The Scariest Places in America
EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY, PHILADELPHIA
This now-defunct prison which dates to 1829, lists two options for visitors: traditional daytime tours or an evening haunted house experience, Terror Behind Walls, which allows guests to participate in the shenanigans if they dare. "Those who opt in … may be grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways, removed from their group, and even occasionally incorporated into the show," the site says.
SHANGHAI TUNNELS, PORTLAND, OREGON
This network of tunnels below downtown Portland may or may not have been used for the process of "Shanghai-ing," the unseemly practice of capturing able-bodied men and selling them for labor. Another theory about what happened in this Prohibition-era labyrinth: Contraband booze was smuggled in for the hotels and bars upstairs. Whatever the true history, it's fun to take a tour and form your own spooky speculations.
WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE, SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
Though it's facade might not look frightful, this mansion has a strange past. It was built by a widow named Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the famous rifle company. According to the house's web site, following the untimely deaths of her daughter and husband, a psychic told Winchester that the tragedies had been caused by the spirits of those killed by the family's guns. She was told to build a large home for the ghosts to ensure her safety, with one stipulation: Construction could never stop. At the time of her death in 1922, the sprawling house had 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, and 47 stairways.
Considered one of the country's most authentic ghost towns, this Gold-Rush– era mining settlement still has about 100 structures standing, including a jail, firehouse, and church. It's part of the California and is in a state of "arrested decay," meaning nothing has been touched since it was designated a historic site in 1962.
SENECA CREEK PARK, GAITHERSBURG, MARYLAND
This park is famous for its starring role in the 1999 shaky-cam horror film The Blair Witch Project. If you're game, there's even a YouTube video that claims to direct hikers to some of the movie's famous spots, like the cemetery and Coffin Rock.
GRIFFITH PARK, LOS ANGELES
What's Griffith Park's scare cred? The creek bed near the already-spooky abandoned zoo was the filming location for Michael Myers' first murder in the 2007 remake of Halloween. The park also hosts an annual Halloween haunted hayride and has also been a site of the Great Horror Campout, an interactive, only-the-brave-need-apply outdoor sleepover.
THE EXORCIST STEPS, WASHINGTON, D.C.
There's a scene in the 1973 movie The Exorcist where a priest tumbles down a flight of stairs to his death. (Note to self: Don't ever become possessed by a demon.) Give the film a rewatch, then take an evening walk to the top of this steep stone staircase, which is near 3600 Prospect Street NW. The photo of you lying down beneath the last step is, of course, optional.
HART ISLAND, NEW YORK CITY
Many New Yorkers don't even know about this 101-acre island, which sits in the Long Island Sound and is part of the Bronx. Once a Nike missile base, the island has been home to prisoners and psychiatric inmates, and as the country's largest cemetery, is currently a mass burial site for the city's unclaimed and unidentified dead. Burials are handled by volunteer inmates from Riker's Island.
SIX FLAGS, NEW ORLEANS
In 2005, as powerfully as any horror-movie force, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the low-lying Six Flags New Orleans amusement park, taking it from fun to frightening in a matter of hours. Photographer Jason Lanier posted a video about his experiences sneaking into the site and snapping photos.
WESTMINSTER HALL AND BURIAL GROUND, BALTIMORE
This historic Gothic revival church was built in 1852 is the site of Edgar Allan Poe's grave. Visitors can tour the spooky subterranean catacombs below the building, which predate the church by about 60 years.