Strange and Creepy Ghost Stories From U.S. Historic Sites
Otherworldly legends haunt places like the White House, Smithsonian, and Statue of Liberty.
The United States is home to a lot of history, including endless tales of ghosts who haunt the country, including soldiers who died too young, presidents struck down before they accomplished what they wanted, and war widows still pining for their lost husbands. And many of America’s most famous and historic sites are not immune from other-worldly tales of strange noises and eerie sights.
We take a look at some of the stories behind the ghosts and spirits that haunt our country’s legendary locations.
The White House, Washington, D.C.
Of course the most famous address in America has ghosts. Presidents, First Ladies, White House staff, and invited guests have all reported feeling ghostly presences, seeing apparitions, and hearing unexplained noises in the nation’s foremost home.
Abigail Adams was the First Lady from 1797 to 1801 and she was known for hanging the wash in the East Room of the brand-new White House. And it is rumored to be her ghost, wearing a cap and lace shawl, that is occasionally seen heading towards that room, holding out her arms as if she is carrying laundry.
David Burns is a lesser-known spirit who supposedly haunts the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Burns sold the government most of the land on which the city of Washington–including the presidential residence–was built, according to History. A valet to President Franklin D. Roosevelt once reported hearing a disembodied voice coming from a distance in the Yellow Oval Room, saying, “I’m Mr. Burns.” Then, during Harry S. Truman’s administration, a guard said he heard a similar voice.
Then there is the Rose Room, which is believed by some to be the most haunted room in the White House. It’s where Andrew Jackson lived during his presidency. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who reportedly held séances in the White House, claims she heard Jackson stomping and swearing in the room.
Abraham Lincoln is the most frequently reported ghost sighting in the White House. Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, was the first person to say she saw the 16th president’s ghost. She claims she saw Lincoln looking out a window of the Oval Office. Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson, reportedly felt Lincoln’s presence while watching a television program about his death. His presence has also been felt by Eleanor Roosevelt, and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands claims that, during a visit to the White House, she heard a knock on her bedroom door in the night and upon opening the door saw Lincoln’s ghost, wearing his top hat. Winston Churchill said he once walked out of his evening bath to find Lincoln sitting by the fireplace in his room.
Gettysburg is thought to be one of the most haunted places in the country. The battle fought at Gettysburg during the Civil War saw between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties. One paranormal encounter visitors and residents often claims to witness is the “Phantom Regiment,” which marches and then vanishes before their eyes.
Mark Nesbitt, author, historian, and paranormal investigator, lived in Gettysburg for nearly 30 years. He told CBS that he has had no less than four participants “who rode an elevator in a modernized former field hospital down into a spectral reaction of a wartime hospital scene, complete with wounded soldiers and surgeons operating.”
The Cashtown Inn, located eight miles west of Gettysburg, was the site where the first soldier was killed during the three-day battle. The current owners say that photographs taken in the inn between 1987 to 2007 often had strange orbs and skeletons show up in the final picture. They have also heard strange noises and witnessed lights turning on and off on their own or doors locking and unlocking themselves.
The Gettysburg Hotel is also reportedly haunted. Guests have seen the ghost of a woman dancing in the hotel’s ballroom. Some paranormal investigators also believe that the ghost of a Union soldier, James Culbertson, wanders the hotel still nursing his fatal wound.
The Statue of Liberty, New York City, New York
It is rumored that Capt. William Kidd buried a stash of loot underneath what is now Lady Liberty. Kidd, who was eventually hanged in London for piracy in 1701, perviously lived in New York City for four years, in a house on Pearl Street. So, he would’ve had ample time to bury his treasure and keep an eye on it.
In 1982, two soldiers who were stationed at Ford Wood snuck out from their bunks to test the legend and search for Kidd’s loot. Sometime after midnight, the whole fort was woken up by screaming. One of the soldiers, Gibbs, was found unconscious at the site. He and the other soldier, Carpenter, say that they dug a few feet down and found a wooden box. But before they could pull it out, an otherworldly creature appeared—Gibbs said it had black skin, horns, wings, and a barbed tale, while Carpenter said it was red and did not have wings. Gibbs believed it was the specter of Captain Kidd, and said that the spirit breathed sulfur in his face and threw him into the harbor.
