As far as we can tell, ghosts like their hotels. These territorial phantoms stick to their turf and never, ever leave. (They have good taste at least – many of their stomping grounds come with five-star service and an atmosphere to match.) The unbelievable and inexplicable seem almost mundane at these eternally haunted haunts, but we've narrowed down the creepy contenders to those that have the ghost tales and the "evidence" (i.e. paranormal expert backing, documented deaths on the premises) to go with it. Devilish reputations aside, many of these storied American mainstays – Hotel Monteleone and Queen Mary, for instance – embrace their spooks, and even offer ghost tours and ghost-themed events, while others only whisper about their suspected presence. One thing is certain: The legends surrounding these beings and the mysterious circumstances that led to their demise never die.
Beverly Hills Inn
Respecting your elders takes on new meaning at Atlanta's Beverly Hills Inn, an 81-year-old Buckhead property now supposedly haunted by the souls of three old ladies. The 18-room neo-classical inn became a bed and breakfast in 1982, but its first stint was as an apartment building for widowed women in 1929. It is the alleged apparitions of those former residents that both the Atlanta Ghost Hunter and Haunt Analyst Georgia Ghost Hunters have caught on tape. Although the images from both investigations are specious (white, cloud-like fog; shadowy, imperceptible blotches; and floating orbs that look like dust particles make up most of the photographic evidence), the audio, on the other hand, evokes chills. The Haunt Analyst investigation in 2007 recorded hoarse voices whispering phrases both ominous (“Get out!”) and encouraging (“Make it happy”).
Book a room on the haunted hotel's third floor, where Haunt Analyst and Atlanta Ghost Hunter collected most of their proof, for a similarly creepy experience, but be prepared. Like many old biddies, these ghouls are kind but spirited: The elderly souls have apparently tucked in respectful guests before bed, but visitors who bad-mouth the dead have seen drinking glasses suddenly smash to pieces. Rooms from $119/night.
Congress Plaza Hotel
During the prohibition era, Chicago was chockfull of hotels that moonlighted as gangster hideaways, headquarters, and, quite often, grisly crime scenes. Today, one of the few left standing is the Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Built in 1893 to accommodate visitors to the World’s Fair, this landmark hotel comes with history-ridden public spaces, two towers comprised of 850 guest rooms, and a lot of, shall we say, permanent residents. In the late 20s, the Congress is rumored to have been one of Al Capone’s hangouts (old-timers at the hotel say he played cards here, perhaps with fellow mobster Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik who lived at the hotel). Rumored secret escape routes likely stemmed from the original “Peacock Alley,” an underground marble passageway that was constructed when the hotel was built to connect it with the auditorium building next door. The Congress Plaza may not be as public with their hauntings as some of the other hotels on this list, but we got the after-dark scoop from nighttime security. Johnny D., who has been on the job for 25 years, talks about several incidents (and entities) which he says are very regular occurrences. The staff often sees the ghost of a young boy in the rooms and hallways of the north tower (legend has it that he and his brother were tossed off the roof by their mother before she took her own life and jumped); a few guards refuse to even walk into the Florentine Room (one of the banquet rooms) for fear of a female ghost that whispers in their ears; and, perhaps, most startling, is the mysterious circumstance that surrounds room number 441. Security is called to 441 more than any other room and guests all report seeing the same thing: the shadowy outline of a woman. Rates from $129/night in fall.
Steps from the Wills House, where President Abraham Lincoln edited his legendary Gettysburg address, and a quarter mile from the infamous battlefield, sits the Civil War-era Gettysburg Hotel. Established in 1797, the historic building lays claim to at least one eternal occupant named Rachel, a civil war nurse who lived at the hotel during the bloody battle. Guests have reported seeing her ghostly figure roaming the halls and in several of the hotel’s 119 rooms. Hotel employees swear that they’ve seen carts move and trays float, and that Rachel can even be spotted rushing up and down the street outside. She prefers to be in the hotel, though, where her hundreds of reported visits have resulted in clothes mysteriously gone missing and drawers left open (some think she is rummaging for medical supplies). Staff often talks of sudden drafts and drops in temperature which both indicate a passing spirit. Along with Rachel, there have been reports of another female ghost at the haunted hotel. This lady wears fancy period garb and is seen dancing in the hotel’s ballroom. Gettysburg is reported to be one of the top three most haunted cities in America by Haunted Tours America, and, certainly the Gettysburg Hotel has plenty to do with that ranking. Rates average around $128 for weeknight stays, and $148 for weekend nights.
