The best haunted houses and other haunted jaunts

What makes a great haunted house? Gothic architecture? Unexpected things that go bump in the night? Chain saws? Thunder and lightening? Screams, shrieks and wails that pierce through fog? Dripping red goo that looks a lot like blood? Cockroaches on walls and mice that scurry across the floor? A hand that comes out of a box to grab you when you pass? How about a severed head surrounded by garnish served up on a platter?

From California to Pennsylvania and states in between, there are 12 haunted hot spots that have been picked by the staff at Digital City as being the best of the haunted house bounty in the United States. From their descriptions, it seems as if these attractions have most of the above and more–much more.

Interestingly, only one of the picks–the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is an actual house. The rest range from a movie set to prisons. One, the Haunted School House and Lab in Akron, Ohio, is in a former elementary school.

No matter the venue, each haunted attraction is guaranteed to make you shriek. There’s a reason why.

What seems to be the common denominator among them is the amount of time and professional power it takes to create thrills and chills. For example, 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the number one pick for two years in a row by Haunted Magazine, is created by a bevy of professional carpenters, technicians and scenery artists–many who have worked in Hollywood. It takes them months to redo this attraction so that each year is different. Before the opening, 100 professional actors know exactly what to do to scare the daylights out of anyone brave enough to make his or her way through the 13 indoor and outdoor sections.

For more worth heading to haunted jaunts, check out Tom’s post on five haunted attractions in the world. The ghost tours of old Orlando, Florida caught my attention in particular. I love real places with real stories behind them.

There are other prisons that offer haunted tours–some of them year round.

One of the ones I have a hankering to go to this year since I missed it last year is the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. I’ve only been there during the day and only on the outside. Even that creeped me out. The warden shot himself in the head in his office at this place. Oh, wait a minute. That scene happened in the movie The Shawshank Redemption which was filmed at this prison Still, the place is supposed to be haunted and I’ve heard rave reviews about the reformatory’s haunted tours.

Travel read: 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! Here are 10.

If travel seems overwhelmingly expensive, or just plain overwhelming, turn it down a notch. That’s the message in the book 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! by Joanne O’sullivan. Plus there’s not the word “die” in the title. That’s uplifting.

Although this book is aimed towards children, it offers a fresh way to look at travel for adults as well. Each page touts a different wonder to tantalize ones fancy. Instead of specific places, there are themes so that no matter where you live, you may not have to travel far to check destinations off the list. Some don’t cost a dime.

Each offering is presented in eye candy pages complete with facts and details for finding out more. It’s like having all the best field trips in the world right at your fingertips.

First up, A Lighthouse. Did you know Michigan is the state with the most? There are 124. To find lighthouses in North America, check out this web site that features legendary lighthouses.

Here are are 10 more gotta see suggetions. See these, and there are only 90 more to go:

A Working Farm: Here’s a way to see where food comes from and get it fresh. “The closer your food is to where you came from, the, the better it is for you,” is one of the ideas behind this suggestion. To find working farms that are open to the public in the U.S., the book suggests checking with a county extension agent. Other countries have working farms open to the public as well. In New Zealand, staying on a working farm is a popular lodging option. At Offbeat Travel, there’s an account of one person’s 21-day farm stay tour. In case you can’t make it to a farm, here’s a virtual 4-H farm tour.

A Ghost Town: Head to one of these and wonder why everyone left. There are ghost towns to be found about everywhere, but particularly in the western part of the United States. Montana is filled with them. One I like in particular, because of its location up a long road in the Pintler Mountains, is Granite. To find other ghost towns, check out

A Big Cave: This suggestion has a two-page spread that includes cave detail definitions. Sure you might know what a stalactite (hangs down) and a stalagmite (goes up) are but what about an anthodite and helicite? Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the largest cave in the world. To find others in the U.S., click here. To pep up cave travel, go to one that once was a salt mine. Several countries have them.

A Battlefield: It doesn’t matter which one you go to. The idea is to take time to ponder what events passed on the ground where you are standing. These are the places where lives and history were changed. Here’s a Web site to help you find Civil War battlefields.

A Great Estate: Head to where the rich, rich, rich people once lived before the word McMansion hit our vocabulary. The book suggests Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Jeremy recently suggested mansions in the Hudson Valley of New York. In India, many mansions have been changed into hotels, and several are not particularly expensive. Check out Heritage Hotels to find one.

