Our satellites are great for spotting the various wonders of the world, and spooky sites are no exception. In the spirit of Halloween, we’ve collected a series of locations known for their creepy histories. (Beware: Visiting these places may cause goosebumps! And a burning desire to tell your friends about all the fun and freaky things you got to see.)
On the northwest edge of Slovakia, a horror story can be found buried in the ruins of Čachtice Castle, former home of Elizabeth Bathory, the world’s most infamous female serial killer.
Born into a noble family that ruled Transylvania in 1560, Báthory had many female servants and hosted quite a few noblewomen during her 54 years of life—many of which she murdered.
How many women Báthory murdered remains a mystery; servants who claimed to have acted as accomplices to Bathory reported death tolls ranging from 30 to 650. Regardless of the exact number of murders, her crimes were monstrous enough to earn her such titles as “Bloody Lady” and “Countess Dracula.”
Because of Bathory’s noble family name, she wasn’t put to death when her crimes were discovered, but instead was locked in a room in Čachtice Castle for four years, where she eventually died on August 14, 1614. The servants who came forward with the evidence weren’t so lucky, however, as three of them were executed and another was imprisoned for life.
Island of the Dead Dolls
If you ever find yourself in Xochimilco Ecological Park in Mexico City, you might happen upon La Isla de la Munecas—the Island of the Dead Dolls. The island is exactly as frightening as it sounds, with hundreds of dolls staring eerily out at all those who dare come near.
Some of the dolls (and disparate doll body parts) are said to be alive and possessed by the spirit of dead girls, moving their legs and arms, blinking their eyes, and luring innocent people to visit their dark and sinister home. And while such claims seem appear to be more phantasmic than factual, the origin story of how these dolls came to inhabit the island seems stranger than fiction.
In the 1950s, a man named Don Julián Santana inexplicably decided to leave his wife and children to live alone in Xochimilco on a chinampa (a man-made island invented by the Aztecs and used for agricultural purposes). One day, Santana claims to have found the body of dead girl floating in the canal, and later discovered what he presumed to be her doll washed up near his home. Soon after the discovery of her body, Santana was haunted by her ghost. Hoping to put a stop to the torment, he hung the doll from a tree so that her spirit might be comforted, but apparently, this wasn’t enough. As time went on, he continued to hang found dolls and their body parts on the island’s plant life, to the point that the island’s trees appeared to be growing toy children from their branches.
Whether or not Santana actually found a dead girl is debatable, as his family seems to think he made the story up. What’s verifiable is that his belief in her spirit has turned the island into a tourist destination, where travelers often leave dolls of their own on the island in tribute.
It’s also a fact that Santana passed away in 2001—having drowned exactly where he claimed to have discovered the dead girl half a century ago.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (and Nicolas Cage’s Pyramid Tomb)
New Orleans is a horror hotspot associated with quite a cast of characters, from the real live murderer known as The Axeman of New Orleans, to Anne Rice’s fictional Louis and Lestat from Interview with the Vampire. One of its most famous hair-raising locations is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, one of three labyrinthine graveyards located a half mile west of Bourbon Street. The above ground vaults of the cemetery were made to be the final resting places of famous names such as Voodoo Queen Maria Laveau, human rights activist Homer Plessy, and more recently, Academy Award winning actor Nicolas Cage.
To clear up some confusion about this: Yes, Nicolas Cage is still alive and has apparently used his fame and riches to insert his future grave into an historic landmark.
Cage’s mausoleum doesn’t mirror the 17th century aesthetic of the rest of the crumbling tombs, but is a nine-foot-tall stone pyramid that takes up four grave plots. It’s inscribed with the Latin maxim, “Omnia Ab Uno” which means “Everything From One”—a phrase used in the 2004 adventure film National Treasure in which Cage starred.
The pyramid was built a decade ago, but it didn’t take long for conspiracy theories to surface. Some theorize that Cage is a part of the Illuminati, a possibly fictitious secret society said to have been formed with the aim of controlling world affairs.
Unverifiable lore aside, what’s known is that Cage’s death pyramid exists and that people like to visit it regularly.
The Stanley Hotel
At the turn of the 20th century, a Yankee named Freelan Oscar Stanley took a liking to Estes Park, Colorado and opened up a stylish lodging spot called The Stanley Hotel in the mountain wilderness. It was complete with posh accommodations like telephones, en suite bathrooms, electric lights, uniformed servants and automobiles.
And while the hotel did wonders for drawing people to the area for half a century, by the 1970s it began to wither due to lack of investment and caretaking. In fact, the Stanley’s fate was looking pretty grim until 1973, when a writer named Stephen King stayed for a night in room 217.
The author claims to have been haunted during his time there, encountering spirits having a dinner party in the ballroom and seeing ghost children frolicking in the halls. He was also plagued by nightmares.
Inspired by the hotel’s ambiance and his experience, he ended up writing a book based on the hotel called The Shining. (Maybe you’ve heard of it?)
In the story, the hotel is called the Overlook, and a deranged man named Jack Torrance is possessed by the evil spirits of a hotel, who manage to convince him to commit violent acts against his wife and child who are also staying there. In Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the novel, Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson) chases his wife into a bathroom. He chops a gaping hole in the door with an axe, and while grinning maniacally, sticks his face into the opening and utters the famous phrase, “Here’s Johnny!”
The tourism generated by the horror novel, the movie adaptation, the mini-series, and the opera (yes, there is an opera) have helped to generate enough funds for the hotel to be restored to its original grandeur and continue to thrive. Capitalizing on the publicity, The Stanley offers terrifying tours focused on the hotel’s haunted history, and is a favorite for history buffs and scare-seekers alike.
The Exorcist Stairs
Washington D.C.’s Georgetown is known for its adorable shops, garden and harbor views, and the former residences of big names like John F. Kennedy and Julia Childs. But D.C.’s oldest neighborhood isn’t all celebrity homes and sunny strolls.
On the corner of Prospect Street and 36th Street NW are a set of narrow, stone steps where in 1973 a priest fell to his death… in the movie The Exorcist.
In the film, 12-year-old Regan is possessed by a potty-mouthed demon from hell, causing Father Damien Karras to call the demon to enter his body. As soon as it does, he throws himself out a window and falls down 75 steps to his death, sending the demon back from whence it came.
Ever since, this imposing stone staircase, flanked by ivy-covered walls, has been visited regularly by those seeking an adrenaline rush, one stemming from pure fear… or good old fashioned exercise. The stairs are a favorite for local joggers who need to amp up their workouts.