America's Best Haunted Houses

Jacob Black's House in Forks, Washington. Courtesy HomeAway.com HomeAway.com
By Carrie Havranek

Though many theme parks now host elaborate Halloween festivals—and are stuffed to the ribcage with revelers, like Mardi Gras with screams—by dint of their homegrown ingenuity, local haunted houses can offer some of the spookiest thrills.

You may not have to go far for a blood-curdling experience -- every town, especially those with a history tied to tragic figures or American colonial times, seems to have its share of ghost stories to tell.

In fact, America Haunts (www.americahaunts.com), an association that represents the scariest haunted houses in the country, says its attractions bring more than a million people each year. Haunted Houses (www.hauntedhouses.com) categorizes its directory of destinations in North America as "for real" (ghost hauntings and paranormal activity) or "for fun" (Halloween-themed haunted attractions). If that's not enough, Haunt World (www.hauntworld.com) has a list of its top 13 scariest destinations each year.

Here are seven cities with some of the best haunted houses and Halloween-themed attractions.

Photo Caption: Jacob Black's House (of Twilight fame) in Forks, Washington. Courtesy HomeAway.com
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Horseman's Hollow in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Courtesy Bryan Haeffele Bryan Haeffele
What: Horseman's Hollow
Where: Philipsburg Manor, Sleepy Hollow, New York
The Details: This new event recreates the era of the Headless Horseman of Washington Irving's famous tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and makes for some dark entertainment. Vampires, witches, undead soldiers, ghouls, and ghosts reign as you walk a haunted trail. State-of-the-art special effects and more than 40 professional actors in period costumes help make the experience truly frightening. Less scary but related events (with separate dates and times) include the Jack O'Lantern Blaze, with more than 4,000 hand-carved pumpkins for an enormous display and Legend Celebration, an event geared toward small children with ghost stories, crafts, games, and magicians.
For More Information: tel. 914/631-3992; www.hudsonvalley.org

Photo Caption: Horseman's Hollow in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Courtesy Bryan Haeffele
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Halloween and Mourning Tours. Courtesy Moises Rodriguez/Cultural Heritage Foundation of Southern California Moises Rodriguez
What: Halloween and Mourning Tours
Where: Heritage Square, Los Angeles
The Details: Here's a slightly more intellectual approach to Halloween. Heritage Square is a living history museum that represents Victorian-era southern California. You can find out about death and mourning etiquette during this time period, participate in a funeral, learn about the movement of Spiritualism, and see how other cultures honor the loss of their loved ones.
For More Information: tel. 323/225-2700; www.heritagesquare.org

Photo Caption: Halloween and Mourning Tours. Courtesy Moises Rodriguez/Cultural Heritage Foundation of Southern California
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Nightmare on 13th in Salt Lake City, Utah. Courtesy Nightmare on 13th Nightmare on 13th
What: Nightmare on 13th
Where: Salt Lake City, Utah
The Details: Designed to reflect themes and characters from a handful of horror movies and the creepiest clowns you've ever seen, Nightmare on 13th is a 36,000-square-foot haunted house that's been making people scream for more than 20 years. With three different shows, repeat visitors are common; this year's Body Snatcher Maze is a new addition.
For More Information: tel. 801/467-8100; www.nightmareon13th.com

Photo Caption: Nightmare on 13th in Salt Lake City, Utah. Courtesy Nightmare on 13th
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House of Shock. Courtesy House of Shock House of Shock
What: House of Shock
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana
The Details: The House of Shock is currently on the grounds of St. Peter's Mansion, a plantation that burned down during the Civil War. (The site itself is not known to be haunted.) The experience starts with a pyrotechnic display that introduces the characters. The multimedia stage show sets this haunted house apart from others.
For More Information: tel. 504/734-7462; www.houseofshock.com

Photo Caption: House of Shock. Courtesy House of Shock
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Skeletown Haunted House at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, Indiana. Courtesy Children's Museum Guild Children's Museum Guild
What: Annual Haunted House
Where: Children's Museum of Indianapolis, Indiana
The Details: For half a century, the annual fright-filled event has served as a fundraiser for the nonprofit museum. Most Halloween events are not always suitable for young children, but the museum's offering is unique because it holds a lights-on experience for younger children and a lights-off experience, held at separate times, for older children who can handle being scared.
For More Information: tel. 317/ 334-4606; www.childrensmuseum.org

Photo Caption: Skeletown Haunted House (2010) at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, Indiana. Courtesy Children's Museum Guild
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Dream Reapers in Chicago. Courtesy Dream Reapers Dream Reapers
What: Dream Reapers
Where: Chicago
The Details: This state-of-the-art show, with lasers, complex sets, and inventive special effects, takes place over some two dozen rooms with more than 80 costumed actors. Freaky bonus feature: Dream Reapers infuses the experience with "sinister scents" such as wet dirt in a cemetery and a musty dungeon.
For More Information: tel. 708/344-2084; www.dreamreapers.com

Photo Caption: Dream Reapers in Chicago. Courtesy Dream Reapers
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A room at Jacob Black's House. Courtesy HomeAway.com HomeAway.com
What: Jacob Black's House
Where: Forks, Washington
The Details: For those who hate the gotchas of a walk-through attraction, try renting a slightly scary room instead. Though this vacation rental home way out on the Olympic Peninsula may not look scary, the farmhouse is styled after the home of Jacob Black -- yes, that Jacob from the insanely popular Twilight series (a few movie scenes were also filmed in Forks). The 2,500 square-foot house features Twilight-themed rooms (each of the four bedrooms is painted with a different wolf pack character's name) and has seemingly authentic touches, such as torn clothing in a room and a rusty motorcycle out front. Copies of the films and the novels are available in the home, too.
For More Information: www.homeaway.com

Photo Caption: A room at Jacob Black's House, which is themed after the popular Twilight series. Courtesy HomeAway.com
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