Come closer, dear reader, and let me tell you a story…
Once upon a midnight dreary, while he pondered, weak and weary, your lonely chronicler, sitting bathed in the glow of
a single candle his laptop screen, reached out and, with trembling hand, poured himself another drink to calm his shattered nerves.
He’d been asked to write an article about the scariest places in the world; the most haunted, ghastly, ghostly, most accursed places on this bedevilled rock, the mysteries of which one may not even begin to countenance.
Presently, shaking himself to his senses with a “Humbug!”, and an “I won’t believe it!” he abandoned the opening and got straight down to the list.
Mary King’s Close – Edinburgh, Scotland
Being full of buildings hundreds of years old that are still used to this day, the UK abounds with ghost stories. What sights, what hideous acts may have happened over the centuries that the spirits of those affected remain forever at large? This is as good a place as any to begin…
Underneath the Scottish capital is a warren of tunnels and passageways – Mary King’s Close. It used to be such a thriving area that tradesmen not only sold their wares and touted their skills, but lived down here as well. Then, in 1645, the area became the scene of an outbreak of plague. Not only was the whole place shut down, but those who lived and worked in the passages were abandoned and left to die down there.
Regarded today as one of the most haunted places in Scotland, paranormal activity was first recorded later in the 17th century, with reports of limbs seen reaching through walls, and the people living above ground experiencing vivid nightmares.
Today, lamplit ghost tours explore this area of the city at night, with visitors reporting seeing a “worried woman” in black, and the ghost of a little girl who calls herself Annie. The ghost of Annie has even been known to interact with visitors, asking for help and food. Others report hearing the sounds of a party, the last, desperate attempt at happiness from a group of people abandoned to die in a tomb of their own making.
Bhangarh Fort – Rajasthan, India
Or the Fort of Ghosts, to give it its local name. Abandoned in 1783, at its height Bhangarh Fort was essentially a small town made up of temples, houses, palaces, walls and gates – even a bazaar – built around and cut into the foot of a mountain in this part of north-western India. Yet, even now, it’s off limits to anyone outside the hours of daylight, the locals convinced that anyone who spends the night there will never be seen again.
So what happened? What was once a thriving community was also home to a princess named Ratnavati. Outside the city lived a wizard, Singhia, who, the first time he saw her, loved her from afar. Unable to bridge the gap between royalty and hermitry, he concocted an enchanted oil to make her fall in love with him. Ratnavati, sadly for the wizard, saw through his scheming.
The princess threw away the potion, which landed on and dislodged a boulder. Slowly at first, but then picking up a terrible speed, it crashed down the hill towards Singhia and, with his last breath, he cursed the city and all its inhabitants to death, with no hope of rebirth, until the end of time. Soon after, the fort was invaded from the north by the Mughals; all 10,000 inhabitants, including the princess, were killed.
Today, it is naturally a site of archaeological interest, but also to ghost hunters and those interested in the paranormal. The spirits are said to walk during the night, attempting to continue their lives at the bazaar, and to while away eternity at the Dancers’ Hall.
Local villagers believe that one day the spell will be overcome. The princess, they say, is strong, and will be reborn. When that time comes, she will revisit the city, and only then will the curse be broken, and the spirits of the 10,000 murdered inhabitants finally rest in peace.
Monte Cristo Homestead – Junee, New South Wales, Australia
This elegant building is one of the most recently constructed on this list, but is probably Australia’s most haunted building, due to a series of events that occurred between 1885 (the year it was built) and 1948, when the Crawleys, the family who’d owned it, moved out.
A series of gruesome and tragic accidents befell members of the family and their staff, beginning with the death of one of the children, apparently pushed down the stairs by forces unknown. One of the family maids fell off (or threw herself off) the balcony when pregnant, and a stable boy died in a horrific fire.
After the Crawleys moved out, the property was left to a series of caretakers, yet even they couldn’t escape the curse of the house. The son of one of the caretakers was discovered chained up in one of the workers’ cottages, next to the body of his dead mother. It transpired he’d been there for forty years. He died in a mental institution shortly after.
The homestead is now run as a bed & breakfast and guests are treated to a ghost tour before they bed down for the night. But what became of Christopher and Elizabeth Crawley, the wealthy couple who built the homestead in the first place? Well, they too have joined the pantheon of the spirits, and both now haunt the property along with the others who fell foul of the accursed house.
The Ancient Ram Inn – Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, England
Pubs are usually some of the oldest buildings still in use, and in the UK this is particularly true. Being the centre of the communal life of a village, a place for travellers to stay, a marker point on a long journey, or simply a place to go to celebrate life – and death – it’s no wonder pubs have such a storied history.
