America's Most Haunted

                              

by Dennis William Hauck

                          

 

     Some foggy night, if you are strolling near Pier J in Long Beach, California, and happen to hear screams for help, do not be alarmed.  What you are hearing could be the last pleas of a cook murdered fifty years ago, three-thousand miles away, aboard the oceanliner Queen Mary.  Now dry-docked and turned into a luxury hotel, the proud ship is one of America's most haunted places.

     While transporting troops during the early days of World War II, the Queen Mary was the scene of a horrible murder.  The culinary efforts of one cook had so enraged the troops that a riot started in the ship's dining halls.  The Captain, thinking a mutiny had broken out, called on a nearby cruiser for help.  The rescuers boarded the Queen Mary in time to hear the frantic screaming of the cook, who had been thrown into an oven and burned to death.  Some still hear his screams, and near the oven where he died, dishes and utensils have a way of moving by themselves.  Poltergeist effects are also reported around the swimming pool, certain spots in the engine room, the ship's morgue, and the archive storage room.  Sources of the otherworldly activity have been traced to a woman who drowned in the pool, a crewman crushed to death in a hatchway, and an officer who was accidentally poisoned.  So far, nearly fifty people have reported paranormal events aboard the ship.

     Five hundred miles north of the Queen Mary, there is an old San Jose farmhouse recognized by the State of California as an Official Haunted House.  Sarah Winchester started remodeling this house in 1884 and never stopped.  Told by a medium that as long as construction was going on, the ghosts of Indians killed by the rifle that bears her family name would not bother her, she paid dozens of carpenters to work around-the-clock for thirty-eight years.  She eventually spent nearly six million dollars and ended up with a house of 160 rooms, 950 doors, and 10,000 windows. 

     Sarah used her seance room to attract good spirits, who told her how to design the house to prevent evil spirits from finding her.  Soon after she died in 1922, people began seeing moving balls of light and a gray-haired female apparition floating through the house.  Others reported hearing organ music, whispering voices, and slamming sounds.  Today, the management of Winchester House maintains a file of affidavits by witnesses of unusual phenomena there.      

     Directly east of San Jose, along the border between California and Nevada, a two-lane blacktop meanders back and forth through the hills, tying together old gold mining towns like a black ribbon of mourning.  This is Highway 49, home to many candidates for America's Most Haunted.         

     Near Coloma on Highway 49, Vineyard House began it's sad history in 1879, less than a year after it was built.  That was the year its owner, Robert Chalmers, lost his mind.  He began talking to himself in a low, nervous voice and liked to lay in freshly dug graves at the public cemetery across the street from his house.  His wife Louise, whose first husband committed suicide in an outhouse, decided to keep her new spouse chained in the cellar for his own protection. 

     For three years Robert's insane screaming echoed through the hills, until finally, believing his wife was trying to poison him, he starved himself to death.  Soon afterwards the family vineyards withered and died, and Louise was forced to take on boarders and rent out the cellar as a jail.  She even allowed public hangings in her front yard.   

     Later residents of the house reported seeing shimmering apparitions walking in the halls or hearing the rattling of chains at all hours of the night.  Before long, no one would live there and the house fell into disrepair.  Finally, in 1956, the house was renovated and turned into a hotel.  Although the cellar jail became a cheerful bar, that did not deter the hauntings.  Sometimes the rattling of chains can still be heard in the cellar, and two wine glasses slid across the bar one evening, as if pushed by unseen hands.  In one of the rooms, a maid saw a freshly made bed became undone, leaving the impression of body in the sheets.

     Recently a Sacramento couple ran from the hotel in the middle of the night, saying they heard someone being murdered in the next room.  Although Sheriff's investigators could find nothing wrong, another guest reported the vision of a boy being violently beaten in Room 5, the same room from which the Sacramento couple had heard screaming. 

     If you continue on Highway 49 towards Mokelumne Hill  and decide to stop at the restaurant in the Hotel Leger, be sure to take a good look at the old portrait on the north wall of the dining room.  It is a picture of the founder of the century-old hotel, George Leger.  Several guests have reported his specter gliding silently through the halls, and others have complained of rowdy laughter and ladies giggling behind the door of Room 7, only to find George's old room empty.  The hotel personnel accept George's presence as a normal part of their jobs, and even the manager must pay his respects.  Not long ago while patrolling the halls, he noticed the shadow of a man following him.  Turning around, he saw no one there, yet the shadow remained on the wall.  "Goodnight, George," he said.  The shadow disappeared.

