As Halloween approaches, here are a few places where you can get the ghost scared out of you! (And, thanks to my coworker for the Spooky Cat pic above - she decorates the office for EVERY holiday!)
The Pine Barrens, New Jersey
I’m gonna start in my home state and the area where I spent a lot of my childhood. The Pine Barrens is not just creepy because it’s where they buried bodies in The Sopranos! . The Pine Barrens, aka the Pinelands or the Pines is known as a place to hunt the Jersey Devil* (which is not just a hockey team!)
What’s so creepy about it? It’s 1.1 million acres of heavily wooded nothingness with very little light pollution or noise. So, it’s kinda the perfect setting for ghost stories and other scary legends like the Jersey Devil.
Why is there so little development in the Pine Barrens? It’s actually a biosphere reserve, so it’s protected. There are species of plants and animals that are only found in this coastal wetlands area. It’s very popular with campers and canoeists (people who like to canoe – I had to look that up!).
*In a nutshell, the Jersey Devil was allegedly the cursed 13th child of a woman named Mrs. Leeds. After Mrs. Leeds gave birth to a monster, it allegedly flew up and out of the house’s chimney and into the Pine Barrens. A popular Halloween thing to do is to go looking for the Jersey Devil.
The inspiration for one of my all time fave, scare s*** out of you book – The Shining. Stephen King took the idea for the The Shining's fictional Overlook Hotel from the real Stanley Hotel.
In 1903, inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley moved to Colorado wilderness for health reasons along with his wife, Flora. Eventually, they built the impressive Stanley Hotel. Set in the rugged mountains, it was considered luxurious for the time, with electricity, telephones, and even en suite bathrooms. But by the 1970’s, the hotel’s grandeur began to fade. Legend has it that you can hear Mrs. Stanley playing the piano, or even reports of things like lights being turned on and off. It’s also allegedly one of the most active ghost sites in the U.S.
And, if you’re one of the like, seven people who hasn’t seen the movie The Shining, why not rent it for a Halloween movie night? Or, even spookier, stay at the Stanley, where The Shining plays 24 hours a day on one of the television channels!
Right in the middle of Philly is Eastern State Penitentiary or “ESP”. Built in 1829, it’s notorious for, uh, “refining” solitary confinement. At the time, the prison was the largest and most expensive public structure ever built in the U.S. It also served as a model for prisons throughout the world. Open until 1970, the prison was “home” to infamous criminals like Willie Sutton and Al Capone.
There are two ways to visit Eastern State Penitentiary – (1) Do a daytime prison tour. It’s the “normal” tour; or (2) Terror Behind the Walls which is a “special” tour that runs around Halloween time every year!
I wish I had known about the tunnels when I was in Portland. The Shanghai Tunnels, aka, the Old Portland Underground, are located underneath the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood of Portland. Although some accounts say the tunnels were used for organized crime activity, the tunnels actually served a legit purpose. They were a way to connect the basements of many businesses with their storage areas and also with the Willamette River where the docks were. Using underground passageways allowed the hotels, taverns, and other businesses, to avoid street traffic while making deliveries.
Why are they called the Shanghai Tunnels? Legend goes that the tunnels were used to “shanghai” sailors - the practice of kidnapping people to serve as sailors. But why do they use the word “shanghai” instead of just plain old kidnap? Apparently, in the 1850s, Shanghai was a popular destination for the ships that “employed” abducted crews. Today, the word has morphed to include the meaning of “induced to do something by fraud".
The tunnels are supposed to be terrifying. So, even though you can visit the tunnels year round, it might be a fun way to get creeped out and take one of their special spooky Halloween ghost tours!