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There is something fascinating about the paranormal which appeals to almost everyone, if not just for curiosity sake. So many questions regarding ghostly apparitions lead to very few answers, but that is precisely what helps generate the best tales -- letting an active imagination fill in the blanks. Children especially seem to delight in sharing ghost stories -- usually in the dark, the only light source emanating from a small flashlight -- and the best part is when someone actually screams and scares the living daylights out of everyone. Yes, it is immature, but adults can sometimes learn lessons from their children; one is to relish the thrill, the fear, the anticipation and sometimes the nervous laughter of a ghost story. So just for this special time of the year, here are some of the best and well-known ghastly tales of haunted houses to share with your friends.

I’ll start with the one that used to really scare my childhood friends: the tale of the Bell Witch. And so it goes that in Adams, Tennessee during the early 1800s there lived a family headed by patriarch John Bell. It is rumored that eccentric neighbor Kate Batts -- who believed John Bell cheated her during the purchase of some property - swore on her deathbed that she would haunt John Bell and any descendants. The primary targets were John and his daughter Betsy, though everyone in the household could hear when she screamed at night to keep them awake and also when she was unhappy for she would shriek and speak in a high-pitched tone.

As a poltergeist, the Bell Witch was at times violent and also mischievous, throwing furniture and dishes at the father and daughter. She would also pinch their noses, poke them with needles, pull their hair and sometimes snatched the food right out of their mouths. One day John fell to the ground, which the Bell Witch was blamed for, and afterwards had difficulty speaking or eating for several weeks. On December 19, 1920 when John did not get up at his usual time John Jr. went to his room and found his father unable to waken completely. When John Jr. went to get his father’s medication he found in its place a mysterious vial.

The Bell Witch taunted that she administered the strange fluid to the accused cheater in his sleep and ultimately caused his death. It is said that the Bell Witch was quiet until the day of the funeral, when she let out with joyous cackling in victorious celebration. She continued to haunt future generations and believers say she later retired to a cave located on the property, where people still report suspicious ghostly activity.


Arguably, the most bizarre haunted house in the United States is the Winchester Mystery House. William Winchester, the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, married a woman by the name of Sarah, who gave birth to a daughter who died just one month later. Then about 15 years later William died of tuberculosis. Deeply distraught over the death of her immediate family Sarah Winchester sought out the advice of a medium. Looking for solace and comfort, Sarah must have been sorely disappointed when instead the psychic informed her that all the spirits of the people killed by the Winchester rifle had exacted their revenge by killing her family and that the only way to appease them was to build a house large enough to house all of them. The psychic also gave Sarah the impression that if she stopped building she would die as well.

Sarah believed the medium and in 1884 immediately began construction on a property in San Jose, CA, using her $20,000,000 inheritance to fund it. Some say this eccentric woman had regular séances where the spirits would instruct her on how the construction should progress, others say she wanted to confuse the evil apparitions that would strive to find her so she built things in a most peculiar manner. In either case, no one can argue that the blueprints had no rhyme or reason.

Often staircases went directly into ceilings, doors opened to 8 foot drops, secret rooms and passages abounded and an elevator rose only one floor up. Sarah also had an unusual affinity with the number 13. It is said she ate dinner at the stroke of midnight at a table set for 13, there are 13 steps in the stairwells and she had 13 bathrooms built. There are 160 rooms, approximately 40 bedrooms, 467 doorways, 950 doors, 40 staircases, 2 ballrooms, 2 basements and 17 chimneys spanning 4 floors (imagine what it was like before the 1906 earthquake when there were 7 floors!). The construction spanned the remaining 38 years of her life and took place 24 hours a day. It is rumored that the day she gave her workers the day off is the day she died.

And for the last haunted residence, Myrtle’s Plantation. General David Bradford bought 650 acres of land that once belonged to the Tunica American Indians, just north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He built a twenty-room mansion on top of a sacred burial ground and many believe that the fate of his family was brought on by the lack of respect given to the hallowed land.

Though the mansion and its occupants escaped unscathed while General Bradford was alive, when his daughter Sarah, her husband Judge Clark Woodruff and their three children moved in, it was a different story. Problems arose when a young slave named Chloe, who not only cared for the household but also that of Judge Woodruffs personal demands, grew jealous of the young wife and was caught eavesdropping. As punishment Woodruffs had her left ear cut off.

Chloe grew fearful that she would lose favor with the family and be forced to perform hard, physical labor in the fields, so she came up with a plan to win back their affection and be perceived as a hero. Her plan was not the smartest. She decided to bake a cake laced with poison and hoped that when the family fell ill she would be able to nurse them back to health. However, her plan did not progress as planned because Sarah and two of the children died in the process. When suspicion aroused over who was at fault Chloe finally confessed to her crime. In response, she was hung by an angry mob, who then threw her corpse into the Mississippi River.

People believe they have seen Chloe standing over their beds and in other areas of the property. Another popular claim is that some guests have lost an earring, yet no earrings ever turn up after a through search and the rooms are cleaned -- though some say they have seen Chloe wearing an earring in her only ear. Other ghostly sightings run the gamut of children at play and a black woman standing and chanting over a little girl.

Today the Myrtle’s Plantation is a bed and breakfast and you can stay there -- if you dare.



© Melt Magazine 2003