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.

Ghost hunt in a prison tours: Part history, part chills, even in daylight

May is the month that kicks off the full season of the Ohio State Reformatory tours. This prison that played centerpiece to the movie Shawshank Redemption is a Gothic style stone building that looks formidable even in daylight. At night it can really creep a person out. Known for its chilling location as a Halloween haunted house, the reformatory is a ghost hunter’s dream.

As the story goes, the reformatory that once housed wayward boys is haunted by some former inmates who haven’t left. They wander the halls. Although there may be other prisons with ghosts, Alcatraz seems fitting, in my opinion, the Ohio State Reformatory is the only one that offers an overnight tour package.

That’s right. People on the tour get to stay at the prison all night long to look for paranormal activity. Not only are people allowed to stay all night, they can walk around on their own. Tour guides are on hand to answer questions and tell about the prison history, but other than that, feel free to poke around without them. Unfortunately, the tours are sold out for this season, however, there are many other opportunities to tour the prison in daylight. This is something to keep in mind for next year. Put it on your calendar to call for next year’s dates as to not miss out. Planning ahead is warranted. You have to be 21 and over for the ghost hunt experience.

There are days that don’t sell out in advance. May through September, the prison is open for tours on Sundays, and starting on June 2 daily tours are available Tuesday through Friday at 2 p.m.

The Sunday one-hour tours come in three versions–West Tower Tour, the East Cell Block Tour and the Hollywood Tour. The times for these thematic tours vary and are on a first come first serve basis starting at 1:00. The last tour is at 3:45. These tours are family friendly, although not recommended for under age 7 due to hazards like lead-based paint. Pregnant women may not want to go inside either.

For the price of your ticket, you’re helping to keep history alive because proceeds are rolled into restoration projects. Keeping an 1886 building standing is not cheap. You don’t need to be a ghost hunter to appreciate the prison. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and boasts the world’s largest free-standing steel cell block. Who knew?

By the way, Halloween is sooner than you think. The Halloween tours sell out fast also. Under 13 aren’t admitted.