The Mystery Of Haunted Places

Categories: Ghost

When we think of a ghost story, the first thing that comes to mind is a location. A creepy run-down warehouse, the old haunted house on the hilltop, the graveyard in the woods, or the ancient burial ground that’s underneath the school. Whatever the case may be, ghosts and their haunted territory are inseparable in the narratives of the ghost story. Once a ghost enters the mundane world, everything changes. The kitchen you’ve always worked in is now somehow possessed with a dark secret.

I'm fascinated with haunted places. I have always wanted to have a supernatural experience. I’ve always wanted to go to a haunted house, like the ones I would see on Discovery channel during the “Haunting Hour” specials.

As a child, I would spend a lot of time exploring cemeteries. Even now, I have one in my neighborhood that's tucked in the woods behind some houses. Every year on Halloween I go and take my brothers to visit the family lying there.

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To cliche? Probably, but aren’t we conditioned to think that Halloween is the best time for a good haunting? In oral story-telling and popular fictions, humans happen upon, stumble, or seek out a haunted place. They go as a test of their courage, or simply as a way to confront a fear or a dare they have. Either way, the outcome is always the same. The visitor enters the haunted place and changes by the end of the experience.

Haunted houses are the quintessential location for a “haunting experience.

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” While ghosts can lurk in castles, forests, caves, hallways, and other areas, they tend to specifically “haunt” houses. This is because of the powerful psychological attachment humans have to our houses. They are our sanctuary, our safe space, where we spend the majority of our time in our lives (Grider). When something out of the ordinary happens within the household it shakes the very foundation and becomes an intrusion. Dale Bailey writes in his book American Nightmares, “as long as houses remain a central symbol in American culture, our writers are likely to inhabit them with the anxieties that haunt our day-to-day lives” (Bailey 199, 109).

Alan Brown mentions in his book Haunted Places in the American South, that if we use that logic, then “any location that has been frequented by people has the potential of being haunted” (Brown). This can include factories, hotels, forests, railroad crossings, plantations and even modes of transportation. The question then becomes, why the “haunted house” is such a staple setting for ghost narratives. In the beginning, haunted houses were the result of an unsolved mystery. Someone wrongfully murdered in a house remains trapped in it until someone uncovers the truth about their untimely demise and justice is served. In Gothic Literature, the houses held little importance other than to provide a setting for the encounters (Grider). It wasn’t until the Romantic period within gothic literature where houses and hauntings began to have a significant connection.

Gothic novelists “employed their gloomy settings as a shorthand for the hierarchies of aristocracy and theocracy which they detested” (Bailey). It was a tool used to make a statement, so what does that mean for the more contemporary haunted house story? Bailey goes on to explain that they “typically sacrifice the subtlety instead, adhere to a rigid formula wholly distinct from the psychological ghost story” (Bailey). He describes the formula as the house itself is “sentient and malign, independent of any ghosts," then comes the family or family figure who are skeptical of the house’s reputation. They are then introduced to supernatural encounters gradually until finally they are forced to confront the cause. In the end, something is done about the house. It is either destroyed or it survives and waits for the next round of victims.

Yet, above all else when comparing Gothic literature haunted houses to more contemporary, the rigid linear formula isn’t the only similarity. If one were to ask people to draw a “Haunted House” it wouldn’t take long to pick out the similarities. They would be large, multistoried, dark, old with towers and broken/boarded windows. They’d be located on a quiet corner or a hilltop surrounded by dismal trees or a broken fence. They’d probably even draw a full moon illuminating the house. A good “many of the tall, gracious red-brick houses of Georgian Dublin have been the settings for ghosts and hauntings” as John Dunne points out in his article Haunted Dublin. The majority of the buildings he encounters were built (and most demolished) before 1963.

In both oral and written tradition, fairy tales typically begin with the ole familiar introduction of “Once upon a time”; likewise, ghost stories revolved around a haunted house, begin with a description of the house. For example, a story titled “Strange Attraction” by Bred Oldham begins, “the house sat up on a hill, and on stormy nights when the moon was full and the lightning did its evil dance around it, the house did have an eerie vibe to it”. It’s not always that cinematic.

Alan Brown describes a haunted house he visited in Arkansas, “The Allen house was built in 1905-1906 on the site of a female boarding school established in 1857. The three-and-one-half story building has two-story portico with three clusters of Corinthian columns. The crested roof is made of pressed tin all the woodwork within the house was done by hand”. Oldham describes the house with his own interpretation which gives a clue to the audience as to where he stands in the situation. He says, “The lightning did its evil dance," by personifying the lightning Oldham plays into the traditional scare tactic which surrounds haunted house stories. Using the word “evil” also highlights the idea that Grider and Bailey spoke on that when an out of ordinary experience happens in our home we immediately describe it as invasive and threatening.

In another example, the Steiger family recounts that, “The problem between [their] family and the ghost probably started when [they] began updating the house with indoor plumbing, modern toilets, and a variety of electrical appliances”. Although a description of the house isn’t made during the retelling of the experience, we are still able to get an image of the house. If it had no modern appliances than it most likely looked like the typical “haunted house.” No matter the origin, be it pop culture or traditional literature, the image of the haunted house is a stereotype that plays a crucial role in the ghost story narrative.

Hauntings of course, are not just limited to buildings or enclosed spaces. Graveyards, are another popular setting for other worldly encounters. Death and the idea of what happens afterwards have fascinated humans for centuries. It comes as no surprise then, why a graveyard would be home to things of the supernatural. Bill Ellis uses the term “legend-tripping” to describe young peoples choice to visit such haunted locations with the intent to invoke supernatural beings. He writes, “A common legend-trip location is a graveyard held to be the resting place of a witch or community of witches” (Ellis). Unlike the ghosts described lingering in homes with unfinished business, graveyard ghosts seem to have a different reason for not crossing over.

