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Andrew Rivett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Andrew Rivett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

8 Haunted Places and the Ghost Stories Behind Them

Andrew Rivett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Andrew Rivett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

You probably don't live that far from a place ghosts are said to roam. Maybe you don’t think about it until Halloween rolls around, when everyone seems to be ready with a scary story. But some of those ghost sightings may be tied to horrible events from the past—knowing the history of a place sets one up to see and hear things that might otherwise be ignored. And whether or not you believe in ghosts, the stories behind the legends can be seriously disturbing.

1. GIBRALTAR POINT LIGHTHOUSE // TORONTO, ONTARIO

The lighthouse at Gibraltar Point is one of the oldest buildings in Toronto. Originally erected around 1808, it was the scene of a mysterious death in 1815. John Paul Rademuller, sometimes spelled Radan Muller, was the first lighthouse keeper, and supposedly sold beer (possibly bootleg beer) on the side. The story goes that two or three soldiers approached Rademuller for beer, but after some kind of dispute, they hacked him to pieces with an axe, then buried the body parts. Documentation on the crime is sparse and contradictory, and no convictions were ever reached. The lighthouse is no longer in service, but people sometimes report seeing its light on. Some also hear eerie moaning sounds near the site. The sound is said to be the ghost of Rademuller, still waiting for justice.

2. THE GREENBRIER GHOST // GREENBRIER COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA 

Elva Zona Heaster Shue was found dead in 1897. Her husband, Erasmus (also known as Edward) Trout Shue, dressed her for burial before the doctor arrived to determine the cause of death. Erasmus wailed and moaned and would not leave his wife's corpse until she was buried. The doctor gave her a cursory look, and wrote down first that she had died of an "everlasting faint" (he later changed the cause of death to "childbirth"). But Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster, had her suspicions. She testified that Zona's ghost visited her over a period of four nights and described how Erasmus had killed her.

Heaster took her story to local prosecutor John Alfred Preston and convinced him to reopen the case. Based on the visitation, the body was exhumed, and Zona's neck was found to be broken; her windpipe was also crushed. It was enough for a jury to convict Erasmus. He spent the next three years at the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, where he died in 1900. Locals hope the ghost of Zona Heaster Shue can now rest in peace, but the ghost of her killer is one of many who supposedly haunt the erstwhile penitentiary.

3. THE WHITE DOE // ROANOKE ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA

If you were in eastern North Carolina and saw a white deer, would you think of it as a rare animal or would you see it as a ghost? It might depend on whether you know the story of the ghost of Virginia Dare.

Virginia Dare was a real person, a member of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. She was the first English child born in the New World, shortly after her parents settled on Roanoke Island in 1587. Her grandfather, John White, left for England to bring back supplies and reinforcements, but by the time he returned in 1590, the colonists had disappeared. Their fate has remained a mystery for hundreds of years; many have assumed they were either killed by local native groups or moved with them to a more suitable home. Recent evidence points to the colony moving inland.

But all we have left of Virginia Dare are tales. The legend is that Dare grew up among the Croatan tribe and was turned into a white deer by a jealous shaman suitor. Another suitor tried to reverse the spell, but the doe was killed by the arrow of a local hunter. Her ghost is said to appear as a white doe roaming the Outer Banks to this day.

4. THE BELL WITCH // ADAMS, TENNESSEE

John Bell and his family lived on a roughly 300-acre farm near Adams, Tennessee. In 1817, the family began to experience frightening manifestations, ranging from strange noises to children being beaten in their sleep. They later heard the voice of an old woman, singing, quoting scripture, and eventually talking to the family.

The “witch,” who some believe was a deceased neighbor named Kate Batts, hated John Bell and constantly tormented him. When his daughter Betsy became engaged to Joshua Gardner, the witch expressed her disapproval and hounded the couple until Betsy broke off the relationship in 1821. Betsy had reason to be scared. Just a few months before, her father John had died. A vial of poison was found near his body, and the voice of the witch took credit for his death. The voice even supposedly laughed all the way through John Bell’s funeral.

Today you can visit a recreation of the family’s home and a nearby cave, and take part in an expanded Halloween schedule of activities there. The property and the cave are said to be haunted still, as many visitors report strange phenomena.

