Clearly we have a fascination with haunted houses in this country, but professional ghost hunter Greg Newkirk doesn’t think most of them are so scary. Instead, he says, “I think they’re trying to send us a message.” Newkirk, who has appeared as an expert on TV shows such as TLC’s Kindred Spirits, Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum, and Destination America’s Paranormal Lockdown, has practically seen it all, and only very rarely finds himself truly spooked. He says most hauntings aren’t evil—only misunderstood.
“I think a lot of the classic signs that people run into are mysterious noises that seem to come from places they can’t locate, a lot of bumping and scratching on walls, seeing full-bodied apparitions, and things moving from place to place when you’ve not touched them.” Of course, anyone who has seen a horror movie or a ghost show probably already knows this.
See these common signs:
7 signs your house could be haunted
7 signs your house could be haunted
Fact: Ectoplasm is a substance that still mystifies even the most seasoned paranormal experts. Historically, it has been reported to show up during seances through a spiritual medium. Newkirk himself has experienced the phenomenon in real haunted houses. "There was a house that I investigated several years ago where the family claimed that things were moving on their own," he says, "and while I was there I actually had a strange, viscous fluid show up. [It] dripped down my arm, out of nowhere. And [the family] claimed that would happen all the time. It was a very strange kind of off-white, almost like a raw egg kind of fluid." Ectoplasm is not often seen or experienced at your run-of-the-mill haunted house, but paranormal experts see it as a sign of certainty that there is a paranormal presence at work. Check out these eight haunted Airbnbs.
Objects don't move on their own—unless you live in an old drafty house where strong winds make doors open and close. Otherwise, there has to be some kind of force applied to get it to move. That's why when you see things flying around your house without visible cause, you can be pretty sure that there is something—or someone—other than you in your house. "I've seen books thrown through the air by an invisible force. I've watched a grown man with a $2,500 camera in his hand drop the camera to the ground because something was strangling him," Newkirk recalls. Soaring objects are another staple of horror flicks, but inexplicable movement can be even more sinister than that. Another well known and televised expert in the field, psychic medium Patti Negri, has had some even more intense experiences than flying books. "I've had people literally burst into flames in front of me," she says. "The house where [they caught] on fire had been a famous movie star's house, Mary Astor, in the early days of Hollywood. Then all sorts of people lived there. The Rolling Stones, the Mamas & Papas…The last person there was Marilyn Manson and the house was too scary for him, so he moved out." When she visited the Black Dahlia house in LA, she herself was violently thrown against a wall. If anything small or big like this happens in your home, you can be sure you've got a haunted house.
Though "feeling watched" isn't a quantifiable factor, people who live in genuine haunted houses do report it a lot. Many believe in a kind of sixth sense. Basically, you might be in a house with a really bad vibe. "Cold chills move throughout the room," Newkirk details, "and even just the feeling of being watched. Sometimes whispers, or being awoken in the middle of the night because of the feeling that somebody's standing there." Whether there is a normal explanation for this sensation or a paranormal one is hard to know for sure, but it's definitely a contributing factor for nearly any house that is afflicted by spirits. Science has a reason why ghosts may be haunting you.
When we think about possession, our minds immediately go to demons, demons, demons. Ghost hunter Newkirk says that more often than not, demonic possession and even a demonic presence is not behind whatever it is you're experiencing. A "normal" ghost can possess you too. The tip-off is if someone you know is acting extremely strange all of a sudden. "We see cases of possession or influence by a spirit all the time," he says. "If you start to notice someone has taken on a pretty distinct personality change, that can be a sign of that." (Of course, mental illness can also be to blame. Here's what psychologists wish you knew about depression.)
If you suspect you might have a haunted house on your hands, you should probably dig into the history of your property. "Once I was in somebody's condominium," psychic medium Negri says, "and this woman just could not breathe in her bedroom. She didn't have breathing issues but in her bedroom she just couldn't breathe. I found out that her room had caught on fire and the [previous] woman had died." If you're experiencing things you can't explain, doing research might help clear it up for you. The hope is that once you know what happened or what you're dealing with, you can then ease the haunting. However, some places just can't be cleared of their histories. "One house had everything going for it," Negri recalls, "from Indian burial ground to being a drug house for years. When I first went there, seven people had already died, one in every room. I [was] seeing dead bodies everywhere. I would clear it and then it would ooze back up. That probably had some demonic stuff to it." These are stories from the most haunted places in the world.