     Just a few miles north on Highway 49 lies the Sutter Creek Inn.  The Inn was already over one-hundred years old when Jane Way bought it in 1966, but she had no idea it

came with its own ghost.  Two weeks after moving in, an apparition appeared in her doorway and spoke: "I will protect your Inn".  Later she identified the spirit as a State Senator, who had lived there with his wife and children for many years.  Once the Senator's daughter materialized in front of several guests in the lounge, then curtsied and disappeared.  Less polite was the ghost who entered the front office in broad daylight and promptly dropped his pants.  By all accounts, that spectral flasher took it all with him!

     Jane Way's friendly spirits would be no match for the fiendish creature brought into Jane Addam's settlement house  in Chicago in the Spring of 1913.  Some think it was the Devil himself.  Addam's huge residence, named Hull House after the original owners, was the nation's first welfare center and opened its doors to anyone who needed help.

But Jane's compassion was stretched to its limit, when a Jewish man appeared on her doorstep and insisted she take his child.  When she saw the baby boy, she knew why.  It was not a baby at all, but a miniature devil, with hoofed feet, pointed ears, horns, and scaly skin.

     The man told her that the monster was his wife's seventh child, their only son.  He blamed himself, believing it was God's punishment for saying that he would rather

have a devil in the family than another girl.  Jane accepted the creature and called a priest to have it baptized, but it reacted so violently that she had to have it locked up in the attic.  When word leaked out that there was a monster at Hull House, she denied all reports and allowed no one to see it.

     The fate of the child has never been determined, though the house itself might have absorbed some of its evil power.  A cloudlike vapor has been photographed descending the stairs to the attic, and to this day, people report seeing the image of a grotesque child peering through the attic windows at Hull House.

     Lee's Home in Alexandria, Virginia, offers a more lighthearted atmosphere; in fact, it has been called the

most comfortable haunted house in America.  The sounds of

children giggling and the patter of little feet fill empty rooms, and the specters of two small girls have been seen in the bedrooms.  Others have reported the ghost of a boy and a  dog chasing each other in the yard.  The house was built in 1759 and there are many possible identities for the

playful phantoms -- including General Robert E. Lee, who spent his childhood there.

     Built forty years after Lee's Home, the Octagon in nearby Washington has so many ghosts, it took twenty pages to list them in a recent university study.  The ghosts (or "revenants" as the Octagon's staff prefers to call them) include Dolly Madison, Aaron Burr, and the original owner, Colonel John Tayloe.  It is said that the Colonel was so strict with his seven daughters, that two of them ended up committing suicide by leaping from the top of a three-story spiral staircase in the center of the building.  A slave girl also jumped to her death from the stairway, after fleeing the advances of a British officer, who was then killed by one of the Colonel's sons and stuffed into a sealed closet.  These restless spirits join dozens of others that reportedly hauntthe Octagon to this day.

     Only one ghost haunts Fort Warren, the old fortress in Boston Harbor, but the Lady in Black, as she has come to be called, is very persistant.  When Melanie Lanier's husband was imprisoned at the Fort during the Civil War, she slipped into the prison and attempted to free him and a dozen other Confederate soldiers.  When they were caught digging a tunnel, Melanie pulled out a gun and fired at the guards.  The damp pistol exploded and a fragment entered her husband's brain, killing him instantly.

     Melanie was sentenced to hang for treason and went to the gallows wearing a black gown taken from the Fort's  theatrical costumes.  But she was not to be gotten rid of so easily.  Soldiers soon reported being strangled by unseen hands, and several were court-martialed for firing at the phantom of a Lady in Black.  To this day, she is seen wandering through the old ramparts and bunkers, still seeking her revenge.

     The last of America's Most Haunted is also one of America's Most Beautiful.  The magnificantly furnished Audubon House is located in tropical Key West, Florida, and has only recently been reported as occupied by the spirit of John James Audubon.  Audubon was a gifted painter and naturalist, but his life was very private.  There is evidence that he was the son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and during the French Revolution was adopted by loyalist Jean Audubon, then smuggled into America when he was nine-years old.  Some say that because he carried his great secret to the grave, his soul fails to find lasting peace.  Just a few years ago, a guest at Audubon House saw his apparition standing on the front porch.  He was fashionably dressed in a splendid jacket and ruffled shirt, looking more like an nobleman than the plain woodsman he was known as.

 


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