule out the possibility of an accident: The poison was sold as an over-the-counter anxiety cure at the time. Henry Webber went on to marry his wife's niece — with whom he may have been having an affair — a mere four months later. (Photo Credit: National Park Service)
Does William Faulkner still walk the halls of his old home in Oxford, Mississippi? Legend has it the author's spirit is restless — and Rowan Oak, a stately 1844 mansion, seems ripe for haunting. Two imposing rows of pines lead to the pillared white porch. The house is open for public tours, but reports of paranormal experiences there are fittingly vague: A ghostly Faulkner has been seen writing on the walls of his office, according to legend, and he roams the grounds scaring off University of Mississippi students who venture near the house at night.
Visiting Rowan Oak after dark is strictly prohibited, a museum spokesman said, no matter your belief in the paranormal. "Our security guards are much scarier than any ghosts," he said. (Photo Credit: Used with permission by Rowan Oak)
With 56 rooms, an imposing Tudor facade and an original owner who died less than two years after the house was completed, it's no wonder that Epperson House near the University of Missouri–Kansas City has acquired a reputation as a ghostly hotspot.
According to the university, the ghost of a music student is said to play the organ in the home's living room. Security guards have reported disembodied footsteps, and a police officer even reported feeling a car rear-end his patrol vehicle in front of the house … only to get out and discover no damage and no sign of another car. (Photo Credit: Lance Nash/HexFX Aerials)
Ferry Plantation House
This brick plantation house in Virginia Beach is supposedly quite crowded. A whopping 11 spirits are said to haunt the place, which dates back to 1830. According to legend, dancing balls of light have been seen hovering over the roof of the house. A Lady in White supposedly manifests every now and then. Visitors have reported seeing small children on the stairs and in doorways. An old African-American man is said to walk upstairs and cross a sitting room, apparently lighting a ghostly fire in a now bricked-over fireplace.
The home has been the site of several visits by mediums and "paranormal investigators," all of whom come away with spooky stories and supposed spectral recordings. Myth or fact? See for yourself — the home is open for public tours. (Photo Credit: Rlevse, Creative Commons)
This handsome stone mansion in Billings, Montana, was built in 1903 with up-to-the-minute technology, like a call-button system for servants, according to the historical society that now owns the home. Preston Moss was a banker, newspaper founder and all-around entrepreneur — he even started his own toothpaste factory.
Over time, the Moss Mansion was witness to several deaths in the family, including the tragic loss of the family's sixth child, 5-year-old Virginia, from diphtheria in 1908. As with any old, creaky home with lots of history, the mansion has attracted its share of ghostly legends. That little Virginia still flits about the mansion is the tale with the most basis in history; another "manifestation" is said to be a male who likes to hang out in the master bedroom, according to HauntedHouses.com. Virginia's sister, Melville Hollingsworth Moss, is another candidate for the haunting. She lived in the mansion from the time she was 7 until her death 82 years later. (Photo Credit: Kelsey Palmer)
Perched above the Holston River in east Tennessee, Rotherwood Mansion is allegedly home to at least two ghosts, one sad and one scary.
The melancholy ghost is known as the Lady in White. According to legend, she's the spirit of Rowena Ross Temple, daughter of the owner of Rotherwood. Rowena's first love supposedly drowned in the Holston shortly before their wedding; she married twice more, but then committed suicide by drowning in the same river that claimed her first fiancé. Her wedding-gown-clad ghost is said to roam the house and riverbanks, looking for her lost love, according to "Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: Authentic Accounts of Restless Spirits, Haunted Honky-Tonks and Eerie Events in Tennessee" (Rutledge Hill Press, 1998).
Far more frightening is the ghost of Joshua Phipps, a slaveholder who ran the estate in the 1840s. Phipps was a sadistic master, the story goes, much hated by both his slaves and nearby townspeople. In 1861, Phipps fell ill. The ghost stories say he died not of his sickness, but of suffocation when a great black cloud of flies landed in his room, covering his face. At the funeral, a team of horses strained to carry the coffin up a hill, but the cart wouldn't budge — until thunder cracked and a huge black dog suddenly burst out of the casket and ran away. This black hound is said to still roam the mansion grounds.
Though these legends seem unusually detailed, they're likely more folklore than fact. The first records of the ghost stories don't appear until the 1940s, according to Virginia Creeper magazine. (Photo Credit: DM, Flickr Creative Commons)
Haunted ruins and a murder mystery? This spot in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, has it all. Little stands of the Labadie Mansion beyond a few brick walls, but these ruins are said to be haunted by the ghosts of Frank and Samantha Labadie, as well as their former slave, Enos Parsons.
The legend goes like this: In 1893, Frank Labadie shot Parsons in a jealous fit, believing that he had fathered his wife Samantha's newborn baby, which Frank threw in the creek. Decades later, in 1935, Frank claimed that Parsons was haunting him. He shot his wife and then himself. The ghosts of the entire family, including the baby in the creek, are said to haunt the ruins and surrounding woods, along with the ghost of Parsons. On occasion, the story goes, ghostly shots ring out, startling birds out of the trees.
Or maybe not. Other sources suggest that Samantha and Frank died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in 1935 from a leaky stove after celebrating 50 years of happy marriage — no slaves, illicit babies or murder involved. (Photo Credit: Johnny Fletcher)
The Croke-Patterson Mansion in Denver looks more like a castle than a home. Built in 1890 from red sandstone, the mansion features high garret windows and multiple turrets. It also, according to local legend, is the territory of spirits.
Many of the spooky stories date back to the 1970s, when the building was undergoing renovations. Allegedly, work done during the day would be undone by morning. The owners bought two or three guard dogs to watch over the property, but the very next morning, one of the dogs was found dead on the driveway, having jumped through a window sometime the previous night. The next night, the second dog leapt to its death, according to tales collected by the alternative newspaper Westword. The third dog was found cowering in a corner.
Residents and overnight visitors have claimed to hear the incessant cries of a baby from the attic, and there are rumors that an infant was buried in a basement wall. Others have said they've lost their breath at the top of the attic stairs — and not just because of Denver's mile-high elevation. Allegedly, a former resident of the house committed suicide in the attic by inhaling poison gas.
But it's not all bad: One former resident, pregnant with triplets, reported waking up one morning to the ghost of a woman named Kate, who lent her a helping hand to get out of bed. Now that's a sweet spirit. (Photo Credit: National Park Service)
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.