Physical and emotional disorientation
Much like a horcrux in the Harry Potter series (don't miss the props that were stolen from the movie set), a haunting can have a terrible effect on your mood and even your physical state. It can leave you feeling angry or weak. Newkirk reports having this kind of experience while investigating the famously haunted Hinsdale House in New York. "That's a place where it's a very extreme haunting. There's something about that place when you walk into it, it gets very, very confusing. Some of the things that we started to see in this place and hear in this place—including drumming and strange lights—was very disorienting. I noticed that my mood would change when we were in this building and I would have to keep leaving it regularly." These Halloween movies will scare you senseless.
The three types of hauntings
Newkirk sorts hauntings into three categories: intelligent, residual, and intentional. "There's the classic haunting which is an intelligent haunting. The spirit seems to interact very intelligently with people. And then the other common one people run into a lot is a residual haunting." An example of a residual haunting would be like the one Negri experienced at the condo that burned down and seemingly still felt like it was filled with smoke. "With that, it just kind of plays over and over and over. It doesn't ever really acknowledge that people live in the house. It just is. It just happens. Sometimes it's because a traumatizing event happened on a particular date. There's no intelligence there, so there's really nothing you can do about it." Lastly, an intentional haunting is actually more about living, breathing humans than ghosts. "It really comes from people who have put so much energy and intention into the belief that their house or object is haunted that they've ended up actually manifesting a haunting." Think of kids who follow urban legends and routinely go visit the place of the supposed haunting. They feed the story so much that they actually open the place up to paranormal activity. See what researchers have to say about near-death experiences.
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What you might not know, however, is that what you call “a haunting” may not be the real deal. Newkirk has been called to houses where the causes of these phenomena have actually been carbon monoxide poisoning which caused people to hallucinate. Mold too, can cause the same reaction. For houses with legitimate ghosts, there are more telling signs that your house is haunted. These are the 20 best haunted houses in America.
Both Newkirk and Negri agree that the best way to deal with a haunting is to make a firm statement. Talk to the presence in your home and let it know what your intentions are. "Generally, most people who come to find out that their house is haunted can live peacefully with whatever spirits are there. If it's something that really, genuinely bothers you, say something as simple as 'You need to leave.'" Negri adds that, to back up your statement, make it in the name of whatever it is you believe in most strongly.
Related: Haunted spots throughout the country:
The scariest haunted places in each US state
The scariest haunted places in each US state
Alabama’s Face in the Window is one of the state's most treasured sites. Explore Southern History writes that freed Southern slave Henry Wells was accused of burning the Pickens County Courthouse to the ground. He fled to the attic of another courthouse to avoid a lynch mob. Lightning struck and left an impression of Wells’ face in the window that you can see today. Look closely and you might see it now.
The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs has been called the most haunted hotel in America. According to their website, several guests who checked in never checked out, including Michael, a stonemason who fell to his death during the building of the hotel in 1885; Theodora, a cancer patient who asks guests for help finding her hotel key; a man named Norman in a white suit; a woman in a white dressing gown; and a cat named Norris.
The horror film “The Conjuring” was inspired by events taking place in Rhode Island. The Providence Journal has old records of terrifying activity coming from Roger and Carolyn Perron's 18th century farmhouse. They claim to have observed an orange oozing blood, a young voice crying “Mama. Maaama” and the head of an old woman hanging off to one side over an old gray dress while a voice cried “Get out. Get out. I'll drive you out with death and gloom.”
The Villisca Axe Murder House became infamous on June 10, 1912, when eight people were brutally killed. The murderer was never found. To this day, residents report visions of a man with an axe and sounds of children crying.
St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest city in the continental United States. The St. Augustine Lighthouse on Anastasia Island is so eerie that it drew the attention of SyFy Channel’s "Ghost Hunters." One of the most famous stories surrounding the structure was in 1873. Three children were thrown from a cable car running from the beach to the lighthouse. They were tossed into the ocean and drowned. Rumors say that you can hear their ghosts in the tower.
The oldest continuously running hotel in California is home to some freaky ghosts. The Jackson once played host to gold miners and was at the center of the gambling and brothel culture. It got a major renovation in 2012, but construction didn’t scare away the unearthly guests. According to The Examiner, there is a naked lady spirit floating through the halls and staff members have heard bodiless children giggling.
Gettysburg College students frequently report seeing men dressed in Civil War uniforms standing in their dorm rooms, then suddenly vanishing.
