Haunted houses belong to New England lore as Revolutionary battles or clipper ship races.
New Englanders have been aware of the supernatural since Cotton Mather blamed earthquakes on the devil. New England ghosts, witches, devils and monsters in human shape have populated the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. There’s even a name for the region’s special brand of horror: Gothic New England.
Here are stories of six haunted houses, plus some extras suggested by our readers and added in 2017. We use the term 'haunted houses' loosely, for they include hospitals, a library, a dormitory, a lighthouse and a fort. But all have drama or sorrow in their past. If you know of other historic haunted houses, please share them in the comments section.
The sinister and bizarre Seaside Sanitorium in Waterford, Conn., may be haunted by ghosts – or by its past.
In 1936, doctors believed the way to treat children with tuberculosis was rest, sunshine, fresh air and good food. Seaside was built as a ‘heliotropic’ treatment hospital for children. It was designed by Gothic Revival architect Cass Gilbert, who also planned the Woolworth Building, the U.S. Supreme Court building and Union Station in New Haven. The building faces Long Island Sound, with large terraces and porches for sunbathing.
Drugs made heliotropic treatment obsolete, and Seaside became a geriatric hospital, a medical hospital and a hospital for the mentally disabled. People accused its staff of abusing the patients, and the death rate was unusually high.
The hospital closed in 1996. It’s now dilapidated, creepy and boarded up, its grounds littered with abandoned playground equipment. The ghosts of abused patients are said to haunt the place.
Lately, there's been talk of rehabilitating the old building. The State of Connecticut is considering plans to redevelop it into a lodge.
35 Shore Rd., Waterford, Conn.
Other Connecticut Haunted Houses
Two other former insane asylums in Connecticut have reputations as hospitals of horror: Norwich State Hospital in Preston and Fairfield Hills State Hospital in Newtown. Tales of cruelty and abuse in the creepy old buildings fostered rumors of hauntings.
An early lighthouse keeper named Ernie supposedly haunts the New London Ledge Lighthouse in the mouth of the Thames River. On the night before the lighthouse was automated, a Coast Guard officer wrote in the log: "Rock of slow torture. Ernie's domain. Hell on earth—may New London Ledge’s light shine on forever because I’m through. I will watch it from afar while drinking a brew."
Fort Knox, Maine’s version of the Great Pyramid, was built in the mid-19th century to prevent the British from invading the region. They’d already done it during the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
The State of Maine bought the hulking granite fortress on the Penobscot River from the U.S. government in 1923, It cost $2,100.
The fort provides ideal conditions for haunting: it stands next to swirling waters, it's made of vast quantities of granite and it's in a cold climate. It also has lots of dark tunnels.
People say they hear footsteps or laughter when no one else is inside the fort, or they feel someone is touching them. Ghost hunters heard soldiers talking about the Civil War. A retired state trooper saw a white object with no head, arms or legs that moved, then vanished.
Ghosts could be the spirits of farmers who sold their land to the government and now search for their old homes. They could be the 500 men who died during the Penobscot Expedition, the worst naval disaster in U.S. history until Pearl Harbor. They could be soldiers who deserted during the Civil War, or the young men who died quarrying the granite.
The ghost in the duster coat who wanders the fort’s dark, wet tunnels is Leopold Hegyi, the caretaker at the fort from 1887 to 1900. Of Hungarian ancestry, he was a cavalryman who helped train George Custer’s army before moving to Maine. He patrolled the fort for 13 years by himself, except when a few soldiers arrived during the Spanish-American War.
The fort hosts an annual paranormal/psychic fair. “Fright at the Fort,” a haunted house fundraiser that helps fund the preservation of the historic site.
Click here for a ghost tracker documentary of Fort Knox.
740 Fort Knox Rd., Prospect, Maine
Other Maine Haunted Houses
A woman in a nightgown climbs the spiral staircase of the Captain Lord Mansion, a Kennebunkport bed and breakfast. Some say she was the wife of Captain Lord, who built the house in 1812, but died before living in it.
Indian chief Taukolexis died by hanging from a tree, and he supposedly haunts the nearby fort, William Henry, now a museum near New Harbor.
