Scary Travel Tales

Scary stories of a frightened traveler

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you seek out paranormal experiences when you travel? Do you like scary attractions and performances? Have you ever gotten a sudden chill on the back of your neck when visiting spooky places?  Over the years, I’ve sought out sights that have mysterious reputations,  sometimes found myself in scary spots just by chance, and occasionally been a really frightened traveler! Some of these places still give me a shiver whenever I think of them, especially around Halloween.

Scary as hell!

"Hell in the Cave" at Grotte di Castellana, caverns in the Puglia region of Italy

Frightening scene of  “Hell in the Cave” at Grotte di Castellana

In the Puglia region of Southern Italy are the amazing caves of Grotte di Castellana. When we visited a few years ago, we had a chance to see a special program called Hell in the Cave based on Dante’s Inferno, the first part of The Divine Comedy. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? And it definitely was — at least for me! Entering the cave on a dark and foggy night made it seem even more scary. I loudly shrieked as one of the actors startled me by crawling among us during our entry down into the cave along a long stairway illuminated with red lights. I was on edge the whole time as cast members portraying the tormented of Hell moved around us in the audience from time to time, often coming up on us by surprise. Despite my frightened reactions, it seemed that everyone else, including kids, seemed quite calm through the entire performance.

Spooky Salem

Tombstones at Old Burying Point Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts

Tombstones at Old Burying Point Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts

It was a blustery November day when I visited Salem, Massachusetts, famous for the 1692 witch trials. The town was very quiet since I was there off-season. I relished the eerie feeling as I strolled through the cemetery viewing the centuries-old gravestones, including those of several of the judges in the witch trials. The eerie feeling increased when I entered the Salem Witch Museum which was empty except for the attendant behind the museum shop’s counter. The mood became quite unsettling for me. With a glance to the foreboding dark entrance to the exhibits, I decided not to take the tour and I hurried to get outside. It was getting dark and I still hadn’t found the gallows where the “witches” were hanged, so I asked directions from a few people I passed on the street. I was puzzled that nobody could tell me where to find them. It was as if the locals wanted to forget that part of their history. Taking this to be a sign that it would be best to get out of town, I dropped the idea and made my way for the train station. I felt relieved to put the disquieting Salem behind me and head back to the comfort and safety of my hotel in Boston.

Chamber of Horrors

Embarrassingly, one experience that frightened the daylights out of me was an exhibit at a popular tourist attraction. On one of our visits to London, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum was surprisingly devoid of the usual long lines, so we decided to take a tour. While enjoying the wax figures of celebrities and other famous characters, I had no reason to expect that a fright was just around the corner. Even with the warnings at the entrance of the Chamber of Horrors, I wasn’t expecting such an intense experience. In the chamber, we encountered actors very convincingly portraying serial killers who surrounded us, reaching out toward us in the darkness as we searched for the exit. I spent most of the time holding onto Mr. TWS with my face in his back, eyes closed and screaming to be let out! (The Chamber of Horrors experience is permanently closed.)

No sleep for the haunted

At a hotel in Placerville, California in El Dorado County, I was quite nervous because I’d read that it was haunted. While checking in at the Cary House Hotel, we asked a staff member about this and she related her personal experiences of having felt the presence of resident ghosts. Others verified that numerous guests had made similar claims over the years, but we were assured that they were friendly ghosts. Our suite was on the 4th floor, which is a newer addition and supposedly not inhabited by spirits. Despite the assurances, I kept a light on all night and I shivered at every sound. I had an uneasy feeling throughout the night that spirits, friendly or not, lurked just outside our door.

Bedroom of a 4th floor suite at the Cary House Hotel in Placerville, California

Suite on the fourth floor of the Cary House Hotel in Placerville, California

The town of Mendocino is a popular travel destination on California’s northern coast. It is a quaint village, with historic buildings and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. It is also a place where I spent an unforgettably frightening night many years ago at the Mendocino Hotel. I couldn’t sleep a wink during the night as I listened to the wind blowing outside of our cottage and experienced a chilling feeling that there was a strange presence all around me. I later found out that the hotel was quite well-known for being haunted, but at the time I stayed in one of the cottages, I wasn’t aware of its resident specters.

Wedding crashers

Scarecrow bride and groom at the Hadlyme Public House in Hadlyme, Connecticut

Hadlyme Public House in Hadlyme, Connecticut

Several years ago, we attended a wedding in Hadlyme, Connecticut in the town’s Public Hall. Although I didn’t personally encounter any spirits there, the caterers said that they definitely felt their presence in the kitchen during dinner preparation. Disruptions included utensils and dishes being moved around — by themselves! After hearing the report, I avoided the downstairs kitchen and dining area, but some of you may want to check it out.

The Blue Lady

The Blue Lady of Moss Beach Distillery in Half Moon Bay

The Blue Lady of Moss Beach Distillery in Half Moon Bay

Opinions are varied about whether or not Moss Beach Distillery is haunted, but there are psychics and paranormal investigators who believe that there is a ghost, rather famously known as the Blue Lady. Over the years, employees and customers at this restaurant on the California coast in Moss Beach have claimed to witness bizarre phenomena such as moving objects, and to have the eerie sensation that there is an invisible presence. Even customers who don’t know the story of the Blue Lady have asked if the place is haunted. From the 1930s to the 1960s, there were many who said they saw the lady dressed in blue, but now she mostly stays out of sight, favoring playful pranks and mischief.

Around the corner at the end of a dark, quiet hallway downstairs from the restaurant are the restrooms. I jumped a little as a woman was coming out of the Ladies’ just as I started to open the door. Once inside, I glanced at the mirror in which some have reported seeing the Blue Lady’s image, afraid of what I might find looking back at me. I felt a bit uneasy in there, so I got in and out as quickly as possible!

Would you like to visit and stay in these places? Go ahead … if you dare!

Editor’s Note: Portions of this post were previously published on Traveling with Sweeney.

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