It isn’t just students though. In his book Haunted Pennsylvania, author Mark Nesbit wrote that in the 1980s two staff members rode the library elevator into the basement by accident where they saw a silent bloody civil war operating room. They quickly closed the elevator door when the ghostly surgeons beckoned them to help. When they went to get help from a security guard, the scene had disappeared.
The Ghost of Altoona Pass used to haunt steam engines in the 19th century. A mysterious figure would appear on top of the freight cars, take a seat and ride for miles before vanishing. The trains no longer run on the Altoona pass, and records of the frequent traveler have stopped ... for now.
One of America’s best-known ghost stories comes out of Tennessee. In 1807, John Bell said an animal that looked like a dog with a rabbit’s head appeared to him. He tried to kill it, but failed.
Years later, his family kept hearing noises in their house like animals fighting and chairs dragging. It got so bad that supposedly future President Andrew Jackson went to the small town to investigate the poltergeist.
The Manresa Castle is a popular honeymoon destination, but tourists also arrive in droves to check out the resident spirits. Haunted Honeymoon says that three rooms are haunted (302, 304 and 306) and there are two commonly-seen ghosts. One is a monk who hung himself in the attic, and the other is a young woman who threw herself out of the window when her love didn’t return from war.
The Athens Lunatic Asylum may beat out other creepy asylums because of something called the “corpse stain.” A woman named Margaret Schilling disappeared for 42 days in the building. When they finally found her, her body had decayed into the ground, making a human-shaped stain on the concrete floor. Records say she died of a heart attack, but she was naked with her clothes folded neatly beside her.
A popular hotel for Dartmouth College visitors is said to be haunted. Just across the border from New Hampshire, the Norwich Inn has been serving guests since 1920. Original owner Mary "Ma" Walker died in the inn, and her ghost reportedly still wanders around and is often seen in the dining room wearing a black formal gown.
Annabelle, the spooky doll from the films 'The Conjuring' and 'Annabelle,' 'lives' in Monroe, Conn. at the Occult Museum. A Catholic priest lives on the grounds and blesses the doll daily to counteract its purported evil forces. The doll moves on its own and is said to be an embodiment of the devil.
The gateway to hell is apparently located in North Carolina. A mysterious circle called “The Devil’s Tramping Ground” has stumped researchers. It is unexplained why nothing has grown in that spot for 40 years, and some say it is how the Devil comes to Earth.
Students at The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks report seeing the apparition of a young girl’s torso. She is believed to be the ghost of a girl who froze to death outside of the dorm. She tinkers with the TVs and electricity.
A room in the Old Washoe Club in Virginia City, Nevada, used to hold dead bodies until the ground had thawed enough to bury them. Travel Channel says the club is haunted by a trio of spirits. A pretty blonde named "Lady in Blue,” a scared little girl and a sneaky old-time prospector who steals drinks from patrons all appear here.
The Palmer House Hotel is one of the most haunted sites in America. Room 17 has the most ghostly activity. The Minnesota Monthly writes “Guests can sit in one of the two high-backed chairs facing the bed, but not both, not at the same time. Why? It forces Lucy to the mattress.” Lucy was a prostitute and doesn’t want to go back to where she was killed. She has a vendetta against men and will slams doors and lower temperatures around them.
According to KOAT, a few ghosts reside at the St. James Hotel. A short, pockmarked apparition called “The Imp” and a female ghost that smells of perfume haunt the hotel. Perhaps the scariest is another male ghost who lives in room 18. It is padlocked and no one is allowed in.
A ghost that haunts pregnant women lives in the St. Phillips Graveyard in Charleston. Sue Howard died after giving birth to a stillborn child and now targets other women. According to the Travel Channel, an amateur photograph from 1987 captured the ghost mourning over a grave.
Legend says that a beautiful woman named Alice Marble Gray lived with a drifter, Paul Wilson, until he was accused of murder in 1920. The drama of the trial and his physical abuse made her spirit remain on Earth. Over the years, many claim to have seen the ghostly figure of a woman skinny dipping and running naked along the dunes.
Hawaii has unique spirits living inside banyan trees. Honolulu Magazine wrote that one of the trees near the head of Manoa Falls is in the path of ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors. Faint sounds of drums beating can be heard at night.
There is an alleged presence in the solitary confinement unit of The Old Montana Territorial Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana, who tortures guests. Guests have reported being both scratched and pushed, and say other spirits peek out of windows and try to touch them.
