The 5 Scariest Buildings in America

What makes a building scary? Its design has something to do with it, certainly. But even the most innocuous looking suburban McMansion can be made scary by tales of terrible goings-on there in years past; it's things like that that make a house haunted, after all. Some say haunted houses act like "psychic batteries," soaking up all the negative energy that's spent inside their walls, then releasing it over time on unsuspecting new occupants. If that's true, then the bad things that happened at these places make them some of the scariest houses in the country.

1. Danvers State Hospital

Also known as the Massachusetts State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, it opened for business in 1878 and closed in the 1990s, a victim of deinstitutionalization policies and budget cuts. Among other things, the staff there specialized in the pre-frontal lobotomy, wherein an ice pick-esque device was inserted into the orbital cavity, and swished around until ... well, until you have some very angry ghosts. Abandoned since the early 90s, it became a notorious shell of its former self, a crumbling edifice used in such horror films as the excellent Session 9. It was mostly demolished to make room for an apartment complex in 2006, though the iconic central edifice was preserved.

2. Ed Gein's house

Locals burned Ed Gein's house of horrors in 1957, a few months after he was arrested for cannibalistic crimes that would inspire writers to create Leatherface, Norman Bates and (in part) "Buffalo" Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Prior to that, it had truly been a horrific place -- isolated in a rural patch of Plainfield, Wisconsin, Ed had lived there alone ever since his brother and mother had died (the former under questionable circumstances), in a rambling farmhouse with no water or power. He used his farm-bred butchering and tanning skills to make "suits" out of women (mostly harvested from the local cemetery), as well as chairs, lampshades and other horrible objects. It was just as well that it burned, too -- the rumor was that an entrepreneur planned to open it as a tourist attraction called "The House Of Horrors," which would've been, well, horrible.


3. The Winchester Mansion

Sarah Winchester was the widow of gun magnate William Winchester, who after the deaths of her daughter and husband in the 1880s, sought the solace of a medium who told her that, in order to expiate the death visited upon the world by her husband's famous rifle, she had to "build a home for [herself] and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon." If she ever stopped building the house, the medium told her, she would die. So she spent the rest of her life doing just that, financed by her considerable wealth from the Winchester Repeating Arms company. It remains one of the weirdest buildings in the country, with more than 130 rooms, stairs that lead to nowhere, doors that open onto walls, and is stocked with details that reflect her peculiar superstitions -- like the number thirteen, which appears in everything from the number of candles in candelabras to topiaries in the garden in the shape of the number. The house, near San Jose, can be toured.

4. Chicago's "Murder Castle"

The 2003 best-seller Devil in the White City tells the true-crime tale of Dr. H.H. Holmes, one of America's first (and still most notorious) serial killers, who lured victims into his custom-designed Chicago hotel during the 1893 World's Fair -- and killed them. But he didn't just kill them -- this place was so fiendishly designed, it had a warren of soundproofed torture rooms in the basement, including a gas chamber, a dissection room and a crematorium. To add insult to injury, he sold the skeletons of several of his victims to medical institutions. Here's a detailed, shiver-inducing description of what went on there:

Over a period of three years, Holmes selected female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies for which Holmes would pay the premiums but also be the beneficiary), lovers and hotel guests, and would torture and kill them. Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that permitted him to asphyxiate them at any time. Some victims were locked in a huge bank vault near his office; he sat and listened as they screamed, panicked and eventually suffocated. The victims' bodies went by a secret chute to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also cremated some of the bodies or placed them in lime pits for destruction. Holmes had two giant furnaces as well as pits of acid, bottles of various poisons, and even a stretching rack, allegedly in order to create a race of giants. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he was able to sell skeletons and organs with little difficulty. Holmes picked one of the most remote rooms in the Castle to perform hundreds of illegal abortions. Some of his patients died as a result of his abortion procedure,[1] and their corpses were also processed and the skeletons sold.

At least 26 people met their ends in the basement of Holmes' "Murder Castle," which burned in a mysterious fire in 1895. (Holmes himself was apprehended in 1894 and hanged two years later.) The Castle's site is now occupied by a post office -- perhaps the least scary of buildings, atop one of the most horrific blocks in the country. The "castle" as it looked in the 19th century:

5. The Crenshaw House

Better known as the "Old Slave House" of Southern Illinois, the Crenshaw House was built by John Crenshaw, one of the only slaveholders in the history of the state of Illinois. As the owner of a salt mining operation in which "no free men could be found to work," he was granted an unusual slaveholding license in what was otherwise a free state. Not only did he use that license to his full advantage, owning more than 700 slaves at one time, but he participated vigorously in something known as the "Reverse Underground Railroad," in which free blacks would be kidnapped and enslaved by him. His house had a very unusual feature to facilitate this: a carriage door in the back, so his victims could be brought into the house without being seen.

But that wasn't the only chilling feature of the house. From Prairie Ghosts:

Located on the third floor of Hickory Hill are the infamous confines of the attic and proof that Crenshaw had something unusual in mind when he contracted the house to be built. The attic can still be reached today by a flight of narrow, well-worn stairs. They exit into a wide hallway and there are about a dozen cell-like rooms with barred windows and flat, wooden bunks facing the corridor. Originally, the cells were even smaller, and there were more of them, but some were removed in the past. One can only imagine how small and cramped they must have been because even an average-sized visitor to the attic can scarcely turn around in the ones that remain. The corridor between the cells extends from one end of the room to the other. Windows at the ends provided the only ventilation and during the summer months, the heat in the attic was unbearable. The windows also provided the only source of light. The slaves spent their time secured in their cells, chained to heavy metal rings. There are still scars on the wooden walls and floors today and chains and heavy balls are still kept on display.