New Orleans, Louisiana
In the land of voodoo and witchcraft, legends and legendary disasters, it’s no wonder New Orleans – and the state of Louisiana, for that matter – is rife with ghost tales. Hotel Monteleone, a 19th-century hotel in the French Quarter, is a hotbed for paranormal activity – and there’s a string of former hotel guests, employees, and the International Society of Paranormal Research that back it up. Cleatter Landry, who works at the concierge desk, insists “our ghosts are friendly.” Time and again, she has witnessed the doors of hotel restaurant Le Café swing open inexplicably, always around 7pm. Investigations by the ISPR captured on film what appeared to be the spirits of a maintenance man and a waiter opening the doors. Former guest Phyllis Paulsen was staying in a suite on floor 14 (actually floor 13) when the ghost of a young boy in a striped shirt walked up to her bed. Various guests have reported a similar encounter with a young boy, and so the story goes that the child is Maurice, the son of Josephine and Jacques Begere who were killed in a buggy accident while staying at the Monteleone in the late 1800s. Aside from the otherwordly happenings at this haunted hotel, the grand dame offers plenty of old-world charm: gilded paneling, chandeliers, and soaring ceilings. But, be forewarned, of its 600 guest rooms and 55 suites, those found on floor 14 (really 13) are where most of the ethereal action occurs. Request a “historic haunts” self-guided iPod tour (free) at check-in for a lay of the lore. Fall rates start from $149/night.
Port Townsend, Washington
Built in 1892 in the palatial Prussian style of the owner’s heritage, the Manresa Castle remains beautifully preserved in a Victorian seaport town in Washington (about two hours from Seattle). The Jesuit order occupied the castle in 1927 and used it as a training college until 1968 when it was converted to a hotel. The castle is supposedly home to two distinct spirits that reside on the third floor. The first is the ghost of a Jesuit priest, who hung himself in the tower attic. Guests staying in room 302, located directly below the site of the priest’s demise, report hearing footsteps, a man crying, the clanking of chains, and the sound of a straining rope above. One guest even reported awakening in the night to see a dark figure in a hooded robe standing over his bed. The second frequently sighted ghost is that of Kate, a young woman who once stayed as a guest in the castle . . . and never really left. After hearing news that her lover was lost at sea, she threw herself out of room 306. Visitors at the haunted hotel today claim to see the translucent image of a woman wearing period clothing sitting at the window and staring out to sea, while others have awoken in the middle of the night to see the shape of a woman walking around the room. Room rates from $109/night.
St. Francisville, Louisiana
Among the swampy lowlands and bayous of Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish, set beneath tall, arching oak trees, rests Myrtles Plantation – allegedly the most haunted hotel in America, so say the owners. Guests who wish to experience southern hospitality, antebellum décor, and, potentially, a spine-chilling spook-fest should visit the 11-room St. Francisville plantation (about 30 minutes north of Baton Rouge). The house was built in 1796 supposedly on Tunica Indian burial grounds and the ghost of a naked Indian girl is an apparition seen by guests today.
The most famous haunting, although, resulted from a multi-murder tragedy in 1817. The legend goes something like this: Then owner Judge Clark Woodruff had an affair with his house slave (named Cleo or Chloe), found her snooping on his private conversations and cut off her ear (she forever after wore a green turban to hide her scar). Cleo, enraged, poisoned the eldest daughter’s birthday cake killing the judge’s wife and two children. Soon after Cleo herself was murdered and tossed into the Mississippi (by whom is uncertain). Today, guests claim to see her wandering the plantation in her green turban and have awoken to see her face staring at them from beside the bed. Also look out for haunted objects, including a piano that mysteriously plays a single chord and a mirror that appears clean but in photos often reveals handprints, smudges, and faces. If you’re hoping to meet one of the eternally lost souls at the plantation, be sure to book a room in the original main house (garden units weren’t added until the 80s when the house became an inn, though some say those rooms are just as haunted). Rates start from $115/night.
