While homes and offices are putting the finishing touches on their ghoulish Halloween decorations, there are locations throughout the world that have a history of horror and phantasms that trump any “terrors” found at your local costume shop. Lunatic asylums, deserted theaters, eerie islands and even the Kremlin in Moscow—these are just a few of the many haunted locations that are more frightening than fun.
Here is our list of sites with histories so unsettling that they just might make your hairs stand on end.
1. The Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, Victoria, Australia
In the decades that followed its opening in 1867, the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum was considered one of the most notorious psychiatric institutions in Australia.
The asylum, also known as Mayday Hills, housed upward of 1,200 patients—some of them against their will and with no legitimate affliction (including an eight-year-old boy who was sent there for stealing a horse and remained there until he was 85). These patients were subject to barbaric and outdated treatments with straitjackets and other restraints, and most, once admitted, were never allowed to leave.
Though frightening, the asylum was not without its quirks: Dr. Thomas Dick, the asylum’s first superintendent, always walked around with an umbrella at night due to his belief that moonlight made people crazy.
At the time of its closing in 1995, over 3,000 people had died in the asylum during its 128 years of operation—and their ghosts are still believed to haunt the asylum. Ghosts have reportedly appeared in the cellars, doors have burst open on their own, and it’s rumored that children can be heard laughing and playing in the abandoned asylum after hours.
Today, the public can see the asylum (and its haunting apparitions) on one of several Beechworth Ghost Tours. These guided walks through the asylum bring visitors face-to-face with the building’s haunted past. In the asylum’s former kitchen, visitors have reported feeling ghosts tickle their ribs and tug at their clothing. Recently, a photo was released showing what is believed to be the ghost of a young girl kneeling inside the asylum.
2. Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, Mexico City
The origin of the Isla de las Muñecas (or “Island of the Dolls”), south of Mexico City, is as macabre as the severed doll parts that hang from its trees.
Over a half-century ago, Don Julian Santana Barrera, a hermit, was the caretaker of one of the floating raft gardens in Lake Xochimilco when he came across the lifeless body of a young girl who had drowned. Shortly after finding the girl, Barrera discovered a doll floating in the waters nearby. Believing that it belonged to the young victim, he hung the doll from a tree in her honor. Haunted by the guilt of not being able to save the girl, Barrera claimed he could hear her screams and footsteps well after her passing. He continued to memorialize the girl by decorating several trees on the island with discarded doll parts, and it’s rumored that these very parts haunt the island, following visitors with their eyes and whispering to them as they walk past. Barrera died in 2001, but the Island of the Dolls still remains a popular—if not unsettling—tourist destination.
3. Sedlec Ossuary, Kutná Hora, Czech Republic
The Sedlec Ossuary, or “Church of Bones,” is a small chapel in the suburbs of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. Built as a final resting site for misplaced remains from its surrounding cemetery, the ossuary is decorated with the parts of over 40,000 human skeletons. Its centerpiece is a hanging chandelier that uses every single bone found in a human body in its design. Ornamental bone arrangements are scattered across its entrance, ceiling, walls and even its main altar. The Church of Bones is indeed an eerie final resting place.
4. The Princess Theater, Melbourne, Australia
During the 1888 production of Charles Gounod’s opera “Faust” at the Princess Theater in Melbourne, actor Frederick Baker gave the performance of his life, literally.
Legend has it that the actor, better known by his stage name, Frederici, who played the role of Mephistopheles, told his fellow cast mates, “I will give a fine performance tonight, but it will kill me.” Alas, it did. During his final exit—a scene in which his devilish character, Mephistopheles, descends into hell—Baker suffered a heart attack while being lowered through a trap door and died shortly after singing his final note.
His ghost, however, has yet to make its final curtain call. Baker has become the Princess Theater’s very own “Phantom of the Opera,” and tourists visiting the theater have come across an “ashen-faced transparent observer” in full evening dress that resembles the departed actor. Some say his ghost is simply waiting backstage, preparing for yet another unforgettable performance.
5. Hellfire Club, Montpelier Hill, Ireland
This hunting lodge was built in the early 1700s near Dublin and is considered one of Ireland’s most haunted places. Members of the Hellfire Club were figures of high social and political ranking who visited the club to gamble and engage in other less-than-noble indulgences. As legend has it, a visitor with cloven hooves played the club members in a game of cards, only to disappear in a burst of flames at game’s end. Even more inexplicable, it is not clear if this demoniacal figure won or lost.
6. Moscow Kremlin, Moscow, Russia
Communism in Russia may be a thing of the past, but two key communist figureheads still haunt the Kremlin, the country’s iconic citadel.
The ghosts of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin have been spotted roaming around the complex long after their deaths. It’s rumored that when the country is in crisis, Stalin’s ghost appears, bringing with him a wave of cold air that fills rooms and sends a chill down witnesses’ spines.
Stalin isn’t the only notorious Russian leader to haunt the Kremlin. Legend has it that the shadow of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who died in 1584, is rumored to hang around inside the Kremlin’s Ivan the Great Bell Tower. If you listen closely, you may be able to hear his footsteps, too.
7. Moon River Brewing Company, Savannah, Ga.
The building this brewery now calls home was once the City Hotel (Savannah’s first hotel) and dates back to the early 1800s. During the Civil War, the hotel was the site of many brawls, including one in which a Yankee was beaten to death by Confederates. Today, patrons of the Moon River Brewing Company have reported seeing bottles fly through the air at random and being shoved by an unseen force. Visitors have also reported seeing Toby, a pugilist ghost who haunts the brewery, always looking for the next barroom brawl.
02 February 2017 by Emma Kantrowitz
05 November 2015 by Jake Appleman