5. THE MERCER-WILLIAMS HOUSE // SAVANNAH, GEORGIA 

In 1860, construction began on a fine Savannah home for General Hugh W. Mercer. Due to the Civil War, construction wasn’t completed until 1868, by which time it had a different owner. About a century later, in 1969, the house was purchased by antiques dealer Jim Williams—a preservationist who restored quite a few Savannah buildings to their original glory.

Williams hired the much-younger Danny Hansford as an assistant, and the two also had an intimate relationship. On May 2, 1981, Williams shot and killed Hansford. He was tried for the crime four times; the question was whether he had shot Hansford in a premeditated murder or in self-defense. In the fourth trial, he was acquitted. Less than a year later, Williams himself died of pneumonia and heart failure, allegedly falling dead in the exact spot where Hansford died in his home nine years earlier. The killing was the subject of the 1994 book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and the 1997 movie of the same name. The house, which is said to be haunted by the ghosts of both men, is now a museum operated by Williams’s sister.   

6. THE HAUNTED RAILROAD TUNNEL // MOONVILLE, OHIO

Moonville, Ohio, was once a thriving mining town with a population that peaked at about 100 people, but the last residents left in 1947. Nearby is a railroad tunnel that is purported to be haunted by one—or many more—of the people who have died there.

The most famous ghost is a railroad brakeman who had too much to drink and fell from a train in March 1859. His leg was so badly mangled that he supposedly bled to death before it could be amputated. Three other railroad brakemen are said to have died in the area. Several accounts exist of people who see the ghost of a brakeman near the tunnel, swinging a light in an attempt to stop the train.

Engineer Frank Lawhead’s train collided with another train near the tunnel in 1880. Fireman Charles Krick also died in the accident, which was caused by a dispatcher’s mistake. Since then, there have been reports of ghostly figures frightening engineers along the tracks.

Some have seen a ghost described as an older woman. There were three women who died while crossing railroad tracks in the Moonville area—one each in 1873, 1890, and 1892. A 10-year-old girl was killed while crossing a trestle as recently as 1986, the last railroad death in Moonville. Some maintain the female ghost is a woman who died along the tracks in 1905.

Other deaths include several people who hitched a free ride on the outside of a train (which barely fit through the tunnel) and a few who were walking along or even sleeping on the tracks. Railroad workers occasionally see a semi-transparent man being hit, and sometimes they hear screams, but no solid body is hit during those events.

7. MERCY BROWN // EXETER, RHODE ISLAND

Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in Exeter, Rhode Island, is reported to be haunted by a vampire named Mercy Lena Brown. She was preceded in death by her mother and sister, victims of tuberculosis, and Mercy would often visit their graves. In January 1892, 19-year-old Mercy herself fell to tuberculosis and was interred with her family members. Her brother Edwin also fell ill with tuberculosis. Soon, townspeople suggested the cause of the family's tragedies was the restless dead. A group of local men dug up the graves of Mercy, her mother, and her sister on March 17, 1892. Only Mercy, who died in January, was free of decomposition. This led villagers to believe she was a vampire. The villagers cut out Mercy's heart, burned it, mixed the ashes with water, and gave the concoction to the ailing Edwin. He nevertheless died a couple of months later. The story of Mercy Brown was an inspiration for elements in several novels, including Bram Stoker's Dracula.

8. NELL CROPSEY // ELIZABETH CITY, NORTH CAROLINA 

In 1901, 19-year-old Nell Cropsey disappeared from her home in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Her boyfriend of three years, Jim Wilcox, was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murder. He was at the Cropsey house that night, and the family said the two had argued.

More than a month later, Cropsey’s body was found in the Pasquotank River. But she didn’t drown—the coroner’s report said the cause of death was head trauma that had occurred before she was dumped in the river. Wilcox was convicted of her murder and sentenced to 30 years, but pardoned in 1918. Wilcox allegedly told the entire story to a newspaper editor in 1932 for a book about the case. But Wilcox committed suicide shortly afterward, and the newspaper editor died in an auto accident just a couple of weeks later. People have seen the ghost of Nell Cropsey in the house ever since, appearing as a pale figure that never speaks. There have also been reports of lights going on and off, doors slamming, and a cold breeze blowing without explanation. The home is still inhabited, and the residents live in relative peace with the ghost. After all, it was her home before it was theirs.

Are ghosts haunting a site near you? Part two of this list is coming next week.