The ghost of 19th-century poet Sylvester Beckett rips the bed sheets off guests at Beckett's Castle, his former summer home on Cape Elizabeth.
As an aspiring writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne frequented the Boston Athenaeum, a private library across from the Statehouse. In April 1842 he visited the Reading Room and encountered Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, Harvard’s librarian. Harris was sitting in his usual chair, reading a newspaper. Hawthorne didn’t think anything about it until later that evening, when a friend told him Harris had died. Hawthorne said that was impossible, as he had just seen him in the Athenaeum.
The next day, Hawthorne returned to the Athenaeum only to see Harris in the same chair. The writer speculated he was reading his own obituary. Of the encounter he wrote,
I remember—once at least, and I know not but oftener—a sad, wistful, disappointed gaze, which the ghost fixed upon me from beneath his spectacles; a melancholy look of helplessness, which, if my heart had been as hard as a paving-stone, I could hardly have withstood. But I did withstand it; and I think I saw him no more after this last, appealing look.
The minister’s ghost isn’t the only creepy thing about the Boston Athenaeum. The library holds a copy of a criminal’s memoirs bound in his own skin.
James Allen, a career criminal, robbed and shot a man on the Salem Turnpike. In 1835, Allen was captured, sentenced to death for attempted murder and held in Charlestown State Prison.
Allen began to tell his life story to the prison warden, who wrote it all down. Before Allen was executed in 1837, he asked that his skin be used to bind two copies of his memoirs, one for the man he shot, and one for his doctor. Skin from his back was tanned and sent to a bookbinder. One copy ended up at the Athenaeum after it was passed down through Allen’s family – after it had been used to spank children who misbehaved.
10½ Beacon St., Boston, Mass.
Other Massachusetts Haunted Houses
The ghosts of the Borden family roam the halls at the Lizzie Borden House in Fall Fiver, now a bed and breakfast. Lizzie Borden famously ...'took an axe/And gave her mother 40 whacks/When she saw what she had done,She gave her father forty-one."
Jerusha Howe, an early innkeeper at the Wayside Inn before it was the Wayside Inn, rejected many suitors attracted by her beauty. She couldn't resist an English gentleman who promised to return for her. He never came back, and Jerusha's ghost waits for her lover in her bedroom, Room 9.
Novelist Edith Wharton built an estate called the Mount in Lenox around the turn of the century. She avidly collected ghost stories, and now visitors say they see ghosts in period dress -- even Wharton herself reading -- wandering what is now a house museum.
Ipswich has quite a few haunted houses, including the Treadwell-Hale house in North Main Street. It had a ghost that whispered from the top of the stairs to the rear bedroom.
Huntress Hall, Keene State College
Huntress Hall at Keene State College was named after Harriet Huntress, a New Hampshire Department of Education administrator. Huntress’s abandoned wheelchair is still stored in the attic of the building, built in 1926. The creaking chair can be heard wheeling around the attic at night, according to students who live there.
Huntress does not like to be mocked and wreaks revenge on anyone who dresses up like her at Halloween. Students who have done so – usually with a gray wig and a wheelchair -- failed tests, broke their legs or been involved in bad car accidents.
The genesis of the Huntress haunting is said to be World War II. Keene State was then a teaching school and Huntress Hall was an all-female dormitory. During the war, the U.S. Navy began training pilots at Keene and housed the trainees in Huntress Hall. Huntress was said to hate men and promiscuous women, and it was then that she began to haunt the hall. Some say she is most active when students are having sex inside its walls.
Appian Way, Keene, N.H.
Other New Hampshire Haunted Houses
In the late 19th century, orphans lived in The Chase House on Middle Road in Portsmouth. According to legend, a young girl hanged herself in her room and now haunts the hallway.
Ocean Born Mary, as her name suggests, was born at sea. Pirates boarded the vessel that sailed from Ulster to New England, and the pirate captain heard the cries of a newborn baby -- Ocean Born Mary Wallace, of course. He gave her mother a bolt of light green silk, which was later made into Mary's wedding dress. Mary's husband died and she moved to Henniker, where her ghost supposedly protects her house from harm.
The Newport mansion Belcourt Castle features a screaming suit of armor, a haunted gold coronation carriage, chairs that toss people off their seats and apparitions dancing in the ballroom.