Ghost hunters found what they were looking for at The Wyoming Frontier Prison. Wyoming News says that ten separate voices were picked, including an angry spirit who they suspect was Andrew Pixley. Pixley was executed in 1960s for murdering and cannibalizing two girls. Wyoming News reports that he died slowly, which could account for the violent spirit.
Wisconsin’s most haunted site is the Summerwind Mansion. Wisconsin Trails says the mansion has been haunted since the early 20th century. A man shot twice at an intruder just to discover no one was there. A family living there in the 1970s heard voices, saw unattached shadows and felt cold spots until the father suffered a nervous breakdown and the mother attempted suicide. The paranormal activity continues today.
The Stanley Hotel in Colorado is known for being Stephen King’s inspiration for the “The Shining.” There are reports of several apparitions walking through the hotel, but Room 418 is the most haunted according to staff members. Guests have heard children playing and seen impressions of bodies on the bed.
Photo: Nomadic Lass/Flickr
The New Hampshire State Hospital was actually once called “"New Hampshire Asylum for the Insane.” The original 1842 building still stands, and there are the common signs of paranormal activity, like reports of things being pushed off tables, cold spots and never feeling alone.
Photo: Ben McLeod/Flickr
In its 100 years of operating, the Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia killed over 1,000 criminals. The cramped spaces led to deadly riots, and even though the prison closed down in 1995, there are still reports of tourists hearing tortured spirits.
The Waverly Hills Sanatorium was the last stop for many suffering from tuberculosis. Dying slowly without help made many people go crazy. Echoes can be heard in “the death tunnel,” a discrete body chute to dispose of the dead. A thing called “The Creeper” moves quickly through corridors and climbs walls like a spider. It is thought to be the very essence of evil.
Alaska's Site Summit isn't haunted by ghosts, but is still really, really creepy. The fortress of concrete buildings was made for protection in case of a nuclear war with Russia. The Site Summit was used to hold surface-to-air missiles in hopes of shooting down USSR airplanes. It is no longer used and lies desolate and cold.
The Grove has a reputation for its heavy activity, including a ghost dog attacking a woman in the kitchen, a lady dressed in white walking down the hallway, and little girls who were playing in the flowers vanishing. There have also been reports of disembodied smells of perfume and body odor penetrating the air.
There are many “Gray Lady” stories, but Oregon seems to have the original. A spirit wearing a long gray skirt haunts the former innkeeper’s home of the Heceta Head Lighthouse. She walks around, knocking objects off tables and flickering lights.
The Sultan's Palace in the French Quarter of New Orleans was a playhouse of horrors. “The Sultan” held women and young boys against their will in 1800s. An unknown perpetrator buried him alive in the yard, and his angry spirit still tries to grope at female guests.
Several Wild West characters have been buried in the Mount Moriah Cemetery like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Potato Creek Johnny and Seth Bullock. There is also a mass grave with 11 faceless fire victims. Visitors feel like they are being watched.
McRaven calls itself the most haunted house in Mississippi. A field hospital was set up on the grounds during the Civil War, and it became the final resting place for many soldiers. Several owners of the house including Mary Elizabeth Howard's have died there. A shawl belonging to Mary emits heat for some and jumps out of the hands of others.
The McPike Mansion in Illinois has sat abandoned since 1980. In the 1940s, sounds of children running up and down the halls were heard and faces would appear in the windows. A friendly ghost named Sarah would hug visitors.
Zombie Road in Wildwood, Missouri, is a 2-3 mile stretch of old railroad tracks that is near one of the largest Native American mound cities. The road was used by the Union soldiers during the Civil War, and was last used commercially in the 1970s. Now hikers are treated to ghostly apparitions that walk along side them on the path.
The theater at Idaho State University is haunted by ghosts who take a seat to wait for the show to start. There are also sounds of a piano playing, but no one touching they keys.
For some people, it's Christianity. For others, it's their own power inside themselves. Putting that extra energy into your statement makes it more effective. Finally, if you try to use sage, just be cautious and use it the right way. "Sage is great but in my opinion, it's a little overrated because it's harsh. It's so cleansing it almost creates a vacuum.
It's like dusting your whole house and then leaving your doors and windows open in a sandstorm. If you're going to do sage and clear your house, then come in with something holy or something magical so you fill it back up with [your] intent." So next time you think something in your space is off, keep in mind these telltale signs that your house is haunted.