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America's Scariest Homes: 12 Real-Life Haunted Houses
These homes and hotels all over the U.S. have one thing in common: paranormal activity. Take a tour of the country's creepiest dwellings from the safety of your own.
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I visited a 'haunted' 18th-century mansion in Manhattan and saw things I couldn't fully explain
- Built in 1765, Morris-Jumel Mansion is the oldest surviving residence in Manhattan.
- I went on a tour of the house that included the use of paranormal investigative equipment.
- While I'm still a skeptic and didn't see any ghosts, I enjoyed learning about the historical site.
Located just off 162nd Street in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood, there is a historic mansion dating back to the Revolutionary War that is said to be terribly haunted.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion , now a museum, functioned as George Washington's military headquarters during the Battle of Harlem Heights. Later, former vice president Aaron Burr married its owner, Eliza Jumel, who was one of the wealthiest women in America upon her death in 1865.
Jumel is said to haunt the mansion, along with other past residents and soldiers from the War of Independence. Every year around Halloween, the museum offers ghost tours to educate the public about the house and its history of paranormal activity.
I went on a ghost-hunting tour featuring the use of paranormal investigative equipment. While I still emerged skeptical about the existence of spirits, I enjoyed learning more about the little-known historical site — and witnessed some things I can't fully explain.
Here's what it was like.
Morris-Jumel Mansion, which was built in 1765, is the oldest surviving residence in Manhattan.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion was built by Colonel Roger Morris, a Loyalist who returned to England when the Revolutionary War broke out.
During the war, George Washington used the home as his military headquarters during the Battle of Harlem Heights. It was then purchased by Stephen Jumel, a wealthy French merchant, and his wife Eliza, an actress and socialite as well as a shrewd businesswoman, in 1810.
After Stephen Jumel died in 1832, Eliza Jumel married former vice president Aaron Burr. She filed for divorce less than a year later, and successfully protected the fortune she accrued from real-estate investments in what is now lower Manhattan. She died in her bedroom on the mansion's second floor in 1865 with a net worth of $1 million, or around $15 million in today's money, according to the Museum of American Finance , making her one of the richest women in America at the time.
The house is also said to be haunted.
The New York Times reported in 1981 that Eliza Jumel negotiated a $2,000 discount on the house because even then it was said to be haunted by the ghost of a Hessian soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Visitors and employees of the museum have also reported incidents of paranormal activity since it opened to the public in 1904. Some tour groups have claimed to see Jumel in full period dress on the second-floor balcony. Tour guides say they've heard voices and footsteps with no one else present. Others report running into that same Hessian soldier on the stairs.
The museum's staff keeps a record of these unexplained encounters known as the Book of Haunts.
I signed up for one of the mansion's paranormal-investigation tours to see for myself.
In the months leading up to Halloween, the Morris-Jumel Mansion offers two spooky tour experiences in addition to its regular schedule. The 75-minute candlelight ghost tour, where guides share ghost stories related to the home, costs $39.19. The paranormal investigation, lasting two-and-a-half hours and featuring the use of paranormal investigative equipment, costs $65.87.
Madeline Mungo, the mansion's public programs and visitor services manager, recommended that I book the paranormal investigation for a "more ghostly experience."
I'm not a big believer in ghosts and paranormal activity, but I do love exploring haunted places in the name of journalism.
The tour began with an introduction to the ghost-hunting equipment we'd be using, such as REM pods.
REM pods light up and make noise when they detect temperature shifts and "changes of the surrounding energy field," which some believe are indicators of paranormal activity, according to the device's Amazon listing.
Tour guide Karen Compton explained that staff would bring the REM pod from room to room as our tour progressed.
Each participant also received an electromagnetic field (EMF) meter.
Electricians use EMF meters to diagnose electrical or wiring issues. Paranormal researchers use them to measure electromagnetic energy that is thought to be associated with ghosts or spirits.
For example, Compton said, if we held up the EMF meter to a piece of wooden furniture with no electric wiring inside and the lights flashed to indicate a strong electromagnetic field, it could mean a ghost is responsible. Or, she said, it could mean that we're near a lightbulb.
Another surprising tool used by paranormal researchers: motion-activated cat ball toys.