The most obvious commonality is that the ghosts have a connection to the burial ground itself, they “seem to be seeking eternal rest that eludes them at the spot where their physical bodies are currently found” (Guiley). Another could stem from the burial ground being disturbed by excavation or development. The phrase “everything is a Native American ancient burial ground” is a popular joke I’ve heard. A peaceful park in Denver, Colorado is said to be haunted because it was built on top of a graveyard. Boot Hill graveyard “was created in 1858 in 1873 officials renamed the place City Cemetery but buried only criminals, transients, and epidemic victims there” (Hauck).

Eventually, officials order to have all the bodies to be moved. Workers dug up "six to ten thousand remaining bodies, put them in one-foot by three-and-a-half-foot pine boxes and deliver[ed] them for burial at Riverside Cemetery” (Hauck). It’s a disturbing picture to imagine. Pieces of bodies littered the ground and body parts would get mixed up and put into the wrong boxes. It’s no surprise then given the grizzly reports that, “People in neighboring houses reported confused spirits wandering through their homes or appearing in mirrors” (Hauck). The project was haunted and the plot was landscaped and built over.

Today, people say that they can hear moaning and cries coming up from underneath the trees planted there. Aside from giving the dead a place to rest, graveyards have also been described in stories as being home to other supernatural beings. Pop culture often portrays graveyards as housing creatures like witches, zombies, werewolves, and vampires. In oral and written tradition, cemeteries can also be where one meets the keeper of their souls as they travel to the afterlife. This is the case of Stull Cemetery in Kansas which is known to house the “gateways to hell.” Troy Taylor describes it in his book Beyond the Grave, Stull Cemetery, and the abandoned church that rests next to it is haunted by legends of diabolical, supernatural happenings” it is “one of the two places on earth where the devil appears in person two times a year” (Taylor). Legends such as that are one of the main things that draw people to go “legend-tripping” according to Ellis. However, not everyone visits graveyards to grieve, perform rituals, or vandalize. There are some who spend much of their time there because it is their place of business. Gravediggers are sometimes portrayed as the accomplice or creepy disturbed watchmen of pop culture ghost stories, they are a driving force of the ghost story narratives.

Pastor Robin Swope is not found of his time spent as a gravedigger, “It was very dirty and disturbing” he recounts during his tale in Steiger's book, “a lot of odd things happen in cemeteries” (Steiger). Pastor Swope says his encounters still “haunt” him to this day. Steiger describes one story about one of the head maintenance men who had an unexplainable experience while shoveling snow off the sidewalks. On a cold day in January, rather than take his car to the mausoleum, the worker decided to walk: Halfway there he saw a figure walking behind the building. From the size of the figure, it looked to be a child, but the worker could not be sure. He circled around to where he swore he saw the figure, but there were no footprints in the snow. As he looked up from the new snow, he saw a face peering from around the corner on the other side of the building. But as soon as he started to move the head quickly disappeared from the corner. As he looked down to see where the young one had run to, he once again saw no footprints. That was when he heard the voices (Steiger 392)

Of course, the worker assumed it was the wind as the mausoleum was out in an open field and the way the wind would sometimes catch around the building it would make all sorts of noises. He silently moved around the sidewalk to try and locate the voices. They seemed very close, but at varying distances. Then one of the voices seemed to be a little closer, and his heart almost stopped when he realized where they were coming from. The voices were coming from inside the crypts in the mausoleum walls (Steiger 392). Stories of this caliber aren’t uncommon among graveyard ghost stories. Wandering spirits, voices, lids of crypts that mysteriously move on their own, and others are all things we expect to hear in a ghost story that takes place in a cemetery.

Perhaps the most popular or common “haunted” cemeteries are those where soldiers lie after gruesome battles. This is an idea of haunted battlefields is common across cultures. From the Civil War battlegrounds in Manassas, Virginia to ambiguous burial grounds in Iraqi Kurdistan, the idea of soldiers still prowling their fallen place remains a favored plot line. In an article written by Nahro Zagros, Tyler Fisher, and Muslih Mustafa, a burial site reputed to be the home of seventh-century Muslim conquerors, the article discusses the “anachronisms that underpin the cemetery’s reputation” (Zagros). The unmarked cemetery is “set on a small hill among pasturelands one can see recently constructed roads and related elements of infrastructure [around the cemetery], But no such developments or interments intrude upon the present perimeters of the Sahaba Cemetery” (Zagros). It is one of the only cemeteries left in Shaqlawa.

Although a longstanding part of history, there are many who believe that it should not be preserved. There is an air of bad luck around it, due to the belief that the graveyard posses some sort of supernatural powers. It is rumored to convince people in the village to do things, or Sahaba will visit people in their dreams. Whether viewed as truth or superstition, many now argue to have the cemetery removed, “The place should not be kept as sacred because those people were invaders, enemies who tried to conquer Kurdistan” (Zagros). Although, graveyards don’t have to have a universal look to them like the accepted image of a haunted house, they do share commonalities between the spirits and other supernatural beings that reside there.

Haunted houses and graveyards play a key role within a ghost story narrative. The stereotypical image of a haunted house is nearly universal, just as the idea that graveyards can act as a portal of sorts for paranormal experiences. As long as the belief in the supernatural exits there will always be things that go bump in the night.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Mystery Of Haunted Places. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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