Hauntings trace the outline of dark events in an area’s past. A history of tragedy seems to make paranormal energy accumulate in homes and buildings, locations like battlefields and cemeteries, and in some instances, entire cities. There are a number of cities throughout this country that have experienced tragedy and trauma, but not all of them are thought of as haunted.
For a city to qualify as haunted, it must have a uniquely dark past that has created an abundance of hauntings. This could mean the presence of dangerous local industry, a military battle, or it could just be because they are old and have had time to accumulate tragedies. We’ve traveled all over the country to bring you our list of the nine most haunted cities in the United States.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The northernmost city in the Caribbean moves on its own sort of “island time,” which gives it its nickname, “The Big Easy.” But there’s a darker history to this city that lies behind all the drinking and debauchery on Bourbon Street.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 and was ruled by the French, the Spanish, and then the French again, before being sold to the United States in 1803. In a period of over 300 years, this port city saw a steady stream of international travelers and tragedies. Yellow fever epidemics, Cholera, Smallpox, and Malaria ravaged this young city built in the swamp. Hurricanes battered it relentlessly and still do today. The Battle of New Orleans, the American Civil War, and two Great Fires that nearly destroyed the entire city twice (once in 1788 and again in 1794) have produced an unimaginable amount of sorrow. A culture known for its vices has also witnessed countless other secret deaths and tragedies, unacknowledged in history books.
For this reason, you don’t need to look to the city’s most notable hauntings, like the Lalaurie mansion, to find ghosts. Most locals will tell you about their extensive personal experiences with the paranormal in homes they’ve lived in or visited.
Though not as old as some cities on this list, Portland was founded in the 1830s and has a reputation for numerous hauntings throughout the downtown area, many attributed to the infamous tunnels that run beneath it. These tunnels directly connect the old downtown area to the international port and have facilitated the transfer of all goods, both legal and illegal.
During the busy industrial period between the late 1800s and early 1900s, the practice of “crimping” (when an unwilling person was drugged, beaten, and sold into servitude on an ocean-going ship) was common, and the tunnels beneath Portland were used to facilitate the imprisonment and transport of these captives. The tunnels were also home to secret opium dens, gambling operations, brothels, and all manner of illicit activity.
Like many haunted cities, Portland also has a number of haunted hotels and theaters and the sort of violent history that accompanies many larger ports, earning it a spot on this list.
Savannah shares a certain kinship with other southern gothic cities like New Orleans and Charleston. Savannah has similar ornate, historic architecture, a sweaty southern climate, a port, and live Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Both cities largely burned down twice between the late 1700s and the early 1800s.
New Orleans and Savannah, though charming, have both experienced histories filled with tragedy and death, and as writer Robin Bennefield wrote, “The undead are quite alive in Savannah.” Spirits of children in the hallways of the Hamilton-Turner Inn, apparitions in the hallways of the Marshall House, and the lady in white at the Moon River Brewing Company are only a few of the well-known local hauntings.
Technically Gettysburg is a borough, but it has more haunted energy than some medium-sized cities. Home to one of the most significant battles of the Civil War, more than 50,000 soldiers died in three days in July of 1863. Most of the bodies weren’t buried or claimed by family members, so the place holds an incredible amount of tragic spiritual energy.
Given this uniquely morbid history, it’s no surprise that there have been reports of hauntings for over 100 years. People have seen numerous apparitions on the battlefields and even recorded some really compelling footage that has circulated on paranormal TV shows.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is another deeply haunted southern city that shares the humid, gothic, live oak-framed vibe of New Orleans and Savannah. While some cities’ hauntings are confined to certain sections, Charleston’s hauntings are dispersed across downtown, former slave plantations, and the low-lying areas.
Old City Jail, Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, The Powder Magazine, and the Pink House usually top the most haunted list. Still, centuries of wars, tragic history, violence, and deadly natural disasters have saturated the area in paranormal energy that manifests regularly to this day.
St. Augustine, Florida
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest city in the nation and has a dark history filled with disease, deadly military battles, and pirate activity. It was settled by the Spanish, British, and Spanish again, before it was purchased by America in the Florida Treaty Purchase.
Port cities fought over by several nations tend to have tragic pasts and often harbor an invisible population of ghosts. Castillo de San Marco, the St. Augustine Lighthouse, and the Old Jail are prominent and historic paranormal hotspots, but you can find reports of hauntings throughout the area. The Spanish Military Hospital has reputation for having particularly active spirits known to moan, scream, cry, and appear in the halls.
As far as American cities go, this former capital has been through a lot. The City of Brotherly Love was founded on October 27th, 1682, and played a foundational role in early American history. Its Old City section is where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where some of the signers are said to haunt to this day.
Aside from Old City, numerous locations throughout the Philadelphia area are said to house ghosts. Eastern State Penitentiary, The Academy of Music, Fort Mifflin, Betsy Ross House, Elfreth’s Alley, the First Bank of the United States, and Washington Square Park are just some of the notable haunted locales. Many of the neighborhood parks in south Philly were built over graveyards that were never fully moved and there are even two haunted ships docked on the Delaware River–the Moshulu and the USS Olympia.
Nineteen people in Salem, MA. were executed in 1692 after being accused of involvement with witchcraft. While there is a lot of interest in fictional witches in Salem, the true history of the Salem Witch Trials is dark enough to have echoed down through American history. Taking one of the local haunted history tours is a great way to learn more about this place, but locals can tell you about the variety of real paranormal occurrences that continue to this day.
Numerous areas in the city are known for their paranormal activity, such as the Lyceum, Salem Jail, the Old Burying Point Cemetery, and Proctor’s Hill, where the 19 accused witches were executed. Despite all of the fun and Halloween fanfare in this city, it seems clear that some of the troubled spirits from the past have remained in Salem.
Clifton is technically a town, but it has an interesting history that has created an abundance of ghostly activity for its modern residents. Two and a half hours northeast of Tucson, this town you probably haven’t heard of has been a copper mining hub since the 1860s. Like many other parts of the United States where abundant minerals were discovered, potential economic opportunity has a way of attracting both enterprising and ruthless individuals, and Clifton, the second largest copper mine in the world, has seen lots of tragedy and death.
With a violent history that rivals Tombstone, Arizona, Clifton also experienced two terrible floods in its history that devastated the town and most of its buildings, most recently in 1983. Residents were collectively worried enough about the paranormal occurrences in their town that they called in the Ghost Hunters, an event that rattled the group and became their two-hour season 2 premiere in 2020. Investigator Kristin Luman told popculture.com that she “… [has] never felt that sort of threatened [on] an investigation before.”
Residents have expressed concern over innumerable active hauntings, instances of poltergeist activity, and encounters with shadow figures. You can find surprisingly consistent comments online from people who lived in or visited relatives in Clifton and have had paranormal experiences there. Some even speculate that the abundance of copper creates electromagnetic conditions that heighten the paranormal energy.
Are there other haunted cities we should have included on this list? Let us know by tagging us @spirithalloween on social media! Also, check out our blog if you also want to read about the creepiest tourist attractions or most haunted places in the United States.