New York hardly needs to advertise to attract visitors. The US city is one of the most popular city-break destinations worldwide and one that sees visitors returning, again and again, to soak up its unique atmosphere, enjoy its vast array of restaurants, and marvel at its iconic architecture. Of course, it also happens to be one of the best shopping destinations on earth. However, after all the tourist attractions, New York is still a living city where new experiences are made every day. It is also the perfect backdrop to just about any seasonal holiday – whether it be Christmas, St Patrick’s Day or Halloween. In fact, the latter is one of the best times to be in the city – especially for fans who enjoy the occasional scare.
No one does Halloween like the USA and as the season approaches, New York launches into the scary season with creepy decorations appearing in bars, restaurants and even the streets themselves turning into a ghoulish fanfare. However, whilst kitsch decorations and ubiquitous trick or treaters are all well and good, the more discerning thrill seeker may be looking for a more authentic experience. With such a long and colourful history, it will be of little surprise that New York has plenty of ghostly, eerie and haunted landmarks to make the perfect itinerary for those wanting a truly memorable Halloween. What follows is a list of the ten most haunted places in New York, to visit if you dare!
1. The Ghostbusters Building
First and foremost, before any haunted tour of the city, it is important to pay homage to the Ghostbusters – who worked so tirelessly to keep New York spectre-free back in the 80s and 90s. The Ghostbusters HQ, or the Hook and Ladder Company 8 as some call it, is located on 4 North Moore Street. The building is instantly recognisable and has plenty of street art dedicated to the movie. Fortunately, the building is also in a great area of Manhattan – Soho – with plenty of bars and restaurants around it, meaning visitors don’t have to venture far from the nightlife to pay a quick visit.
2. The Amityville Horror House
Continuing the movie theme and branching out of the city, The Amityville Horror house became notorious as the location of a ‘real-life’ haunting when the story was made into a cult-classic in 1979, before being remade in 2005. Based on a supposed non-fiction book by Jay Anson, the house on 112 Ocean Avenue was said to be the scene of the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family. Whether or not visitors choose to believe the stories, there’s no doubt that terrifying, real-life events occurred in this otherwise picturesque Colonial-style house. In the early ‘70s, a young man murdered his parents and four siblings in the house. When another family bought the house after the murders, they reported witnessing all sorts of unexplainable phenomena consistent with hauntings, such as ominous visions, loud noises and strange odours. The events prompted the family to move out after just one month of residence. It should be noted, however, that it is today a private residence and permission should be sought before taking any photographs.
3. Rolling Hills Asylum
What could be more terrifying than a nighttime tour of a long-abandoned asylum, with its decaying walls hiding decades of anguish and torment? The Rolling Hills Asylum in East Bethany, New York, has become one of the state’s most popular ‘dark tourism’ attractions, with its corridors still strewn with hospital beds, children’s toys and old medical equipment. The creepie interior has been used as a filming location for numerous TV shows and movies and the notorious Shadow People Hallway is said to be one of the creepiest places in the whole country. The Rolling Hills Asylum company offers ghost tours and even gives visitors the chance to rent paranormal investigation kits. Tours start at around $20 and go up to around $60 for special events.
4. St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral is New York City’s oldest Roman Catholic church and is rumoured to be haunted by Pierre Toussaint, a slave who became a hairdresser in the early 19th century. However, whilst one ghost is usually enough to put the heebie-jeebies up any traveller, St. Patrick’s doubles down with one more: the long-deceased bishop who refuses to leave his old parish. Legend has it that Bishop Dubois, buried at the entranceway of the church, is regularly seen going about his ministerial duties. Naturally, the church officials play down this apparent haunting, but many walking tours offer to reveal the more macabre secrets. Of course, the church, located at 260–264 Mulberry Street, is also a functioning place of worship so it appears the ghosts haven’t scared everyone away yet.
