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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Top 10 places to get spooked on Halloween

A frightful blend of spine-chilling cities, weird wayside towns, and baffling bodies of water
Tower of London
Scott Barbour / Getty Images


They say the freaks come out at night — and on no night more so than October 31. Our top 10 places to get spooked on Halloween are a frightful blend of spine-chilling cities, weird wayside towns, and baffling bodies of water.

We propose four uncanny urban settings — both stateside and across the pond — where ghosts and ghouls add to the daily hustle and bustle. Or, discover the places where legends are born, like Transylvania, Roswell, and Salem.

We’ve also hacked our way through several hair-raising hotels to recommend a night where a notorious ax-murderer once slashed or the hotel where Stephen King was inspired to write "The Shining". So pack your best costume, vampire stake, or ghost buster, and head out for the Halloween night of your dreams (or nightmares)!

Bermuda Triangle

We’ve all heard of the Bermuda Triangle — that mysterious oceanic abyss blamed for swallowing a slew of aircrafts and ships, and, more humorously, all of the socks that seem to vanish from washing machines.

Also known as the Devil’s Triangle, the term loosely refers to a triangular sea span with its apexes at Miami, Bermuda, and San Juan (Puerto Rico). Dozens of peculiar marine and aviation mishaps have occurred at a disproportionately high rate here — among the more sensational stories, an entire squadron of 1945 Navy bombers is thought to have disappeared here, ditto several enormous merchant ships, all without a hint of wreckage or drowned corpses.

Some attribute the strange occurrences to anomalous electromagnetic energy, while others believe that aliens are using the area as a portal to visit the planet or, that the lost city of Atlantis lies below. Plan on a cruise through the baffling Bermuda Triangle this Halloween and you just might get to find out more.

Edinburgh Castle
Jonathan Smith / Lonely Planet Images


Descend into the underworld, literally! A forgotten city lies beneath Edinburgh's South Bridge — an underground maze of chambers, vaulted rooms, tunnels, and passageways shrouded in mystery and intrigue. The bricked-in city opened in 1788 (it was closed in the early 1800s due to insufficient waterproofing) but was virtually unknown to the thriving city above it before being rediscovered in 1985.

It’s thought that thousands of people lived and died in these vaults, many of whom never glimpsed the light of day. Nowadays, 20 or so rooms and merchant quarters have been excavated, and tours through the cavernous hollows pass by oil lamps, leather shoes, animal bones, wine bottles, and other haunting remnants of the people who lived here.

Not surprisingly, the vaults are famous for their strong paranormal presence, as well; many visitors swear they’ve seen wraithlike ghost shadows down below — some have even captured the haunting images in photographs. Check with Mercat Tours for guide tour times and themes.

Lizzie Borden B&B

Lizzie Borden B&B

Good night, sleep tight — don’t let the ax murderers fright! For a bone-chillingly good scare and a guaranteed sleepless night, we recommend a Halloween getaway to the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, set in a Greek Revival house in Fall River, Massachusetts (about 50 miles south of Boston).

Built in 1845, the house famously became the setting for the 1892 ax murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, allegedly by their very own daughter, Lizzie. The house has since been restored with late 19th-century period pieces, which contribute to recreating the atmosphere of the original murder scene; guests can even stand in very the place where Lizzie’s stepmother received 18 blows to the head — and the one where her father endured a slightly less brutal 11.

While circumstantial evidence tied Lizzie to the crime, she was ultimately acquitted, and the case was never solved. Aside from the eerie happenings reported on the premises to pique your interest, there’s a small on-site museum showcasing memorabilia related to the crime and a gift shop where you can pick up silver-toned hatchet earrings for yourself or that special somebody.

Tower of London
Scott Barbour / Getty Images


While it may be merrie olde England on the surface, there is a frightening underbelly to be discovered in its ancient capital city. Forget high tea — and head out for a spot of ghost-hunting instead, with haunted nooks and crannies in courtyards, churches, and alleyways that recall bloody and brutal London events from times long ago.

London Ghost Walk covers the most frighteningly fun highlights and offers specialized tours that follow in the bloody footsteps of London’s most heinous criminal, Jack the Ripper.

Hang around some of the top tourist attractions after dark, too, and you may well get a little something extra with your admission — a ghostly monk is said to wander the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, while the headless ghost of Anne Boleyn, the unfortunate second wife of King Henry VIII, is known to linger outside of the chapel at the Tower of London — apparently still upset about her beheading after only three short years of marriage.

New York City
Monika Graff / Getty Images

New York City

As if the streets of New York weren’t freakish enough all year long, on Halloween the freakiest of them all get to show off their eccentricities to applause and prizes — not social judgment — as part of the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade that marches up Sixth Avenue. Attended each year by over 2 million New Yorkers reveling in the spooky spirit, the village spectacle is not to be missed, but the fun doesn't end when it does.

