Will Storr has done some seriously bizarre and otherworldly things over the course of his career as a journalist. But even spending an entire day with Ozzy Osbourne wasn't as frightening as when he agreed to follow Philadelphia "demonologist" Lou Gentile on his appointed rounds. Will Storr never believed in ghosts—but his healthy skepticism couldn't explain the strange lights and sounds he witnessed, and the weird behavior of the occupants of several allegedly haunted houses.
What resulted is a confirmed cynic's (and proud of it!) dedicated search for answers in a shadowy world of séances, mediums, devil worshippers—even the Vatican's chief exorcist. So get ready to confront the genuinely creepy along with the hilariously ridiculous in Will Storr vs. the Supernatural!
Haunted America—Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America
Bachelor's Grove Cemetery, Chicago
The now-derelict Bachelor's Grove Cemetery is notorious amongst paranormalists everywhere as being one of the most haunted corpse-parks in the world. Under the weeds and rubble of the ruined tombs lie the remains of Windy City residents dating back to the 1844. Nobody has been buried here since 1965, when it was closed after falling into disrepair. The combined work of vandals, nature and local occultists have turned this small, one acre location into the very definition 'spooky', with it's cracked graves, gnarled bushes and bits of old candle, smashed crucifix and eviscerated virgin (probably) that local dabblers in the demonic have left behind. It's little wonder, then, that so much activity has been reported here. Most notably, a full female apparition who carries a baby in her arms (sometimes called 'the 'Madonna of Bachelor's Grove'), a replay of a farmer being dragged by his horse and plow into the now-stagnant pond (which was, apparently, a favoured cadaver-dump for mobsters in the 50's) and, weirdly, the ghost of a house which many people claimed to have seen whilst walking up the path that leads to the moody place. Startling displays of ghost lights are also said to be common here, including red lights that dart away so fast they leave a trail and blue orbs that bounce from tombstone to tombstone.
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay
Pity those poor Miwok Indians who were lead, shackled and twitching with spasms of dread, onto Alcatraz Island as the first residents of the prison in 1859. Not only had they been sentenced to serve time on what was to become one of the United States' most dismal penitentiaries, but their particular tribe had feared the place for generations, convinced, as they were, that it was inhabited by evil spirits. And if the ghost chroniclers of San Francisco are to be believed, those wise old Native American elders might have been onto something. Alcatraz was turned from an army fort and prison into the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world in 1934. And, whether or not it was haunted in the days of the Miwok, many people claim that it is today, with the echoes of the inmates who were held here until it's closure in 1963.
And they were a tormented people indeed. Alcatraz was the destination for America's most dangerous criminals, and they were sent to the lonely rock for the State to have it's revenge. There was never even the pretence of rehabilitation. Prisoners were forbidden to talk, except for three minutes twice a day and two hours during the weekend as a special treat. Many, including Al Capone (who enjoyed playing his banjo, somewhat unaccountably, in the shower area), went mad, others were murdered or died from disease. Less ambitious types satisfied themselves with chopping off their own fingers with an axe. The guards were much more likely to beat you until you were a Picasso of body-parts, bubbles of blood blowing out of each one of your five nostrils, than they were to deliver you a decent breakfast. The most feared part of the complex was the four solitary confinement "holes" in Block D—numbered 11-14. Inmates were kicked in, stripped and chucked into these concrete boxes with nothing but bread to eat and a hole to shit in and the only thing they had to look forward to was a standard meal once every three days and, eventually, to being let out—back into the hellish warren of Alcatraz itself. Many, unsurprisingly, went totally mental after a stretch in the hole. Rufe McCain didn't though. He was forced to do an incredible three years and two months hole-time, after being caught trying to escape. And what did he do when he was eventually released? Keep his head down and his mouth shut (even during his three minutes chat-grace)? Make a grovelling apology to the chief warden? No, he found the man he was supposed to have escaped with - and he killed him.
Surprisingly, reports of supernatural oddery are not centred around Block D (with the exception, that is, of some ghost hunters feeling a little 'strange' in the powerfully evocative little man-boxes—hardly unexplained, that). Rather, tour guides have reported hearing locks bolting, doors slamming, men shouting, screams and footsteps in corridors, all after the complex had closed for the day. Cell 14-D, where McCain was stored is also, apparently, sometimes impossible to heat and the sound of banjo playing is heard in the shower area.
Hickory Hill, Equality, Illinois
The Old Slave house on Hickory Hill, near Harrisburg in Southern Illinois has had thoroughly grim history. It was built in 1842 by John Hart Crenshaw a man who took ruthless advantage of a local law permitting the use of slaves to work in the salt mines of Saline County—an allowance that, at the time, was thought necessary, as nobody that wasn't in chains and acting under threat of torture and death would ever dream of taking a job down there, no matter what the pay and perks. But his wholehearted embracing of this nasty bit of legal footwork wasn't enough evil for the dastardly Crenshaw. He started kidnapping free African Americans and putting them to work down his salty holes and then selling spares to slave-owners in the South. And, when he ran out of excess humans, he started breeding them himself, using a stud known as 'Uncle Bob' (and also, quite possibly, as 'Smiling Bob'). Bob is said to have fathered as many as 300 children and eventually passed away in 1948, at 112 years of age. The slaves were kept in the attic, which contained twelve cells and a whipping post. Each cell contained iron shackle-rings on the floor and tiny, barred windows. Ghostly activity often reported when the location was a tourist destination include spectral cries, whimpers and the sound of chinking chains. It's also reported that in the 1920's an exorcist named Hickman Whittington visited the house and died some hours after leaving. In the 1960's, two Vietnam vets who tried to spend the night in the attic claimed they were surrounded by black shadows, and ran from the building, screaming. Soon after this, the owner stopped allowing visitors to stay after dark.
McLoughlin House, Oregon City, Oregon
Commonly known as the 'Father of Oregon', McLoughlin founded the city in 1829. By all accounts a wise and altruistic man, he gave away 300 plots to needy settlers, schools and churches and was known to rescue pioneers who got themselves into trouble on the Oregon Trail. Despite all this, and his being a physician, mayor, councilman and a famously generous aid-giver, his wealth and Catholicism made him unpopular with the impoverished Protestant locals and when Congress decided they disapproved of his claim to the land, he received little in the way of support from the ungrateful bastards. He died in 1857, a bitter and dejected man who felt betrayed by the world and, very possibly, with the concept o