The cat ball toys light up when something touches them or moves near them. If they lit up during the tour with no one nearby, paranormal activity could be one explanation, according to my guide.
I admit the cat balls made me feel more skeptical going into the tour since they seemed like a less scientific approach than the REM pod and EMF meters. Then again, as Compton reminded us, there's no proof for any of this. When it comes to paranormal investigations, it's more about the experience and feeling of the ghost hunt than the mechanics of the hunt itself.
As we assembled in the entryway, Mungo began telling us about the Morris family and the history of the house. Then, the cat ball inside the Octagon Room across the hall went off.
"This was built as their summer home to escape the city, which is funny to think about now, but at the time the city had only reached ..." Mungo paused as the cat ball lit up in the empty Octagon Room, where it had clearly not been touched. I, along with other members of our group, let out a nervous giggle.
"Interesting. Well, hello," she said, before continuing. "The city had only reached about Canal Street, so this up here was farmland. Before the Morrises, before colonization, this was the land of the Lenape, and this continues to be the unceded land of the Lenape."
The tour continued in the parlor, where Eliza Jumel married Aaron Burr in 1833.
None of the paranormal-investigation equipment lit up in the parlor, but Compton said that three weeks ago, she walked into the empty house on a Sunday and heard the room's original pianoforte playing music on its own.
In the dining room, Mungo pointed out a clock decorated with a moon that is said to wink at handsome men.
A few visitors stood in front of the clock, but none reported seeing the moon wink at them. I didn't get a wink, either.
Mungo said that while the dining room "is not one of our more active spaces," the moon is known to be flirty.
"He did wink at me last week, so he is exploring himself," Mungo said, eliciting a laugh from the group.
We then headed upstairs to Jumel's bedroom, where Compton introduced dowsing rods, another ghost-hunting tool.
Dowsing rods have historically been used to locate underground water sources, Compton said. The L-shaped tools feature long sticks that swing from side to side, even when held still by their handles.
"The idea is that if they cross, then you've found a spirit," she said. "Would anybody like to try them?"
I volunteered. I tried to stay perfectly still, but I could feel the way the slightest movement would cause the rods to swing.
"Eliza, are you here?" Compton asked.
After a few seconds, the rods crossed. I wasn't convinced that a ghost had caused the movement, but I was excited that something had happened.
I handed them to another member of the group, and the rods pointed towards a lamp in the corner of the room. Compton explained that everything in the room was original except for the carpeting and that lamp. The original fixture shattered during the installation of new carpet, which some interpreted as Jumel expressing her displeasure at the design choice.
"Do you like the carpet now?" someone asked.
The rods remained still.
The parlor that served as George Washington's war room in 1776 seemed particularly active as Compton told us about his valet, an enslaved man named William "Billy" Lee.
Many people's EMF meters, including my own, flashed yellow, orange, and red, as Compton explained that Lee was a constant presence at Washington's side for two decades and was the only enslaved person freed in his will.
"He's excited to hear you," a member of our group said of Lee.
"William Lee always responds," Compton said.
Did the presence of electromagnetic energy indicate the ghost of Lee? Were all the EMF meters in the small space simply activating each other? Perhaps my EMF meter was responding to the electric candlesticks placed on the windowsills to fill the room with a flickering yellow glow. I don't know enough about how the devices work to say, but I did appreciate the acknowledgement of Washington's complicated history as a slave owner as part of the tour.
Compton said Aaron Burr's bedchamber, where Lin-Manuel Miranda spent time writing his hit musical "Hamilton," has featured a paranormal peculiarity known as EVP, or electronic voice phenomena.
In paranormal investigations, EVP is defined as "apparent ghost voices attempting to communicate through typical audio recording equipment," according to a 2022 study about paranormal experiences and sensory-processing sensitivity published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE .
Authors Jess M. Williams and Mark Blagrove wrote that EVP is "an example of an illusion that results in the perception of meaningful patterns in meaningless stimuli, referred to as pareidolia, occurring in both visual and auditory forms, such as seeing faces in clouds or hearing phantom words in white noise."
Compton showed us a video taken in the room around seven years ago during a ghost tour like ours. It took a few listens, but I could make out what sounded like a scratchy, high-pitched voice exclaiming something unintelligible. It just as easily could have been a creaky piece of furniture, or distortion caused by overlapping voices in the recording.
