Thursday, November 5, 2009

Top Real-life Haunted Houses

Some people might be hesitant to admit that they believe in ghosts. But if you've ever heard a chilling bump in the night when you're home alone, ghosts might not be such a leap of faith. In fact, just over a third of American adults believe in ghosts . Perhaps more surprising is that 23 percent of adults polled said they'd personally seen or felt a ghost.

Every October, thousands of people pay to walk through commercial ­haunted houses, in which costumed actors stand in for otherworldly spirits. Customers can get the adrenaline rush of scary "monsters" popping out at them for a few minutes without any risk of getting their souls stolen or becoming possessed. But real-life haunted houses are a different story. Sure, there are plenty of paranormal enthusiasts who intentionally stay in haunted hotels and hunt for ghosts. But what if ghosts found their way into your home? If the poll results mentioned above are accurate, these uninvited guests aren't such an uncommon occurrence.

According to the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), there are some things to pay attention to if you suspect your house is haunted. You may have some brooding banshees or bothersome bogeymen on your hands if you experience the following: see apparitions, hear weird sounds, smell odd odors, feel "cold spots" within a room, notice objects that have been moved or observe your pet acting agitated . The five places on the following pages have certainly filled that bill, becoming the world's most notorious real-life haunted houses.

Twenty-three percent of American adults say they've seen a ghost or felt the presence of one

Whaley House

The Whaley House in San Diego was originally built on the execution grounds of James Robinson, nicknamed Yankee Jim. In 1852, Yankee Jim was convicted of grand larceny and sentenced to death by hanging. The hangman set the noose improperly, allowing Jim's feet to graze the ground, prolonging the hanging process. In 1856, Thomas Whaley bought the land where Yankee Jim had been killed and built a house for his own family. According to the youngest Whaley daughter, she could hear the sound of boots clomping through the house and suspected it to be the ghost of Yankee Jim.

Today, the Whaley House is a registered historic site and museum. Visitors and employees have reported seeing or hearing the ghosts of former owners Thomas and Anna Whaley. Thomas' ghost usually resides near the landing at the top of the staircase, while Anna's stays downstairs or in the garden. Television host Regis Philbin is among those who claimed to have seen Mrs. Whaley's ghost. Scents of cigar smoke and perfume have also mysteriously arisen at times. Because of the frequency of such ghost sightings, the Whaley House has been cited as one of the most haunted houses in the United States.
Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif., is one of the spookiest haunted houses in the United States. For 38 years, proprietor Sarah Winchester ordered construction workers to work on the bizarre home that famously contains a stairway leading nowhere.

Faces of Belmez

A small cottage in the southern Spanish province of Jaen, in the town of Belméz, isn't haunted by ghosts, per se. The house is built, however, on burial grounds dating back to 1830 [source: Schweimler]. Inside the kitchen, the floor contains an unsolved mystery that has puzzled scientists and laymen for decades. Maria Goméz Pereira, who lived in the house, discovered a face peering up at her from her kitchen floor in 1971. Instead of a two-dimensional apparition, the face resembled a plaster casting that seemed to rise from beneath the house, as though a head was buried right below it.

Spooked by the strange façade, Pereira and her neighbors attempted to get rid of it by chipping away the cement with an axe. Yet upon doing so, they revealed more face casts, this time of older men and children. As word spread about the so-called "faces of Belméz," scientists stepped in to verify their authenticity and test whether they were paintings or fake castings orchestrated by Pereira and her neighbors. The painting theory was ruled out, but no conclusive evidence exists to pinpoint exactly how the faces got there.

Cast faces, like this one of Oliver Cromwell, appeared in the flooring of a Spanish home.

Blickling Hall

In October 2007, the National Trust of England named Blickling Hall the most haunted home in the country . Located in Norfolk, England, the stately house is said to have a special guest stop by every spring.

Blickling Hall was one of Anne Boleyn's childhood homes. Boleyn was the second of King Henry VIII's six wives. Henry was obsessed with having a male heir to the throne and consequently divorced Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, because none of the males she gave birth to survived. He gave it another go with Anne Boleyn, who also failed to produce a son (but did give birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I). To arrange his second divorce, the king cooked up adultery charges against Boleyn that stuck. Her punishment of allegedly cheating on one of the world's most powerful men at that time was death.

On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded. Every year, on the anniversary of her execution, Boleyn's headless ghost arrives at Blickling Hall in a carriage drawn by a headless horseman. But she hasn't lost her head completely in the afterlife -- she carries it along with her during her hauntings.

Every May 19, Anne Boleyn's headless ghost pays a visit to Blickling Hall.

Rose Hall

The tales of the murderous Annie Palmer of Rose Hall still frighten children in Jamaica. Built in 1770, Rose Hall was a sugar cane plantation and home to Palmer and her husband. Palmer grew up in Haiti and learned voodoo from her nanny, which would later serve her in her dastardly schemes.

When Palmer became sexually unsatisfied with her husband, she began sleeping with slaves on the plantation. In order to keep them quiet about the affairs, she either killed these men or ordered other slaves to do so. Wanting to gain sole possession of her husband's wealth, she poisoned her first husband and later married and killed two other men . Her twisted sexual escapades continued as well. In case she encountered a man unwilling to pleasure her or a slave trying to escape, Palmer had a pit dug 16 feet (4.8 meters) below the house where she would banish these people . As her nefarious reputation spread around the island, she became known as the White Witch.

According to legend, Palmer cast a fatal voodoo hex on a housekeeper who caught the eye of one of her lovers. Supposedly, the housekeeper's grandfather later strangled Palmer to death . Her body was buried in an aboveground coffin in the eastern wing of Rose Hall. The White Witch's spirit, along with those of the slaves she had murdered, continued to haunt the house. When new tenants attempted to move into Rose Hall, they were quickly driven away from the haunted grounds. Eventually, in 1965, a couple bought the house and converted it into a museum. Yet even today, visitors and employees have reported hearing men's screams and doors slamming, as well as other paranormal phenomena.

Annie Palmer, known as the White Witch, lived in Jamaica's Rose Hall.

The White House

It must be hard for former presidential couples to adjust to life outside of the White House. After four or more years, they probably get used to never having to take out the trash, wash dishes or change a light bulb, not to mention the other amenities afforded to the most powerful people in the Western world. Perhaps that's why some have stuck around after their terms -- and lives -- ended. That's right, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is not only the most famous address in the United States, but also one of the most haunted.

John and Abigail Adams were the first presidential couple to live in the White House, taking residence in 1800. Abigail has lingered ever since, and her ghost is said to hang laundry in the East Room on occasion. Another first woman, Dolley Madison, has been quite territorial with White House renovations. During her husband's term, Dolley oversaw the landscaping of the Rose Garden, where presidents often meet with the media. When President Woodrow Wilson's wife tried to have the garden dug up, the story goes that Dolley's ghost appeared and instructed the workers not to tear up her beloved garden.

Going along with a rose theme, the Queen's Bedroom, which was once called the Rose Room, is known as a paranormal hotspot in the White House . It not only houses the bed of President Andrew Jackson but his ghost as well, which has been heard walking around the room. Jackson's ghost is rumored to hang out in the Red Room as well. People have seen Abraham Lincoln's ghost ambling down the halls and staring out of windows. He pays visits to the Lincoln bedroom at times as well.

Don't believe us? The White House Web site has a page devoted to its ghost sightings, once spotted by notable residents like Eleanor Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter's daughter.

Abraham Lincoln's ghost still hangs around the White House, particularly in the Lincoln bedroom.

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