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6 Historical Methods for Contacting the Dead (and Their Drawbacks)
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

'Tis the season for getting in touch with the spirit realm. (This applies no matter what month we're in right now; 'tis always high time to get your séance on.) But there are several different ways you can go about it. Do you Ouija? Should you go wandering around a haunted house? No, you should probably pick up the psychic telephone.

Lapham's Quarterly helpfully charted out some of historical ways you could (supposedly) go about contacting the dead, from Chinese Fuji writing—a method that's kind of like a Ouija board, but using a stylus to make letters in sand instead of a board—to past-life regression via hypnosis. The chart lays out how each ghost-whispering concept works, and its theoretical drawbacks. Because there are always drawbacks.

Transfiguration, for instance, lets you see a spirit's face through the body of a medium, but that's a whole lot of hard work for your medium. You can listen for electronic voice phenomena via a recorder, but you have to buy the recorder first. F. R. Melton's 1921 invention, the balloon-powered psychic telephone, was a great option—except when his son George wasn't around to work it. And past-life regression, as you might imagine, holds “potential for new levels of self-hatred." No one wants to find out that their past self was a total jerk.

There are plenty of scientific and cultural explanations for seeing ghosts that don't involve the actual spirits of the dead returning to the Earthly plane, but if you're into the history of the occult, this is a great primer on spirit-conjuring traditions.

[h/t Lapham's Quarterly]

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Michael Tackett - © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
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9 Horror Movies Inspired by Real-Life Events
Michael Tackett - © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
Michael Tackett - © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

While most horror movies are complete works of fiction, the genre occasionally offers up stories that are based on terrifying and jaw-dropping real-life events, like the nine collected here.

1. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

Premise: A supernatural killer stalks his prey while they dream during deep sleep. 

Real-Life Inspiration: Wes Craven based A Nightmare on Elm Street on a series of newspaper articles from the Los Angeles Times about a strange phenomenon where young Asian refugees would mysteriously die in their sleep. It was reported that many would refuse to sleep, citing terrifying nightmares that they feared would lead to death.

According to Craven, the paper "never correlated [the three articles], never said, ‘Hey, we’ve had another story like this'":

The third one was the son of a physician. He was about twenty-one; I’ve subsequently found out this is a phenomenon in Laos, Cambodia. Everybody in his family said almost exactly these lines: "You must sleep." He said, "No, you don’t understand; I’ve had nightmares before—this is different." He was given sleeping pills and told to take them and supposedly did, but he stayed up. I forget what the total days he stayed up was, but it was a phenomenal amount—something like six, seven days. Finally, he was watching television with the family, fell asleep on the couch, and everybody said, "Thank god." They literally carried him upstairs to bed; he was completely exhausted. Everybody went to bed, thinking it was all over. In the middle of the night, they heard screams and crashing. They ran into the room, and by the time they got to him he was dead. They had an autopsy performed, and there was no heart attack; he just had died for unexplained reasons. They found in his closet a Mr. Coffee maker, full of hot coffee that he had used to keep awake, and they also found all his sleeping pills that they thought he had taken; he had spit them back out and hidden them. It struck me as such an incredibly dramatic story that I was intrigued by it for a year, at least, before I finally thought I should write something about this kind of situation.

2. CHILD'S PLAY (1988)

Premise: A serial killer's soul possesses a toy doll and wreaks havoc.

Real-Life Inspiration: In 1909, Key West painter and author Robert Eugene Otto claimed that one of his family's servants placed a voodoo curse on his childhood toy, Robert the Doll. Supposedly, the doll would mysteriously move from room to room, knock furniture over, and conduct conversations with Otto. Robert the Doll was left in the attic until Otto's death in 1974, when new owners moved into his Florida home. The new family also claimed mysterious activities would happen in the house connected to the doll. Today, Robert the Doll is on display at the Custom House and Old Post Office in Key West, Florida.

3. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)

Premise: A young family moves into a house where a murder was committed, and experiences strange and terrifying occurrences.

Real-Life Inspiration: Based on the book of the same name, The Amityville Horror follows the paranormal events that terrorized the Lutz family. In 1975, the family moved into 112 Ocean Avenue where, unbeknownst to them, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had brutally murdered his family 13 months before they arrived. While in their new home, the family claimed that they saw green slime on the walls and red-eyed pigs staring into their kitchen and living room. After less than a month, the Lutz family moved out of the small town of Amityville, New York.

4. PSYCHO (1960)

Premise: A secretary goes on the run after she steals $40,000, only to wind up in a motel where the innkeeper and his mother are more than they appear to be.