Downstairs in the kitchen, we tried some more EVP by recording ourselves asking questions to the home's former residents and listening back to see if we got any response.
I asked the ghost of Burr what he thought of his portrayal in the musical "Hamilton," but unfortunately did not get a response.
Mungo also spoke about the people who would have worked in the kitchen — the enslaved individuals whose names and stories were never recorded — and asked if they wanted to come forward. The REM pod and recordings remained silent.
I still didn't believe in ghosts by the end of the tour, but I was surprised by how much I wanted to see or hear one during my visit.
Even as a skeptic, I found myself hoping to hear some mysterious footsteps or feel a sudden chill. This made me hyper-aware of every aspect of my surroundings, which caused some false alarms, like a mysterious shadow that turned out to be my own reflection in a glass barrier. I was struck by how easy it is to interpret anything as a sign of paranormal activity if you want to find it badly enough — even if you don't really believe in it to begin with.
Even so, I enjoyed learning about the way paranormal investigations are conducted and getting to try out some of the equipment, which I never would have known about or bought myself. I also appreciated that the tour welcomed skeptics and simply presented stories and theories without trying to convince anyone of anything.
Mungo told me that more than anything, the goal of the ghost tours is to educate visitors about the history of the mansion and its extraordinary occupants.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion didn't always embrace its reputation as a haunted building, but Mungo said the museum started offering ghost tours and paranormal investigations about a decade ago to help bring more visitors to the little-known site.
"We're kind of a hidden gem, and because this is a fun thing that has a different audience than museums tend to have, it's a gateway for them to come and see this place," Mungo said. "You do still get the history of the house. We do sneak it in."
Whether or not Jumel's ghost haunts the property, Mungo feels that her story is worth telling.
"Eliza Jumel is the coolest lady in American history and we completely forgot about her," she said. "This is the only place that's still talking about her. It's layers upon layers of history."
23 Insanely Scary DIY Haunted House Ideas
The Sits Girls
Some people like to decorate their houses for Halloween. Other people like to transform their homes into terrifying haunted houses. A little DIYing can help you get there, whether you want to create a full-blown experience for trick-or-treaters or you're just looking to decorate a little.
The more time you put into decorating for Halloween, the bigger the pay off as far as how memorable your home is to the neighbors. Explore these outrageously spooky haunted house ideas and figure out which makes the most sense for your home this year.
Use Chicken Wire to Make Creepy Ghosts
Wholesale Party Supplies
You can hang a white sheet and create a ghost, but this idea is sure to be more creepy. By using chicken wire, you can make the ghosts appear more lifelike in form. Also, opt for cheesecloth instead of sheets to make the entire project more spooky.
DIY Chicken Wire Ghosts from Wholesale Party Supplies
Start With PVC Pipe to Build a Grim Reaper
Print With My Pic
There's nothing quite as scary as the Grim Reaper making an appearance at your haunted house. The important thing is to take your time with this tutorial and use a foam wig stand to help make the shape true to form.
Make Your Own Grim Reaper Prop from Print With My Pic
Use Old Dolls for a Grotesque Mobile
There's not much creepier than a bunch of ragged, destroyed dolls hanging from the ceiling with weapons and blood galore. Just make sure whichever doll you decide to destroy isn't worth a ton of money first.
DIY Creepy Doll Mobile from Epbot
Make Your Home's Exterior Angry
All you need to add some moody ambiance to your house is a wood sheet, sharpies, and some paint. For this project, the teeth have a lip that rests between two of the porch beams, so no nails were needed.
Make House Come Alive for Halloween from Craftibilities
Hang Some Halloween Skeletons From Your Roof
If you want to add a touch of creepiness to your home's exterior but don't want to go all out, pick up a bunch of plastic skeletons and dangle them from your roof and windows.
DIY Climbing Halloween Skeletons from Instructables
Throw Around a Few Body Bags
This project is an inexpensive way to add major creepy vibes to any part of your haunted house. The key is to make the shape of the bags as body-like as possible. To accomplish this, stuff actual clothing with newspaper then put your dressed body inside the trash bags.