Countless costume parties abound around town — the parade crew tends to hit Webster Hall, famous for its raging all-night bash. Another popular annual event celebrating the ghoulish holiday is the Halloween Extravaganza and Procession of Ghouls at the world’s largest gothic cathedral, St. John the Divine.

This unique event kicks off with a horror flick accompanied by an organist who brings the eerie soundtrack to life — it's a spine-tingling combination in the dimly lit cathedral. After the film, an elaborate procession of costumed characters and outrageous puppets strut their spooky stuff down the center aisle, to a blitz of special effects.

Roswell Museum
Mark Wilson / Roswell Daily Record via AP


The year was 1947, the place was an unassuming desert town in New Mexico, and the event was perceived as so extraordinary that, more than 60 years later, Roswell remains a household name.

U.F.O. enthusiasts today relish this tiny town as the U.F.O. capital of the world, citing the “Roswell Incident,” in which a craft carrying four large-headed alien beings purportedly crashed, followed closely by an entourage of military and government personnel, who swooped in to collect the wreckage.

Conflicting newspaper reports came out in the days following the event — after releasing a statement confirming that they had indeed collected debris from a spaceship crash, the U.S. military later retracted it, and dismissed the flying object as nothing more than a downed weather balloon.

Decide where you stand on the issue with a visit to Roswell’s International U.F.O. Museum and Research Center, where photos, documents, and dioramas shine some light on where conspiracy theorists got their ideas about government cover-ups and alien autopsies. You can also arrange to tour the crash site with a local guide for an out-of-this-world Halloween — just be sure to keep your eye on the sky.

Ed Young / CORBIS


Home to the ill-reputed witch trials of 1692, Salem, Massachusetts, today is, according to legend, still haunted by the women executed as part of the hysteria. Every October, Salem milks its gruesome past with its annual month-long Haunted Happenings festival of ghost tours, street fairs, and costume balls.

Be sure to stop by The Witch House, one of the oldest buildings in Salem and the onetime home of Jonathan Corwin, the judge who ultimately sent 19 women to their doom. Also worth joining are the eerie tours led by Salem Historical Tours: one visits the local cemetery, thought to be the country's second oldest, while another heads out for a nightly stroll past haunted houses and more.

Savannah cemetery
Savannah CVB


There’s no way around it — a saunter through the Southern city of Savannah is just plain spooky. Forget sightseeing: With dozens of tour groups dedicated to showcasing haunted Savannah, you’d best be prepared for some fright-seeing instead!

Try strolling the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s oldest city on the nighttime Ghosts of Savannah walking tour, rolling around town with a narrated guide on Carriage Tours of Savannah, or opt for a Creepy Pub Crawl, if you wish to sample some spirits while you look for them.

So just what is it about this deceptively pretty city that makes it so ghoulishly grim? Believers cite a long history of violence and bloodshed dating back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, not to mention widespread diseases and fires here. As if that weren't sufficient, many parts of Savannah's historic section were built over old cemeteries, to boot.

You can literally eat and sleep with ghosts here — grab a bite to eat at the Pirate House , a popular centuries-old local restaurant with a ghostly clientele, then rest up (if you can!) at any number of haunted bed and breakfasts; a particularly creepy choice is the 1851 Marshall House that once served as a hospital for many Civil War soldiers and yellow-fever victims.

Stanley Hotel
Rob Lee

Stanley Hotel

Who hasn’t gotten the goose bumps from reading (or watching) Stephen King’s haunting thriller, "The Shining"? Test your tolerance for the terrifying by spending a night in the place that inspired the novel, the Stanley Hotel.

Celebrating its centennial in 2009, the hotel is in fact a grand estate, with a spectacular Colorado mountainside location, old-fashioned rooms with impressive vistas, top-notch amenities, and a well-reputed restaurant.

What makes this place truly unique and a tad creepy, however, is the presence of otherworldly residents. Flora Stanley, the first owner’s long-deceased wife, can still be seen and heard, late at night, either tinkling the piano keys in the music room or wandering around the lobby.

Plus, the entire fourth floor (once the servants’ quarters) teems with strange after-dark commotion: if you stay in room 418, you might hear children playing outside your door, but find nary a soul in the hallway. For the ultimate scare (or inspiration), stay in room 217 — where King himself laid his head.

Transylvania castle
Gavin Quirke / Lonely Planet Images


It’s hard to deny the fright factor of fanged, bloodsucking vampires who awake from coffins in the night to hunt their prey.

So why not up the horror ante this Halloween and visit Transylvania, the alleged birthplace of these dark and fearsome creatures? Indeed, this western province of Romania is considered to be the home of Count Dracula you can even tour his alleged keep, the daunting Bran Castle — more commonly known as Dracula’s Castle — a spooky 14th-century bastion about 20 miles from Brasov, in the shadows of Mount Bucegi.

It's said to have briefly housed the Romanian prince on whom the great fictional vampire is based. If that doesn’t leave your blood cold, head for the hills above the town of Miklosvar to explore bat-filled caves or, tour medieval villages in a horse-drawn sleigh.

By ShermansTravel Editorial Staff

© 2009