originally published October 28, 2013
As you may or may not be aware, you are required by law to scare yourself at least once between now and Thursday. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have plunked your belongings into a house with a ghoulish past. Maybe like most of us you’ll shirk your requisite tribute to the universally spooky and placate yourself with the hopes that few children will show up at your door, leaving more fun-size Snickers bars for your weekend snacking.
But where’s the fun in that? Even if you thumb your nose at tales of the paranormal, they still make for some great tales. I took a ‘Haunted London’ bus trip a couple years ago, and while the legends of the spirit-based residents of London Tower and the sites of murder and bloodshed and arson failed to convince me there were long-dead Brits hanging around to spook up the night, it was a darkly hilarious way to spend an hour.
And with so many Americans who are eager to buy into the absurd and logically impossible (hey! You elected George W. Bush twice! <rimshot for this politically dated joke, thank you very much>), there are hundreds of quality haunted spots to visit. These are best enjoyed if you’re not a skeptic, not a pragmatic buzz-kill, and have at least a twinge of imagination. Let’s start at Boy Scout Lane.
You’re walking along a quiet country road in rural Wisconsin in the area known as Stevens Point. The bony branches of the balding trees swoon in the crisp, tempered wind. This is Boy Scout Lane, named for the Boy Scout camp that was supposed to be built here but never was. Why not? It depends which story you want to deal from the deck of urban legend surrounding the place.
Some say a Boy Scout troop was murdered here by their Scout Master. Others say it was the bus driver. Still others claim the kids lit a fire that flared out of control and roasted them all like gooey blackened marshmallows. People have reported childlike hand prints on their cars after driving through. Others say they’ve felt they were being watched. Unexplainable red or white lights, like lanterns or flashlights have been spotted in the trees.
Would you walk along that lane alone?
Well this place doesn’t look creepy at all. This is McRaven House in Vicksburg, Mississippi, built around 1797. They call it the most haunted house in Mississippi. It has certainly seen its share of mortal crossings-over. In 1864 owner John Bobb caught six Union soldiers picking flowers on his property. He yelled and threw a brick at them, which led to his murder on his own property. The house had been used as a Confederate hospital, and it’s believed that at least five others have perished inside the mansion walls or on the property.
As for ghosts? Well, one of the upstairs bedrooms – where 15-year-old Mary Elizabeth Howard had checked out during a tragic childbirth – sports a bed-side lamp that turns on and off by itself. Her ghost has been spotted in the dining room and on the flying wing staircase. Is it really a ghost? Or has some property owner been getting away with fooling visitors since no rag-tag bunch of meddling kids and their talking dog has interfered to expose them?
Here’s a house with a bit of history. The Mansion is a massive home in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, owned by producer Rick Rubin. Folks like the Beatles, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix stayed there, and it’s rumored Houdini once owned the place. Rubin has been running a recording studio on the premises ever since cutting the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ brilliant Blood Sugar Sex Magik there in 1991. But a number of artists have reported some strange goings-on.
Cedric Bixler Zavala from the band Mars Volta claims he saw doors swing open on their own. When Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison felt something walk through him in the basement, he swore never to set foot down those stairs again. Daron Malakian of System of a Down claims his amp tubes would act a little wonky every day around 4:00. The Chilis’ guitarist John Frusciante always felt the local ghosts were friendly. I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective.
If you’re anywhere near the Chunky River around Meridian, Mississippi, you may want to stop in at Stuckey’s Bridge. Apparently a member of the Dalton Gang – a group of wild west outlaws in the area – owned an inn nearby. ‘Stuckey’, as he was called, had a habit of robbing and murdering his customers, which is simply terrible if you’re hoping for repeat business. Anyway, he butchered around twenty of them, burying their bodies along the river’s bank. Then he was caught, sentenced, and hanged off the bridge.
People have reported hearing an unexplained splash while near the bridge, possibly representing Stuckey’s body hitting the water when his noose was cut. Some have seen an old man carrying a lantern along the river’s edge. Others have simply seen Stuckey himself: his lifeless body dangling from the bridge above the water.
Feeling a little chilled yet? Thinking it might be a good time to turn up the lights and crank up some old Doobie Brothers? We all know ghosts and ghouls never pop out and spook the innocent if they’re singing along to “China Grove.” Right?
Let’s head to the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, a building chock full of creepiness. There are two ghosts living in this place; one is that of a 9-year-old girl named Mary. Staff have heard doors slam and seen lights flicker, and allegedly there are occasional appearances of blood on seat C-5, where Mary likes to sit.
The other ghost is a masked figure who lives in the air ducts up above the audience. Patrons have seen the ghost’s brownish arm stretching out past the molding around the air duct, waving at them. Nasty stuff.
So who among you, my loyal and impassioned readers, actually believes in these stories? Myself, I remain ever the cynic. People at Boy Scout Lane have reported seeing red and white lights in the trees – possibly cars parked in the woods, maybe just their imaginations. No Boy Scout troop ever died there, in fact no one has. The malfunctioning lamp in the McRaven House could be the result of… well, a malfunctioning lamp. Or a faulty electrical socket. As for Rick Rubin’s Mansion – these are rock musicians reporting creepy things. Let’s do a quick check of their narcotic intake before we accept their tales as truth. The old man spotted on Stuckey’s Bridge might actually be an old man out on a walk. And as for the theatre… well, no. I’m married to a drama teacher. I’ve been told that many theatres are empirically haunted and who am I to disagree?
Hell, this week I’ll buy into all of it. ‘Tis the season and all that.