Long Beach, California
Ever been on a vacation that you wished just wouldn’t end? Then you might just sympathize with the spooky stowaways who opted to stay aboard Cunard’s legendary RMS Queen Mary long after their cruise was over. The retired luxury ocean liner served as pleasure cruiser for society’s elite from the 1930s to ’60s – and did a brief stint as a World War II transport ship (when she was perhaps aptly dubbed the Grey Ghost) – before permanently docking in California’s Long Beach port and converting to a floating hotel in 1972. Some of the purported guest ghouls stem from among the 55 onboard deaths that were reported during the ship’s history, including those of Jackie, a young girl who may have drowned in the swimming pool, and John Pedder, a teenage crewman who was crushed alive by a watertight door in the engine room (both ghosts appear in the areas where they were killed). The haunted hotel far from shies away from its paranormal connection: In fact, after a slew of psychics deemed it one of America’s most haunted locations (some have pinned as many as 200 apparitions to the ship’s manifest), they’ve embraced it, offering numerous ghost-related gatherings every year: Autumn sees the GhostFest Expo unfold (a multiday consortium led by paranormal investigators), while 18 nights in October are dedicated the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor event, which features five mazes and general Halloween-inspired fun. Year-round, visitors can sign up for regularly scheduled paranormal-themed tours; some employ special effects and even ghost-hunting apparatuses for amplified thrills and chills. Or, bunk down if you dare in one of the 314 staterooms. Rates start at $149/night.
Estes Park, Colorado
The spectacular Rocky Mountain peaks surrounding this famous Colorado hotel steal the spotlight by day, but after dark the place crawls with the spirits and ghouls that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. The haunted hotel hosts mostly happy spirits, as the mountain retreat was once a vacation destination for many of these lingering souls, but that doesn’t detract from the estate’s creepiness. A room on the paranormally buzzing fourth floor practically guarantees a frightful getaway. A little boy in room 418 playfully switches water faucets on and off. Bitter Lord Dunraven, the estate’s original owner (who was forced out of proprietorship, making way for new owner F.O. Stanley who opened the hotel in 1909), holds court in room 401, the estate’s most haunted (and second-most requested) room, but by far the most chill-inducing suite is room 217, the very place where King penned The Shining. Ghost-busting visitors can enlist the help of the on-site paranormal expert, who will outfit them with spirit-hunting equipment and provide access to hotel grounds only open to guests. If spending a night thwarting ghoulish shenanigans sounds too frightful, opt for one of the hotel’s daily ghost tours ($15 per person; available from 10am–5pm, reservations are required), which explore the property’s most notoriously spooky spots. Room rates from $119/night.
Cattle Baron Colonel Jesse Driskill opened his luxe namesake hotel in downtown Austin in 1886, and by 1887 its first resident ghost had moved in. As the story goes, a visiting senator’s daughter chased a ball down the hotel’s grand staircase and tragically tumbled to her death. All signs indicate that the daughter hasn’t left: Eerie peals of laughter and the gentle rhythm of a bouncing ball can be heard in the lobby, the ladies restroom, and on the stairs that lead to the mezzanine. Today, she has plenty of partners for playing catch, as a gaggle of ghosts occupy the building, among them a Houston woman who fled to the Driskill after her fiancé cancelled their wedding in the 1990s. Armed with her ex’s credit card, the rejected bride consoled herself with retail therapy before committing suicide two days later in room 29, where a female figure toting shopping bags is sometimes seen. Guests needn’t even stay in one of the haunted hotel's 189 rooms for a thrill as some say big band music sometimes mysteriously bellows from the lobby, where rowdy ghouls dressed in tuxes and gowns are thought to throw an eternal party. Rates from $279/night.
Three Chimneys Inn
Durham, New Hampshire
The oldest hotel on our list (and one of the oldest buildings in New Hampshire), with the original structure dating back to 1649, is the Three Chimneys Inn, tucked away in oft snow-cloaked Durham, just a 10-minute drive from the University of New Hampshire. They say the haunting of the Three Chimneys Inn is another tale of a young life taken too soon. The house was built by Valentine Hill, a local entrepreneur and mill owner. His granddaughter, Hannah, is said to have drowned in the nearby Oyster River. Not long after her tragic death did local townspeople start reporting ghostly sightings of a young girl bearing an eerie resemblance to Hannah by the river and the house. The home’s current incarnation is that of a bustling, quaint inn (it was transformed only recently in 1998). Employees at the inn have also experienced their fair share of inexplicable sounds and sightings. One night, innkeeper Karen Meyer and a waiter at the inn’s ffrost Sawyer Tavern saw an empty glass on an empty table float six inches into the air before crashing down onto the ground. Legends aside, the now cheery inn comes with 23 rooms in the main house and adjoining carriage house, all of which are furnished with old-style mahogany furniture and antique artwork (as well as modern touches like free Wi-Fi). Open year-round; prices start at $149/night in fall.