We Southerners love a good ghost story. From the moss-draped coves of the Louisiana swamps to the echoing hollows of the Carolina hills, there is scarce a patch of land that can’t be tied back to a tragic tale, a mournful tune, or a restless soul or two. Every state has its prize, the favorite of locals and visitors alike—that one place where even the most vocal skeptic can’t resist that quick glance behind. We’ve assembled the best of them here:
- Sloss Furnace: Birmingham, Alabama Though the fires of Sloss Furnace have long gone out, the grounds still echo with the voices of the past (photo courtesy Robby Robinette)Though the forge fires of Birmingham may have gone out long ago, there are a few souls that seem determined to make sure the industry that built the Magic City is not soon forgotten. At the outskirts of town stands Sloss Furnace, a sprawling web of ironwork that—thanks to a thick seam of local ore and large pool of cheap labor in freed slaves—once topped off the world’s iron production. Sloss’s success, however, was not without a cost.
With no labor laws yet in place, hundreds of workers ran back-to-back twelve-hour shifts in the ungodly glow of the furnace, and the calls of those who lost their lives to the unpredictable bursts of steam pipes, slow seepage of noxious gasses, or inevitable sleepy misstep are said to echo still through the abandoned grounds today. Perhaps the most famous otherworldly inhabitant to stalk the grounds of Sloss, however, is that of James “Slag” Wormwood, a notoriously cruel beast of a foreman whose reign was brought to a halt when he allegedly slipped on a catwalk, tumbling into the bubbling pot of molten iron ore below.
- Fort Matanzas: St. Augustine, FloridaThe beauty of Florida’s Fort Matanzas belies the dark story of its name, “Fort Slaughter”Set alone against the wind-swept salt marshes of coastal Florida, the abandoned Fort Matanzas sets an eerie mood on its own, but takes on a whole new level of chill when one learns the translation of its name: Fort Slaughter. In 1562, French Huguenots made their way up one of the coastal inlets of Florida and set up camp. There was only one problem: Florida had already been claimed by the Spanish. When the legitimacy of their settlement was challenged, the French sailed to St. Augustine to take the Spanish head on, but when their journey was derailed by one of the coast’s notorious hurricanes, the Spanish seized the opportunity to take the largely unguarded French fort. The skeleton-crew manning the fort was wiped out, and as each ship of weather-beaten Frenchmen returned to the inlet, they were systematically captured and killed by the waiting Spaniards. A total of over 254 prisoners were put to death by the Spanish—and many of their souls are said never to have left the salt marshes of Fort Matanzas.
- 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa: Eureka Springs, Arkansas The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa is known as the most haunted hotel in AmericaWhen the Crescent Hotel opened in 1886, it was celebrated as the most luxurious resort hotel in the country, though it has since adopted a more sinister moniker: The Most Haunted Hotel in America. Among the numerous ghosts said to haunt the hotel’s halls—an Irish stonemason who fell to his death during construction, lost students from the building’s brief stint as a girl’s school, the hotel’s white-bearded physician, and more—is Norman Baker, an entrepreneurial quack who purchased the hotel in 1937. Despite never having received medical training, Baker claimed not only to be a doctor but one who had found the cure for cancer, and set the hotel up as a hospital to prey upon the hopes of the hopeless. By the time Baker’s ruse was exposed, innumerable patients had found their end under care of the fraudulent physician, many of whom are said to still inhabit the hotel today.
- Moon River Brewery: Savannah, Georgia Savannah’s Moon River Brewery is a favorite of ghost hunters and paranormal investigators (photo courtesy of Linda Sellers)Moon River Brewery may have only begun pouring pints in 1999, but it’s situated in the ground floor of one of the oldest buildings in Savannah. When it opened in 1821 as a hotel and post office, the building—often filled with a hot mix of the port city’s Northern visitors, Southern locals, and heavy-handed bartenders—was the site of dozens of tussles, duels, and lynchings, often with deadly consequences. The hotel’s final guest, William Tecumseh Sherman, closed the doors on the inn, but the ghostly inhabitants left behind appear to still be in the fighting mood. A slew of spirits have been spotted on all floors of the building, but a particularly aggressive host haunts the upper stories. Though the bottom level now houses the popular local brewery, the top floors remain unfinished, so inhabited with violent ghosts that no contractor will stay long enough to complete the job.
- Waverly Hills Sanatorium: Louisville, Kentucky Waverly Hills Sanatorium saw the death of thousands of tuberculosis patients before being turned into a home for the infirm or insane (photo courtesy of Autumn)Not many places outside of the battlefield can claim a roster of over 60,000 deaths, but Waverly Hills Sanatorium—one of the most haunted sites in the country—is no ordinary place. In the early twentieth century, the marshy banks of the Ohio River provided the perfect incubator for tuberculosis, and thousands of those who contracted the disease took their final breaths in Louisville’s Waverly Hills Sanatorium. When the advent of streptomycin in the middle of the century stopped TB’s deadly reign, the hospital was briefly repurposed as a medical center for those with dementia or severe mental handicaps, though it was closed in the 1960’s under allegations of patient neglect and abuse. The halls of the now-abandoned sanatorium are said to be crawling with the tortured souls of those who lost their lives there.
- The Myrtles: St. Francisville, LouisianaThe mournful spirit of a misguided slave is said to haunt The Myrtles Plantation (photo courtesy of Ibogdan Oporowski)Though many of the South’s most haunted places boast a roster of dozens of ghosts, The Myrtles proves that you only need one good one to make it on the top list. Sitting high atop a hill in St. Francisville, The Myrtles is one of the most haunted plantations in the South. Legend has it that in the eighteenth century, a house servant by the name of Chloe—nervous of being displaced as her master’s favorite—baked poisonous oleander leaves into a cake that she then served to his children, hoping to ingratiate herself to the family by then nursing them back to help. Unfortunately, Chloe gravely misjudged the amount of oleander she fed the children, and one by one, they all passed away. Fearful that they would be found guilty by association, the plantation’s other slaves dragged Chloe out of bed, hanged her, and then threw her body in the river. Hundreds of visitors to the plantation swear that Chloe’s mournful spirit still makes itself known today.
- Bloody Lane: Sharpsburg, Maryland The bodies of the dead and wounded littered the Bloody Lane of Antietam (photo courtesy of atm1863)September 17, 1862, marks the bloodiest single-day battle in US history, with the total number of dead, wounded, and missing topping almost 213,000. Lee’s first invasion of Union-occupied territory resulted in carnage unheard of before or since—more than twice as many Americans were killed or mortally wounded that day at Antietam than in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined. The bodies of the dead littered the Maryland farm field, piling with especial density in what is now referred to as Bloody Lane, a farm road sunken into the earth from years of tamping by wagon wheel and hoof. Though high walls on either side of the path made the gully a perfect place from which to fire, they also made it an inescapable death trap, mandating close combat with no quick route of escape. The memory of the soldiers who lost their lives there still hangs heavily over the sunken road.
- Creve Coeur: Creve Coeur, MissouriCreve Coeur, the Lake of Broken Hearts, is said to be haunted by an love-lorn Indian maiden (photo courtesy of Carol Lara)Few things make for a good ghost story like that of unrequited love, and there are few spirits as love-lorn as the one that haunts the shores of Creve Coeur. Legend has it that long ago, an Indian princess met a dashing French fur trapper near the lake and fell desperately in love. Unable to bear the heartache of finding her affections unrequited, the maiden threw herself from a cliff into the black depths of the lake below, never to emerge. So moved was the lake by her sacrifice, it reshaped its boundaries to form a heart, earning the name Creve Coeur, The Lake of Broken Hearts.