The screams and cries of the slaves he tortured in those attic cells can supposedly still be heard by visitors today, and in the 1920s, the family who owned it started charging tourists admission to see the "haunted" upstairs. The house is currently closed to the public, but may reopen one day.


See Also: 10 Abandoned Psych Wards Photographers Love Sneaking Into

Martin Wittfooth
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
11 Magical Facts About Willow
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Five years after the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) and four years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), George Lucas gave audiences the story for another film about an unlikely hero on an epic journey, but this time he had three Magic Acorns and a taller friend instead of a whip and gun to help him along. Willow (1988) was directed by Ron Howard and starred former Ewok and future Leprechaun, Warwick Davis.

Over the past few decades, Willow—which was released 30 years ago today—has become a cult classic that's been passed down from generation to generation. Before you sit down to explore that world again (or for the first time), here are 11 things you might not have know about Willow.


In an interview with The A.V. Club, Warwick Davis revealed that George Lucas first mentioned the idea for the film to Davis’s mother during the filming of one of the Ewok TV specials in 1983, in which he was reprising his role as Wicket. Lucas had been developing the idea for more than a decade at that point, but working with Davis on Return of the Jedi helped him realize the vision. “George just simply said that he had this idea, and he was writing this story, with me in mind,” Davis said. “He didn't say at that time that it was going to be called Willow. He said, 'It's not for quite yet; it's for a few years ahead, when Warwick is a bit older.'" The role was Davis’s first time not wearing a mask or costume on screen.


Five years after he mentioned the idea, Lucas was ready to make his film with Ron Howard directing and a then-17-year-old Davis as the lead. The original title was presumably inspired by the characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the subsequent Victor Fleming film.


Having thought of the two worlds simultaneously, Lucas may have cribbed some of his own work and other well-known stories a little too much for Willow, and some critics noticed. “Without anything like [Star Wars’s] eager, enthusiastic tone, and indeed with an understandable weariness, Willow recapitulates images from Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver's Travels, Mad Max, Peter Pan, Star Wars itself, The Hobbit saga, Japanese monster films of the 1950s, the Bible, and a million fairy tales," wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. "One tiny figure combines the best attributes of Tinkerbell, the Good Witch Glinda, and the White Rock Girl.”

Later in her review, Maslin continued to point out the similarities between the two films: “When the sorcerer tells Willow to follow his heart, he becomes the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a film that also has its Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3P0 and Princess Leia stand-ins. Much energy has gone into the creation of their names, some of which (General Kael) have recognizable sources and others (Burglekutt, Cherlindrea, Airk) have only tongue-twisting in mind. Not even the names have anything like Star Wars-level staying power.”


Lucas has previously cast several little people for roles in Return of the Jedi, and there were more than 100 actors hired to portray Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. But, according to Davis, the casting call for Willow was the largest ever at the time with between 225 and 240 actors hired for the film.


The big bad in the film, Bavmorda, has demon dogs that terrorize Willow’s village. The dogs are more boar-like than canine, but they were portrayed by Rottweilers. The prop team outfitted the dogs with rubber masks and used animatronic heads for close-up scenes.


While trying to use magic to turn an animal back into a human, Willow fails several times before eventually getting it right, but he does succeed in turning the animal into another animal, which is shown in stages. To achieve this, the visual effects teamed used a technique known as "morphing."

The film’s visual effects supervisor, Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic, explained the technique to The Telegraph:

The way things had been up till that time, if a character had to change at some way from a dog into a person or something like that it could be done with a series of mechanical props. You would have to cut away to a person watching it, and then cut back to another prop which is pushing the ears out, for example, so it didn't look fake ... we shot five different pieces of film, of a goat, an ostrich, a tiger, a tortoise, and a woman and had one actually change into the shape of the other one without having to cut away. The technique is much more realistic because the cuts are done for dramatic reasons, rather than to stop it from looking bad.”


Willow has yet to receive a sequel, but fans of the story can return to the world in a trilogy of books that author Chris Claremont wrote in collaboration with Lucas between 1995 and 2000. According to the Amazon synopsis of Shadow Moon, the first book picks up 13 years after the events of the film, and baby Elora Danan’s friendless upbringing has turned her into a “spoiled brat who seemingly takes joy in making miserable the lives around her. The fate of the Great Realms rests in her hands, and she couldn't care less. Only a stranger can lead her to her destiny.”


Hardcore fans of the film have noticed that there is a continuity error that involves the Magic Acorns Willow was given by the High Aldwin. During an interview with The Empire Podcast, Davis explained that in a scene near the end of the film, he throws a second acorn and is inexplicably out after having only used two of the three Magic Acorns he had been given earlier in the film. Included in the Blu-ray release is the cut scene, in which Willow uses an acorn (his second) in a boat during a storm and accidentally turns the boat to stone. Davis says that his hair is wet in the next scene that did make it into the original version of the film, but the acorn is never referenced.


Val Kilmer in 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Val Kilmer famously played the role of the reluctant hero two years after played Iceman in Top Gun (1986), but he was not the only big name to audition for the role. Davis revealed in a commentary track that he once read with John Cusack, who in 1987 had already starred in Sixteen Candles (1984), Stand by Me (1986), and Hot Pursuit (1987).


During a battle scene later in the film, Willow and his compatriots have to fight a two-headed beast outside of the castle. The name of the stop motion beast is the Eborsisk, which is a combination of the names of famed film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.


A scene from 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As is the case with most shows and films, the role of the baby Elora was played by twins, in this case Kate and Ruth Greenfield. The IMDb pages for both actresses only has the one credit. In 2007, Davis shared a picture of him posing with a woman named Laura Hopkirk, who said that she played the baby for the scenes shot in New Zealand, but she is not credited online.


More from mental floss studios