Belcourt Castle was built by Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, the wastrel son of financier August Belmont and grandson of Commodore Matthew Perry. (His brother August financed the Cape Cod Canal.) Richard Morris Hunt designed the mansion according to Perry’s wish to devote the first floor to carriages and stables for his beloved horses. He modeled the 60-room house on Louis XIII’s hunting lodge at Versailles.
Belmont married Alva Belmont, the ex-wife of his best friend William K. Vanderbilt, in 1896, and she began redesigning the mansion. After the Belmonts died, Harold and Ruth Tinney bought Belcourt in 1956 and filled it with their own collection of art and antiques. The Tinneys opened the house to the public for ghost tours and as a museum.
When the Tinneys owned Belcourt, suits of armor stood in a row at one end of the ballroom. People say they’ve heard screams from one suit of armor as the owner relives his death. A spear tip pierced his eye through a slit in the helmet.
Two antique chairs in the ballroom are called salt chairs because their removable seats disguise salt cellars. They are said to repel people who sit in them. The Tinneys’ son Donald claims to have seen ghostly women dancing in the ballroom.
A carved wooden statue of a monk brings a ghost of a brown-robed monk along with him. The ghost always appeared in the same room as the statue.
In 2012, Belcourt was sold. Tours are now available by reservation.
657 Belleview Ave., Newport, R.I.
Other Rhode Island Haunted Houses
During the American Revolution, University Hall at Brown was converted into an army hospital where many soldiers died. A contorted soldier's face appears in a second-floor window.
The body of Providence Mayor Thomas Doyle lay in state at City Hall after his death in 1886. His ghost is now said to haunt the building, smoking a cigar, moving chairs and whispering.
Edward Hamlin Everett Mansion
Edward Hamlin Everett got rich as the Glass Bottle King and inventor of the fluted bottle cap. He grew up in Bennington, Vt., and in 1886 married Amy King. Her father owned a Newark glassworks that Hamlin bought before their wedding.
Amy King died suddenly. Some said she committed suicide, others said she was murdered, still others say she drowned while swimming. Her obituary said she died after a severe operation following an unnamed illness.
Everett remarried, but his three grown daughters disapproved of the new wife. When he died, he left most of his wealth to his second wife, leaving only a tenth of it to his daughters. The daughters challenged the will in court, claiming their father wasn’t in his right mind. During the trial, known as The Second Battle of Bennington, the eldest daughter was staying at the house when she said she heard weeping coming from her father’s study.
She went to the room and found her mother lying on the floor, clearly a murder victim. Today, the mansion is part of Southern Vermont College. Security guards say doorknobs turn in empty rooms and doors close by themselves. Students say they see a woman in white, roaming the house and grounds. Perhaps it's the ghost of Amy King Everett.
In 1957, writer Shirley Jackson decided she wanted to write a novel about a haunted house. She began collecting postcards and newspaper clippings of ornate old houses. It’s likely she chose the Edward Hamlin Everett home as the setting for her novel, The Haunting of Hill House. He book, a National Book Award finalist, inspired two feature films and a play.
The court, by the way, sided with the Everett daughters and gave them a third of the estate.
982 Mansion Dr., Bennington, Vt.
Other Vermont Haunted Houses
James Hartness, a factory owner and Vermont governor, built the Shingle-style Hartness House in Springfield in 1904. He built a labyrinth of tunnels under the house that included a library, workshop, study and bathroom. Today the house is run as a small hotel and his ghost is said to be down there still.
Ira Allen, a railroad magnate and relative of Ethan Allen, built the Marble Mansion in 1867 in Fair Haven, Vt. Today it's an inn, and the ghost of a former owner, dressed in a gray suit, awakens guests by standing over their beds. A young woman is said to haunt the basement and several ghostly children run around the halls.
Photos: Norwich State Hospital, By CLK Hatcher - Norwich Hospital District - Admin BuildingUploaded by LongLiveRock, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15506667; Boston Athenaeum, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=722802; Belcourt photo by Charles V. Hamm; Hartness House Inn By Tyler Goodrich - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28509336.
This story about haunted houses was updated in 2017.