A Haunted Place: This is one of Gadlings favorite topics every October. Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana is described as being the most haunted home in America. Haunted Prisons, ships and hotels could keep you busy for awhile.

A Place of Worship: This is where you visit a religious place that is not your religion. If possible attend a service. The point is to learn about the symbols and belief systems of other religions and notice just how similar religions are. Here’s something I didn’t know. There are more than 200 Hindu temples in North America.

A Very Big Thing: This is a suggestion that says “road trip.” It doesn’t matter what big thing you look for, just make sure it’s big. One suggestion I have is the world’s largest penguin in Cut Back, Montana. The book gives locations for finding Paul Bunyan and his blue cow Babe and the largest catsup bottle in the world.

Backstage of a Theater: Here’s where you check out the secrets behind the magic of what happens when the curtain goes up. I recently toured the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield, Ohio. This gem of a theater has a history that started back in Vaudeville. My favorite part was seeing the dressing rooms where people get ready to perform. Jerry Lee Lewis was performing there the day after I toured. Along the walls leading up to the dressing rooms are black and white photos of the various performers like Jay Leno back when he was doing stand-up.

The Middle of Nowhere: This is a place that you’ll know it when you see it. It’s a place in the world that makes you say, “we’re in the middle of nowhere. Three summers ago when we were driving through Wyoming, my then 3 year-old son looked out the window and said, “We’re the only one here.”

The other 90 suggestions are also compelling. The Orlando Sentinel said that 101 Places You Gotta See Before Your 12 is “an odyssey for kids.” I say, forget what it does for kids. It sure makes me excited to get out in the world–plus it comes with a fold out map of the U.S. and stickers to mark where you’ve been.

I checked the book out from the library. It’s now overdue, and I can’t renew it. That means I’m just going to have to buy a copy. It’s terrific.

The photo is of Greenpoint Lighthouse in South Africa.

Visit haunted prisons for a Halloween creep out

Old prisons look creepy in the day. In the dark, they can really spook you. Perhaps it’s those rusted locks, the way cell doors sound when they clank shut, the stairs where people don’t tread anymore. Add a hangman’s noose or an electric chair, and you have a real chills up your back shudder.

Pair a trip to a prison on Halloween and you’re in for some screaming good times.

Or, if you can’t swing by one of these prisons before Halloween, take in a night tour when you get the chance. Each of the these three prisons featured offers night tours year round. And each have tales of being haunted.

Haunted or not, I can vouch for their chill factor. I’ve visited each of them.

(photo of stairway at Mansfield Reformatory taken by thadman.)

My most recent visit was to the Mansfield Reformatory. In its heyday, the prison was a reformatory for boys but was closed in the 1980s.

This goreous gothic building that looks both elegant and forbodding even in daylight acquired its most recent fame as the setting for the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Through Halloween weekend there is a haunted house here that is a guareenteed screamfest. People under 13-years of age are not allowed.

The reformatory’s Night of the Evil Dead haunted house experience takes in most of the prison that is now a museum. I met some folks who had been on the tour the night before I visited here during the day. They loved it and mentioned several times how they felt hoarse from screaming.

I’ve been to Alcatraz Island in San Franciso twice. Although haven’t been on the night tour here either, in the daylight wandering through the rooms where the likes of Al Capone hung out creates a chill factor straight off.

Add in the tales of the guys who tried to escape by swimming for the distant shore but never made it, and you have another creepy detail. There’s also the soliary confinement cell where you can experience the dark in a way that is different than perhaps you are used to.

The night tours at Alcatraz are Thursday through Monday and include special talks around certain themes. How about the Shadow of Death? There are others from which to choose. A bonus of Alcatraz’s night tours is the view of San Francisco.

The view was terrific by day. If you do go on this tour any time of the year, whether during the day or night, make sure you bring warm clothes. Even in the summer it gets chilly.

I did take the night torchlight tour of the Fremantle Prison in Perth, Australia. Very cool. I was hanging out with a group of adolescent boys as a field trip chaparone. This age is a hard crowd to please, but I promise, they were pleased big time.

The Fremantle Prison, built in 1850 by convicts, was a place where British citizens who committed crimes were sent along with people who already lived in Australia and were naughty. Later the prison was used as a military prison.

The night view of this prison is quite imposing. Of all the places we visited in Western Australia, this was one of the highlights.