Body Bag Halloween Decorations from Craftibilities
Make This Terrifying Werewolf Head
If you love sculpting with clay , try out this haunted house idea. Werewolves are a classic Halloween staple, but sometimes they can look less than scary. Learn how to make your own and it will surely look ferocious. Hang the finished piece under your front porch or just inside your home's foyer.
DIY Werewolf Head Decor from Instructables
Float Some Candles Overhead
This haunted house DIY is inspired by Harry Potter , but even non-fans will be spooked when they look up and see the candles magically floating in mid-air.
Harry Potter Floating Candles from The Sits Girls
Construct This Scary Jack-o'-lantern Archway
While you will need a ton of scary plastic jack-o'-lanterns to make this idea come to life, the end result will be totally worth it. The base of this arch is constructed out of a PVC pipe, so it's easy to customize to your specific entryway.
DIY Pumpkin Archway from Crazi Carlos
Weave This Giant Spider Web
My Untangled Life
No one wants to get caught in a spider web, especially not inside a haunted house. Learn how to weave a simple web and place them around your haunted house perimeter or to block off certain areas you don't want guests.
DIY Giant Spider and Web from My Untangled Life
Turn a Normal Doormat Into a Spiderweb Doormat
This haunted house idea is more practical than it is scary. If you are inviting guests into your home to get spooked, make sure they wipe off their feet first. You can customize a basic black rug using white fabric paint.
DIY Spiderweb Doormat from Delia Creates
Place Some Skeleton Zombies on the Lawn
Take advantage of your front lawn space when setting up your haunted house. One way to do this is by littering the lawn with zombie skeletons. Craft a form out of PVC pipe, add some stained red clothing, and then put on a foam skeleton head.
DIY Zombies from Craftibilities
Craft an Archway Using Plastic Skulls and Chains
My Funhouse Projects
One of the most impressive parts of a haunted house is the entryway, so don't skimp on this first impression. Try to create this giant archway using carved foam boards. Next, add some extra detail using paint, decorative chains, and plastic skulls
DIY Spooky Archway from My Funhouse Projects
Paint a Spooky Halloween Subway Sign
A Pumpkin and a Princess
Signs are a great way to set the tone of your haunted house. Some haunted houses are downright scary and others might be more suitable for children. This sign works well for a more underage type haunted house. Simply find a canvas or some old boards you can stencil.
DIY Halloween Subway Art Sign from A Pumpkin and a Princess
Learn How to Build This Electric Chair
If you love building things with wood, perhaps this is the perfect haunted house idea for you to try this year. The devil is in the detail on this one, so don't expect to complete this project in one sitting.
DIY Electric Chair from Haunt 31
Add Some Silhouetted Figures to Your Windows
To add instant haunted curb appeal to your house, make a bunch of silhouetted figures using cardboard. If you aren't good at drawing freehand, the original creator included some downloadable templates. This haunted house idea is perfect if you want to make a big impact on a very small budget.
Haunted House Silhouettes from Make:
Don't Forget About Your Home's Interior
If you plan on having your haunted house party or tour inside your home, make sure that virtually everything that is on display is creepy in one way or another. You can do this in an obviously gory way, or you can opt for a more elegant yet gothic approach with these candlesticks.
Spooky Crystal Ball Candlesticks from Flamingo Toes
DIY an Eek Marquee Sign
This is another more lighthearted haunted house idea that would work well for young children. You want to have the haunted house be whimsical, a little creepy, but not downright scary. This sign is made out of paper mache letters, paint, and a string of lights
DIY Eek Marquee from Lolly Jane
Label Everything With Creepy Words
No detail is too small when it comes to creating an absolutely unforgettable haunted house. Visitor's senses will be heightened and they will take in all sorts of creepy characteristics. If your haunted house is indoors, create a vignette of poisons and other bizarre potions using these apothocary labels.
Printable Apothecary Labels for Halloween from Lia Griffith
Create a Gallery of Ghost-like Faces
Seeing anything other than your face in a mirror can be a creepy experience. To recreate that concept in your haunted house, take some silver mirror spray paint and coat the inside of a glass frame to 60% opacity. Next, add in a photo of a creepy ghost or face behind the glass.
