Landmarks: America’s 13 Spookiest Towns

Where spine-tingling adventure awaits.

By Hannah Doyle

That shivering sensation? You could blame it on the season—or the supernatural. At least that’s what these eerie towns would have you believe. Visit abandoned buildings, haunted hospitals and more in these ghostly-good getaways, if you dare.

Salem, Massachusetts

During the infamous Salem witch trials of the late 17th century, dozens of people were brought to court for allegedly practicing witchcraft. One of the most well-known victims, Bridget Bishop, was accused of appearing in people’s dreams; today, the History Alive Inc. theater company reenacts her trial each week for curious visitors.

Adams, Tennessee

An invisible witch supposedly tormented the Bell family from 1817 to 1821 by moving inanimate objects, screaming and scaring the children in this small town of about 600 current residents. The story inspired the 1999 movie The Blair Witch Project, in which a hair-raising creature terrorizes a group of students.

Weston, West Virginia

About 4,300 people make up this wetland town. Its largest institution? The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a 150-year-old National Historic Landmark that operated in the mid-1800s. Daily heritage tours tell tales of a Civil War raid, a gold robbery and other uncanny incidents. The especially brave can sign up for overnight ghost hunts.

Arena, North Dakota

About 50 miles northeast of Bismarck sit the scant remnants of a former village—a mere two buildings remain. Arena was founded in 1906 but was abandoned during the Great Depression. Today the weathered church, gutted schoolhouse and weed-strewn road seemingly in the middle of nowhere mark where the town once stood.

Kennecott, Alaska

This remote outpost, some 300 miles east of Anchorage, was the hub of five copper mines a hundred years ago. All that’s left is the weathered mill and a handful of shuttered buildings. Visitors claim to have seen tombstones across from the mines, which then vanish, and to have heard the wailings of disembodied miners from the 1920s.

Astoria, Oregon

It rains about nine months out of the year in this town near the Columbia River, leaving the skies bleak and the streets empty. You can explore the Flavel House Museum (a well-kept Victorian) and the Flavels’ second home, six blocks away. The Flavels, once a prominent family, fell into scandal in the 1980s and earned national notoriety.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in and around the 1.6-square-mile town in 1863. Those Union and Confederate soldiers may have unfinished business—residents have reported encounters with specters at more than five local landmarks, including the Sachs Covered Bridge.

Athens, Ohio

Local lore has it that if you trace a line between the graveyards around Athens, you can form a pentagram with Ohio University’s Wilson Hall at its center. Starting in the 1970s, students staying at the residence reported paranormal activity in room 428, causing the university to seal it off.

Galveston, Texas

The island’s ominous reputation stems from a storm in 1900 that killed an estimated 6,000 residents. Many people have reported seeing wraithlike apparitions on the fifth floor of Hotel Galvez, in several cemeteries and in other spots around the city.

Estes Park, Colorado

The peaks of Crosier Mountain, Mount Olympus and Emerald Mountain form a jagged ring around the town of Estes Park, giving it a sinister atmosphere. Stephen King thought so when he based the setting of his novel The Shining on the town’s Stanley Hotel. Many say the paranormal is active here to this day.

Colma, California

More than 1.5 million bodies are buried in Colma’s 17 cemeteries; with only 1,600 residents in the town itself, they far outnumber the living. Colma was formed when San Francisco, in order to take advantage of the rising value of real estate, passed an ordinance in 1900 stating that no one could be interred within city limits. Graves were eventually dug up and transported south of the city, earning Colma the nickname the City of Souls.

Gambier, Ohio

Another one for the Buckeye State: Kenyon College, the state’s oldest private institution for higher education, has had accounts of hauntings in classrooms and dorms and on the grounds themselves. The two columns that flank the Middle Path running through the center of campus are called the Gates of Hell; legend has it that those who pass through them at midnight as the bells of the nearby Church of the Holy Spirit start ringing risk a fiery fate.

Cahawba, Alabama

Alabama’s first state capital became a ghost town after the Civil War. By 1876, many homes and businesses had been dismantled, and Cahawba was unincorporated in 1989. Today it’s a historical site made up of a few buildings along with several cemeteries, and ghost stories circulate about the former prison, Castle Morgan (now gone except for an embankment and a few strewn bricks), which housed Union soldiers.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2017