When we tell ourselves ghost stories, the ghosts are always tied to a place. Ghosts have homes. Whatever the reason we give them for sticking around, be it unfinished business or an unsettled spirit – or even revenge – they always haunt a place.
And even if you don’t believe in ghosts, there are places that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The feeling of being in a place where something terrible has happened is undeniable – it gets under your skin. History has a way of breaking through centuries to invade the present. And how disturbing a thought is that?
But those places that make your hair stand at attention are all-too-tempting sometimes, aren’t they? They get your blood flowing. They focus your mind and senses like nothing else.
So what do you think? How many of these places would you want to explore? Are you brave enough?
1. Overtoun Bridge, Scotland
In Celtic mythology, Overtoun is “the thin place” where heaven and earth are close. The bridge, built in 1895, is rumored to be haunted and has been the scene of some horrifying events. In 1994, a local man threw his infant son off the bridge because he thought his child was the reincarnation of Satan, and he tried to follow in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Stranger still, dogs have been jumping to their deaths from Overtoun Bridge – and not just a few. As many as 600 dogs have jumped from the bridge and almost 50 have died.
2. Beelitz-Heilstatten Hospital, Germany
In the century it was open, Beelitz-Heilstatten Hospital hosted some nasty customers. Built as a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1898, it became a military hospital in WWI. Adolf Hitler spent time there recuperating from a thigh injury suffered in the Battle of the Somme. After WWII, the Soviets took control and held the hospital until 1995, six years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. East German dictator Erich Honecker was treated for liver cancer at Beelitz-Heilstatten as well. It was finally abandoned in 2000.
3. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Although the church containing the ossuary was built in the 15th century, the cemetery on which it was built dates from the 12th. The cemetery at Sedlec has been busy; in 1318, at the height of the Black Death, 30,000 people were buried there. The ossuary itself contains the remains of about 40,000 people. The interior arrangement of bones was designed by Czech wood carver Frantisek Rint in 1870. One particular highlight, the chandelier, contains all the bones in the human body.
4. Actun Tunichil Muknal, Belize
From the outside, it looks like a nice, idyllic spot for a dip. The cave holds a dark past, however. The Mayans used the cave, which they believed to be a portal to the underworld, as a site for sacrifices to the gods, and skeletal remains can still be seen there to this day. Creepier still, entering the cave requires a cold swim through chest-high waters and narrow, twisting caverns.
5. Takakanonuma Greenland Park, Japan
Located 150 miles north of Tokyo in Hobara, Takakanonuma had a couple of chances at life. It opened in1973, but only stayed open for a couple of years. Rumors of deaths at the park swirled around its closure, but it opened again in 1986 nonetheless. This time it ran until 1999, when an economic downturn forced its abandonment. All the roller coasters were torn down in 2010 and were replaced by solar panels in 2014.
6. Isla de las Munecas, Mexico
As the legend goes, a young girl was found drowned on the island many years ago and the dolls there are possessed by her spirit. In fact, the island’s caretaker, Don Julian Santana Barrera, lived alone there and found the body of a drowned girl with a doll floating next to it that he picked up and put in a tree as a tribute to the girl. Or possibly not. He might have made up the tale, nobody can be sure. But Don Julian did spend 50 years putting dolls up all over the island, and he was found drowned in the same spot he claimed to have found the girl. And the dolls remain.
7. Centralia, Pennsylvania
In spite of all the climate change fight’s best efforts, at least one coal fire won’t be put out for a long, long time. At its peak in 1890 Centralia had a population of over 2,700 but by 2010 just 10 remained. The reason? In May 1962, a seam in one of the town’s coal mines caught fire. It has been burning since, making the ground hazardous and belching smoke out of cracks in the earth. When a boy fell into a sinkhole that opened beneath him in his backyard in 1981, it became clear the town would have to be abandoned. Although it has already been burning for more than 50 years, scientists have estimated the fire might continue to burn for another 250 years.
8. Leap Castle, Ireland
As if it doesn’t look ominous enough from the outside, Leap Castle is also considered “the most haunted castle in Ireland”. The ancestral home of the terrible O’Carroll clan has seen numerous deaths, and in 1922, workmen uncovered a dungeon underneath the castle containing “three cart loads” of human remains. The ghosts haunting Leap Castle are said to include Thaddeus O’Carroll, a priest killed by his brother during mass over a succession dispute, and an elemental spirit summoned by Mildred Darby.
9. Capuchin Catacombs, Italy
The Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo began as a cemetery for the Capuchin monastery, but back in the 16th century, it had to be expanded into crypts below. The mummification of one of the monks started a trend and, although the crypts were only supposed to be for monks, soon the rich and famous of Palermo asked to be interred there. Today, more than 1200 mummies are on display in the catacombs, which are open to the public.
10. Ronkkonen Sculpture Park, Finland
One of the creepiest sights you can visit anywhere in the world is the creation of a former paper mill worker, Veijo Ronkkonen. His sculptures – and there are more than 450 of them in the park, including 200 of them self-portraits of Veijo in various yoga poses – feature hidden loudspeakers that spout sound effects and smile with real human teeth.
11. Fengdu Ghost City, China
According to Chinese mythology, Fengdu represents the underworld, or Diyu. Its complex of temples and shrines is modeled to resemble Youdu, the capital of Diyu. The Ghost City’s site has 2000 years of history: according to legend two imperial officials came to the mountain to study Taoism and their practice helped them become immortals. The site also re-creates three tests the dead must pass to move into the next life: the Bridge of Helplessness, the Ghost-Torturing Pass, and Tianzi Palace.
12. Pripyat, Ukraine
Most people know Pripyat better as Chernobyl, the neighboring nuclear power plant that suffered the worst nuclear disaster in history in 1986. The city of Pripyat had almost 50,000 inhabitants, all of whom were evacuated suddenly days after the meltdown. Caught in time, the abandoned city still contains all the artwork and symbols of the old Soviet Union – as well as the disturbing signs of people uprooted in the middle of their lives, never to return.
13. Hellingly Hospital, England
Completed in 1903, Hellingly served as a major expansion of the mental health facilities in Southwest England for 90 years. However, it was closed down in 1994 and sat empty, and the sprawling Victorian complex became a favorite place for urban explorers to delve. It also became a target for vandals and arsonists, making the buildings that much more disturbing – as if an abandoned mental hospital wasn’t a spooky enough place on its own.
14. Aokigahara Forest, Japan
Usually forests inspire peace and serenity, but Aokigahara Forest in Japan, near Mt. Fuji, has a seriously eerie feel to it. Some call it the “perfect place to die” and, after the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s the second most popular suicide spot in the world. In spite of signs posted by police urging people to reconsider, volunteers pull as many as 78 bodies out of the forest each year. And those are only the ones they find.
15. Winchester House, California
From the outside it’s a towering mansion; inside, it’s a confounding maze that reflects a fragile mental state. Winchester House was built by the widow of famous rifle maker William Winchester. She believed she was haunted by the ghosts of all the people killed by Winchester rifles, and only constant construction could appease them. And construction did continue daily between 1884 and Sarah Winchester’s death in 1922. She even built in secret passageways to hide in when she thought a ghost might be following her.