Hitch Hiking Ghost Mirrors from Anniemated
Scatter Glowing Spooky Eyes Around Your House
Dream a Little Bigger
Hide these DIY glowing spooky eyes in bushes, trees, or in windows to make it look like a monster is lurking around your home. To make your own, use a cardboard tube (like a toilet paper roll) and a glow stick.
DIY Glowing Spooky Eyes from Dream a Little Bigger
Put Some Writing on the Wall
From House to Home
In many cases, writing scary words on the wall in a red blood-like paint will work well. However, if you want to have a darkly lit haunted house, using glow in the dark paint is a much better option.
Glow in the Dark Party Ideas for Halloween from From House to Home
Pose Skeletons in Creative Ways
If you're short on ideas on how to make a kid-friendly haunted house, consider ways to make the creepy seem more fun and human. For instance, pose some skeletons in creative ways doing everyday things.
DIY Skeleton Lawn Decor from Helpful Homemade
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- Free Halloween Clip Art for All of Your Projects
- 9 Easy Fake Blood Recipes
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NEWS... BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT
Amanda Holden ’emotional’ over ‘making spirits proud’ in suspected haunted house
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Amanda Holden has admitted to feeling emotional over a house she and Alan Carr have been tasked with doing up due to the ‘spirits’ she suspects linger there.
Amanda & Alan’s Italian Job is back for another season, and this time they are heading for Tuscany to renovate a 17th century dilapidated building bought for one euro.
Although they knew it would need work they didn’t think it would be quite so, er, haunting, and as Alan repeated multiple times: smelly.
‘When I went inside it I fell out of love with it,’ 47-year-old Alan said, as he chose this build without having stepped through its doors. Well done, Alan.
The walls seemed to be crumbling and mouldy, while the floor was sometimes merely rubble and rocks. But that wasn’t the most unusual part.
On entering the house Amanda gasped as she saw much of the previous owner’s belongings remained there, including plates on walls, little figurines and even a passport and personal photographs.
‘It’s like miss Havisham’s just left it,’ commented the Heart Radio presenter, 52.
One particularly poignant picture saw the previous owners standing proud at the front door of the Italian home, and Amanda proclaimed she and Alan would restore it to its previous beauty as captured in the black and white snap.
‘I want to know why they left, why leave these figurines?’ asked Alan, to which Amanda responded: ‘I think there’s probably a sad story. I feel like somebody was old and lived here for ages and just died.’
Talking to the camera, she continued: ‘I feel quite emotional about this build. Because I could almost smell the history of the house, so I feel like I want to do a better job than before.
‘I want to do the spirits proud, I know that is going to make me sound like a wally.’
Earlier in the episode while studying a wardrobe Alan heard a suspicious sound coming from within.
‘Is that someone banging?’ he asked, before declaring into the ether: ‘Show us a sign that you’re here.’
A clicking noise did follow – although by the looks of the place, it could easily have been the house falling down bit by bit.
‘What’s that tapping?’ asked Amanda, alarmed, to which Alan casually responded: ‘I think it’s a ghost.’
Amanda then spoke directly to the, er, spirits, understandably unsure how to approach the situation.
‘Well honestly we’re here to do good – is what we should say? We welcome you… what do you say?’ she continued.
This comes after a spate of paranormal revelations by celebrities. On The Graham Norton Show on Friday 5 December Alan told the wild story of how he was once outed by a ouija board while with his mother.
He said – and we can’t tell if this is a joke or not – that it spelt the letters H, O, M, O. Luckily, Alan added that his mum can’t read.
This followed on from The Crown’s Dominic West casually telling the world that he once threw a kids party to get rid of a poltergeist.
‘I looked into exorcism, and it’s a real thing. It’s quite the process and you have to look into the history of the whole house and work out who might be the unsettled spirit,’ he revealed.
‘And this guy was advising and said, “Or you just have a kids party. Just get a load of kids in there and it settles the spirit and cheers everything up. One of the kids’ heads might spin around, but that’s fine,”‘ he joked.
But no, seriously.
‘So we just had a couple of parties. And it worked. So that’s how you exorcise a house. Chuck the kids in there.’
Why didn’t we think of that…?
Amanda & Alan’s Italian Job series one is available to watch on BBC iPlayer or every Friday at 8.30pm on BBC One.
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