The Ancient Ram Inn is no misnomer: built nearly 900 years ago in 1145, many have claimed it to be the single most haunted building in the world. Built on the site of what was, around 5,000 years ago, a Pagan burial site, the stories over the centuries tell of devil worship, child sacrifice, and powerful evil spirits. It certainly has precedent: when John Humphries, the current owner, bought the inn in 1968, he found the skeletons of two children buried underneath the staircase.
If you’re brave enough to spend the night there, the owner will be happy to give you a tour and some history of the place. At night, however, it’s a different matter. His daughter, Caroline, has said that guests have run, terrified, from the ghost of a murdered girl named Rosie, a pagan high priestess, and the sound of a man’s voice shouting: “Get out!” followed by furniture flying about, and more high-pitched screaming. Some people have even reported being grabbed by the hand by someone invisible, or have a presence stand directly behind them, breathing gently into their ear…
Poveglia Island – Venice, Italy
This island in the Venice Lagoon has, like Edinburgh above, a history of plague victims. It had been inhabited, once upon a time, but by the 14th century it was devoid of people.
When the plague hit Venice, the terrified population sent people to the island at the first sign of symptoms; in some cases, people did recover from contracting the fever, but this was basically an instant death sentence. Plague doctors were sent over to pile up the bodies and burn them all on giant pyres. Today, the soil is 50 per cent human ash.
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In the 1800s, the island was put into use again, this time as the location for a mental asylum. Being a place that was already considered a site of ill omen, doctors would routinely perform experiments on their patients, and in 1930 a doctor committed suicide by leaping to his death from the bell tower.
The entire island has been abandoned since 1975, although people living nearby claim you can still hear the bell ringing out from time to time. Local fishermen don’t tend to go near it either; not necessarily because it’s haunted, but because they’re afraid they’ll drag up human remains from the waters around the island.
Stepping onto the island, visitors say that, rather than seeing anything, there’s simply an overriding sense of either fear or fury, an almost possessive sense of rage. Screams can be heard, as well as begging voices, and most people end up fleeing in abject terror…
Eastern State Penitentiary – Philadelphia, USA
Built in 1829, this fortress-like prison was the first to introduce solitary confinement – or the Pennsylvania System as it was known – as a form of punishment. No-one knew how this would affect the human psyche, so it was taken to inhuman lengths.
Prisoners subjected to this punishment would obviously be isolated to a small cell, but also ate alone, exercised alone, and whenever they had to leave the cell, would have a black hood drawn over their head. In less than a century, the Pennsylvania System was scrapped, purely due to the number of prisoners who went utterly insane.
The prison was abandoned in 1971, but still stands today, and the vast complex of yards, walls, towers, and cell blocks is open for public tours. Visitors can see everything from the kitchens to The Hole, the solitary spaces that drove people out of their minds. The tour also includes a visit to Death Row, a chilling place (and a chilling idea, full stop), no matter what the history of the rest of the prison.
Reports of paranormal activity were terrifying inmates as early as 1940, but since its closure, activity has increased. Visitors have reported ghostly figures in the guard towers, and shadowy shapes that approach you but, when advanced upon, vanish. The sounds of footsteps on walkways abound, doors swing shut by themselves and, worst of all, the sounds of insane laughter can be heard in cell block 12.
The Citadel – Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
A classically star-shaped fortress at the top of Citadel Hill in Halifax, this is a site for both history buffs and ghost hunters alike. It’s around 300 years old; originally built in 1749 and with some reconstruction completed in 1856. In fact, were it not for the Citadel, is possible there wouldn’t be a city here at all. The large hill it sits on, overlooking an easily-defended bay below, was what persuaded the British military that this would be a good place for a colony of settlers.
As well as the museum and all the living history attractions the Citadel has to offer, it also runs ghost tours at 8.30 pm, from mid-July to the end of October, and that’s when you’ll start to learn some of the bizarre and creepy legends of the place.
Many visitors have reported seeing a soldier in uniform patrolling the prison area, while others claim to have seen a man in a red cloak, and an old lady who only appears in mirrors. Add to this disembodied voices, doors opening and banging shut for no apparent reason, and the feeling of being watched, as well as sudden feelings of nausea and sudden gusts of wind in windowless rooms, it’s clear there’s something going on.
Oh, and don’t wander off on the tour. Now and again, visitors have felt the ghost of a little girl carefully take them by the hand…