Much like a supposed haunting, history can reveal itself in bits and pieces — sometimes answering questions, sometimes raising more. A penchant for ghostly sites generally goes hand-in-hand with an enthrallment with history and the unknown, and these four haunted historical sites combine both the puzzles of history and the supernatural. Step into these sites, and even the most skeptical amongst the group can admit to having an other-worldly feeling of being transferred back into time — whether or not the era’s contemporaries still stand alongside you is up to you to decide.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA
Eastern State Penitentiary is a shining example of how even the best of intentions can have dire consequences, and how those consequences — and perhaps the ghosts that result from them — can haunt an area for years to come. Eastern State represents how quickly our views on human psychology have changed through the past couple centuries, and the marked impact that has had on criminal punishment and reform. Eastern State was America’s first Penitentiary –a structure designed specifically to impose penance and reform on prisoners, rather than simply punish them for their transgressions. 19th century ideas of penance meant prisoners led a maddening life of solitude and confinement — prisoners were kept in their cell all but one hour a day, and punishment was harsh and swift if they were caught communicating with one another. Today, many believe the dead communicate with the living through darting shadows, echos, and voices throughout the crumbling cell blocks.
Colonial Williamsburg, VA
Though Williamsburg is designed to be a living history museum, there are many who suspect Williamsburg may not solely be the realm of the living. The 301 acre stretch of land includes buildings dating back to 1699, when Colonial Williamsburg was the capital of Colonial Virginia, and arguably one of the most important towns before and leading into the American Revolution, when the capital of Virginia was moved inland to protect it from British attack. Though many of Colonial Williamsburg’s buildings are said to be haunted, perhaps the most infamous is the house of George Wythe, a signer of the Deceleration of Independence. Lore (incorrectly) attributes Lady Anne Wythe’s death to suicide following a spat at the Governers mansion (in reality, she died in childbirth, a common and far less romantic death for a 17th century woman), and many claim to have heard the sound of her heels running up the stairs or her perfume hanging in the halls, only to find no one there.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London has served many purposes throughout the years, both light and nefarious — home of the crown jewels, a residence, a prison, a menagerie, the royal mint — however, it has largely become associated with it’s darker history more than anything else. The 16th and 17th century saw the Tower holding many high profile political or religious prisoners, including one of King Henry VII’s unlucky wives, Anne Boleyn, one of the few prisoners to meet her fate within the tower walls rather than on Tower Hill, outside of the fortress. Guards throughout the year have reported to see Anne Boleyn’s ghost — both in possession of and without her head — roaming the halls and leading a procession of Lords and Ladies to the spot where her body now rests. The ghost of Margaret de Pole, the last of the reigning family before the Tudors, is also said to re-enact her gruesome death. Accounts state that she refused to kneel when being executed for treason — she believed to do such would be admitting to the charge — and was chased about the scaffold by the executioner until the task was completed. However, not all tower ghosts are the result of such dark times — guards also report hearing the sounds of the animals that used to make up the menagerie when none are there.
No list outlining where history and the supernatural meet would be complete without Salem. Salem is home to America’s most famous witch trials — a fascinating look into the social history of the era. Though the Salem Witch Trials did not last long — little more than a year — by the time the Governor of Massachusetts stepped in and put a stop to the trials, 14 women and 5 men were hung at the gallows for witchcraft, 1 died by being pressed to death, and 5 more of the accused died in prison. The witch trials haunt American history as an example of the consequences of mass hysteria and religious fanaticism impeding due process, however, many believe there are far more literal hauntings occurring in Salem. During the height of the hysteria, Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft, and refused to enter a plea. He was forced to lay in a pit with a door atop him, and stones were piled on in an attempt to force a confession. Corey refused to enter a plea, and his final words were said to be a curse upon the town of Salem. Residents say Corey’s ghost appears at Howard Street Burying Ground — where he was believed to have endured his torture — to announce a catastrophic event before it falls on Salem. It’s said his ghost appeared before the great fire of Salem in 1914, which destroyed a third of the city.