5. The Dakota
Manhattan is full of fascinating buildings – some are famous for their height, some for their architectural innovation and others for historical significance. However, the Dakota is a building that is notorious for a different reason – its resident celebrity ghost. The Dakota was the last residence of John Lennon before he was assassinated and sightings of his spirit have been reported many times, including by Yoko Ono, who continued to live in the building after her partner’s death. However, whilst he himself was still alive, John Lennon also claimed to have witnessed a ghost in The Dakota building. Lennon and others claim to have seen the ghost of the Crying Lady, who apparently still walks the halls when the lights go out. Over the years, numerous other sightings of ghosts and apparitions have been reported in The Dakota, making it one of New York’s top haunted destinations. It was also the setting for Rosemary’s Baby, which only adds to its notoriety. The Dakota can be found on 1 72nd Street.
6. Coney Island
Coney Island may not be haunted as such, but Brooklyn’s famous seafront fairground has some great attractions for Halloween. Luna Park Halloween Harvest promises an exciting day out, with themed games and events as well as classic rides such as the Ghost Train and House of Horrors. Of all the places on the list, Coney Island is also the one that is the most family-friendly, with many activities aimed at younger people, such as face-painting, street performers and the Monster Mash Stage. Of course, there are also plenty of other attractions on the island, including its famous Ferris Wheel – which of course features spooky decorations for the holiday. An unlimited day pass for Luna Park starts at $40, whilst the pass for a specific date is $29 and upwards.
7. Hotel Chelsea
The Hotel Chelsea building has had its fair share of history – particularly when it comes to the world of entertainment. Throughout its century of existence, the Chelsea has played host to pop culture icons including Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Mark Twain, Allen Ginsberg, and Dylan Thomas. Most famously of all it was the site of the famous Sid and Nancy deaths. However, grim as this may be, it is not how the Hotel Chelsea got its ghoulish credentials. The Chelsea Hotel housed survivors from the 1912 sinking of the Titanic and, according to paranormal investigators, one such survivor, Mary, was soon found dead in her room, unable to cope with the loss of her husband on the famous disaster. Supposedly Mary can be seen in spectral form haunting the fifth floor of the building. The Hotel Chelsea is also said to be the home of several other ghosts – including the severed hand ghoul and the world’s first hipster spirit. The hotel can be found on 222 West 23rd Street.
8. The Empire State Building
New York’s most famous symbol, the Empire State Building is an architectural wonder and one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. Of course, it is also said to be haunted. Over the years there have been dozens of people who have fallen from its viewing platforms, not to mention the five builders who died during its construction – the bodies of some of which were said to be buried in the foundations leaving their ghosts unable to escape! Of course, the Empire State Building is still well worth a visit – even for those who don’t believe in ghosts. It’s also an extremely busy tourist attraction, so ghost hunters might find it difficult to spot a ghost in the crowd!
9. Horror-Themed Escape Rooms
Escape rooms are hugely popular all over the world and New York has some of the best there is. Unsurprisingly, many of these have horror themes. Visiting haunted places is all well and good, but ultimately without context it often simply involves exploring an old building. Escape rooms may not have any bonafide haunted credentials, but they do offer a lot of creepy fun. There are numerous companies offering escape room attractions across the city. Brooklyn Escape Room, on 594 Pacific St Brooklyn, has ‘The Haunted’ – wherein escapees must decipher the dark secret of the haunted house. Tickets start at $30 per person and the room is suitable for all levels. Alternatively, St Angelo’s Castle by Komnata Quest on 67 West St Brooklyn is a historic dungeon setting that pits participants against the inquisition, solving fiendish puzzles to escape. Prices here start at around $35 per person.
10. Ellis Island
Over 12 million immigrants were processed on Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924. Whilst the arrival in America would have been a dream come true for some, the island also has its dark side. Over 3,500 people died on the island, many of which never made it past the screening process as the result of illness and were marked with chalk before being separated from other arrivals. This has led to Ellis Island becoming one of the country’s most notoriously haunted destinations. For a truly eerie experience, the Hard Hat Tour of Ellis Island offers to show guests the abandoned buildings, hospitals and quarantines of the island. Tickets start at $65 and must be booked in advance.
Above are ten suggestions for exploring the darker side of New York. Those who believe in the supernatural may enjoy the chance to go ghost hunting, whilst those just looking for a good time will find they get an alternative tour of New York that differs from the usual tourist experience. Of course, there are many other ghost sightings across the city and every neighbourhood has its own dark secrets to uncover if you dare!