As we enter the spookiest season, thoughts turn to ghostly visitations, mysterious noises in the night, and other signs of that horror hallmark: the haunted house! And while there are plenty of unassuming homes with unexplainable phenomena (like that spot in your basement that’s always chilly, no matter the season?), when you combine excessive wealth with a tragic backstory, you really get that special, luxuriously Gothic vibe. Here are three of America’s most haunted mansions, each incorporating a haunting blend of power, money, and death.
Speaking of those power, money and death - they’re perfect ingredients for our virtual murder mystery, which just so happens to take place in a mansion as well! Read up on these bone chilling buildings, and then join us for an evening of the luxurious and the macabre.
The Winchester House (San Jose, CA)
The Winchester Mystery House is such a quintessential haunted mansion that Disney used it as inspiration for their Haunted Mansion ride! Starting as a humble 8 room villa in San Jose, the home was purchased in 1886 by Sarah Winchester, widowed heiress to the Winchester firearm fortune. Sarah immediately started construction on the house, which continued for the next 36 years until her death in 1922. Rather than hiring an architect, Sarah directed all the additions herself, which led to unexplainable features like staircases heading to nowhere and hidden windows which never saw the sun, all culminating in a sprawling, labyrinthian mansion that at one point reached seven stories tall! Popular legend says that during a seance, a medium told Sarah the only way to appease the ghosts of everyone killed by Winchester rifles was to continuously build them a new home. The unsettling architecture, combined with Sarah’s fascination with spiderweb motifs and the number 13, creates the perfect spooky environment, and it’s no surprise that visitors tell tales of mysterious figures and disembodied voices.
Franklin Castle (Cleveland, Oh)
Apparently, in the late 1800s elaborate home renovation was a common way for the beleaguered wealthy to distract themselves from their grief. At around the same time as Sarah Winchester started her ceaseless construction, Hannes Tiedemann began expanding Franklin Castle, for much the same reasons - and with the same spooky results!
Initially, Hannes built the ornate Victorian estate to celebrate his prosperous banking career. At first, life seemed idyllic. Then, in 1891 Hannes’s 15-year-old daughter tragically died, followed closely by his mother. To distract himself and his wife, Louise, from their grief, Hannes starting adding onto the house, incorporating multiple turrets, gargoyles, and an increasingly maze-like sprawl of new rooms. Tragedy continued to beset the Tiedemann family, with their next three children all dying in infancy, culminating in Louise’s death in 1895. By this time, the continuous train of deaths, combined with the increasingly eerie Gothic architecture, sparked rumors of hidden passageways, secret torture chambers, and familial foul play. Though Tiedemann sold the home shortly after Louise’s death, visitors told tales of mysterious flashes of light, spectral visions of a woman in black, and the disembodied cries of babies wailing through the walls.
Joshua Ward House (Salem, MA)
While this stately brick building is indeed historic - George Washington stayed there on a presidential visit to Salem - like many classic horror movies, the hauntings come from the property the house is built on. Almost a century before the Ward House was built, the property was home to Sheriff George Corwin, who personally oversaw the executions of 19 people during the Salem Witch Trials. Rumor has it that Corwin tortured suspected witches in the basement of his home. While there’s no evidence to support that claim, the truth is grisly enough: Corwin led the execution of Giles Corey, an accused warlock sentenced to “peine forte et dure,” or being slowly crushed to death. Visitors to the Ward House say they have felt ghostly hands strangling them, or come away with mysterious scratches on their arms and chests. The House is widely believed to be haunted by Corwin and Corey themselves, as well as the ghost of an accused and executed witch. Skeptical? The Ward House is now a hotel, so feel free to stay the night…if you dare!