Real-Life Inspiration: Psycho's Norman Bates is loosely based on convicted murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, who, during the late 1950s, killed women and unearthed corpses in Wisconsin. He also fashioned human skin into tiny keepsakes and knickknacks, such as face masks, belts, and chair coverings. Psycho's novelist Robert Bloch based Bates on Gein, but changed the character from a grave robber and murderer into a serial killer who dressed like his mother. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs also based their serial killers—Leatherface and Buffalo Bill, respectively—on Gein.

5. THE EXORCIST (1973)

Premise: Two Catholic priests perform an exorcism on a young girl who is possessed by the devil.

Real-Life Inspiration: The Exorcist's author and screenwriter William Peter Blatty based the novel and film on a Washington Post article from 1949 headlined, "Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil's Grip." The article followed Jesuit priests William S. Bowdern, Edward Hughes, Raymond J. Bishop, and Walter H. Halloran participating in the rite of exorcism on a boy with the pseudonym "Roland Doe" in Maryland. According to the priests, they allegedly experienced the boy speaking in tongues, the bed shaking and hovering, and objects flying around during the ordeal. The exorcism was one of three official Catholic Church-sanctioned exorcisms in the United States at the time.

"Maybe one day they’ll discover the cause of what happened to that young man, but back then, it was only curable by an exorcism," William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, told Time Out. "His family weren’t even Catholics, they were Lutheran. They started with doctors and then psychiatrists and then psychologists and then they went to their minister who couldn’t help them. And they wound up with the Catholic church. The Washington Post article says that the boy was possessed and exorcised. That’s pretty out on a limb for a national newspaper to put on its front page ... But you’re not going to see that on the front page of an intelligent newspaper unless there’s something there."

6. THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007)

Premise: An aunt tortures and abuses her niece, and a neighborhood boy fails to alert the authorities.

Real-Life Inspiration: Based on Jack Ketchum's novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door is based on the murder of Sylvia Likens, a 16-year-old girl from Indiana in 1965. Sylvia and her sister Jenny were left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski, a family friend, when their parents left town as traveling carnival workers. Baniszewski, along with her children and a few neighborhood kids, locked Sylvia in the basement, where they tortured and abused her until she died of a brain hemorrhage and malnutrition.

7. THE CONJURING (2013)

Premise: Two paranormal investigators help a family who move into a secluded home plagued by weird events.

Real-Life Inspiration: The Conjuring is based on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and their experience with the Perrons, a family who moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse and experienced ghostly and terrifying occurrences in 1971.

"When Insidious came out and was successful the story about the Warrens came to me and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is really cool,'” director James Wan told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. "But I didn’t just want to make another ghost story or another supernatural film. One thing I had never explored was the chance to tell a story that’s based on real-life characters, real-life people. So those were the things that led me to The Conjuring."

The Warrens also had a possessed Raggedy Ann doll that was the inspiration for the spin-off film Annabelle. Allegedly, a demon spirit possessed the Raggedy Ann doll, which is currently on display and under lock and key at the Warrens' Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut.

8. OPEN WATER (2003)

Premise: Two scuba divers become stranded in shark-infested waters after their tour group accidentally leaves them behind.

Real-Life Inspiration: Open Water is based on American tourists Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a couple who were lost at sea when their tour group left them behind while scuba diving near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 1998. When the diving company realized the mistake two days later, they organized a search party, but the Lonergans were never found. The only thing that was found was a diver's slate (an underwater communication device) with a S.O.S. message on it that read, "[Mo]nday Jan 26; 1998 08am. To anyone [who] can help us: We have been abandoned on A[gin]court Reef by MV Outer Edge 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help us [come] to rescue us before we die. Help!!!"

9. THE BLOB (1958)

Premise: A mysterious alien life-form terrorizes a small town and consumes everything in its path as it grows bigger and bigger.

Real-Life Inspiration: Believe it or not, The Blob is based on a New York Times article from 1950 titled, "A ‘Saucer’ Floats to Earth And a Theory Is Dished Up." The story followed four Philadelphia police officers who came into contact with a strange gooey material, which is now believed to be "Star Jelly," a transparent gelatinous substance. When one of the officers tried to move the goo, it started to dissolve and evaporate, so there was nothing to show the FBI when they arrived on the scene except a spot on the ground.

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