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
As the world’s largest museum and research complex, the Smithsonian Institution is filled with mummies, skeletons, and other relics, so it is no surprise that there might be other-worldly beings curated there as well. Many night watchmen in the early part of the 20th century claimed to have seen dead members of the Institution wandering the halls, including Emil Bessels, an arctic explorer; Fielding Meek, a paleontologist who lived and worked at the Smithsonian; Joseph Henry, the Institution’s first Secretary; Spencer Baird, the first curator; and even founder James Smithson, who died long before the museum was even built.
Smithson’s remains have been kept at the museum since 1904. In 1973, his body was disinterred, partly because of what James Goode, former curator of the Castle Collections, said were repeated sightings of Smithson’s ghost.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Eastern State Penitentiary once housed thousands of the country’s most hard-core criminal and its gruesome, 147-year history is filled with suicides, madness, disease, murder and torture. Inmates were frequently exposed to harsh and inhumane treatment, such as the water bath, when they were dunked then hung out on a wall in winter until ice formed on their skin. Or there was the mad chair, where inmates were bound so tightly that circulation was cut off, necessitating amputation. Or there was the iron gag, where inmates’ hands were tied behind their back and then an iron collar was strapped in their mouth, so that any movement caused bleeding in the mouth or tongue. And finally, there was “The Hole,” a dark underground cell where inmates had no light, no human contact, no toilet and barely any room to move. They were given little to no food or air.
With all this dark history, it’s no wonder that tortured souls are rumored to still haunt the building. Visitors, staff, guards and inmates have all reported eerie experiences. Cellblock 12 is known for echoing voices and cackling. People have seen shadowy figures darting from the walls of Cellblock 6. And other have seen ghostly faces in Cellblock 4. Many people have told the story of seeing a silhouette of a guard in one of the towers. And there are endless stories of footsteps, wails, and whispers.
Empire State Building, New York, New York
During its 88-year history, the Empire State Building has seen more than thirty suicide attempts from its open-air, 86th-floor observation deck. Many visitors have said they’ve seen ghostly figures recreating their final jump from the building, but there is one ghost story that is more famous than all the rest.
A tourist first told the tale in 1985, when she went up to the observation deck to view the New York skyline. She said she met a woman dressed in 1940s-style clothing. The woman was crying, so the tourist asked what was wrong. The woman said her husband had died in the war in Germany, and that she couldn’t live without him. She walked through the suicide prevention fence and disappeared. The tourist was shaken by what she’d seen, so she went to the bathroom to wash her face. Suddenly, the same woman appeared next to her. She touched up her make-up and went back outside to replay her final moments again and again and again.
Some people tell the story a little differently, and claim that the woman is instead Evelyn McHale, a 23-year-old who wrote a note about her fiancé saying, “He is much better off without me. . . . I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,” before jumping to her death. A photography student, Robert C. Wiley, heard the crash and took a picture of McHale moments after her death.
Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco Bay, California
There are plenty of ghost stories from “The Rock,” which was originally a Civil War-era military stockade and then later a federal prison for some of America’s most dangerous criminals. One story goes like this: In the 1940s, an inmate who had been stripped naked and confined to isolation in Cell 14D screamed throughout the night that someone with glowing red eyes was in the cell with him. Guards didn’t check on him till morning, which is when they found the inmate’s body, strangled to death. An autopsy later said that his wounds could not have been self-inflicted.
The most famous ghost of Alcatraz is probably Al “Scarface” Capone. The infamous Chicago mobster, Capone was driven insane by syphilis, and he was convinced that other inmates might kill him in the prison yard. So instead, Capone got special permission to practice his banjo in the prison’s shower room. The island became a park in 1972, and since then, many park rangers have reported hearing the sound of a banjo coming from that room.
Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois
The famous baseball field and home of the Chicago Cubs is reportedly haunted by the spirit of Charlie Grimm, who was the Cubs manager in the 1930s and 40s. Guards have claimed to have heard the telephone in the bull pen ring in the middle of the night.
That phone is a direct line from the dugout, which is supposedly where Grimm’s ghost resides. Other guards have claimed to see Grimm in the field’s hallways, but he disappears if anyone talks to him.
Others have said that they have seen longtime WGN-TV broadcaster Harry Caray in the press box or in the outfield bleachers since his death in 1998. And then there are the sightings of Steve Goodman, writer of the Cubs’ anthem, sitting behind the batter’s box. Goodman died in 1984, and his ashes are rumored to be buried under home plate.