The Scariest Places I Have Ever Been

The Scariest Places I Have Ever Been October 24, 2020 · 24 min. readThis article may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

When you are looking to book a vacation, you probably have your go-to websites to find the best places to eat, shop or sightsee. You might even look to see if any shows or performances are going on while you are in the area. But I often look for something else. Instead of fun, exciting, and entertaining locations, I love visiting the odd, obscure, and scary places. I love "dark tourism" and if you are reading this, you probably do too. Nothing thrills me more than going to a spot of a murder, an execution, a natural disaster, or the site of a dark, arcane ritual. So, in the spirit of Halloween, I decided to put together a list of some of the scariest places I have ever been. Hopefully, as the years go by, I can add even more places to this list.

8. Xochimilco's Island of the Dolls

Xochimilco is a suburb on the edge of Mexico City, floating on the remains of the canals that once fed into the metropolis.

If you were to visit these canals, you will find them filled with colourful boats, cheerful mariachi bands, shopkeepers, food, liquor, and plenty of tourists. But if you go beyond the music, noise, and excitement, the waters turn black like oil. The music fades away, the laugher vanishes, and you find yourself deep within one of the most haunted spots in Mexico City. These canals have seen centuries of violence, with their waters running red with blood more than once. Yes, these are the same canals where La Llorona is said to haunt and kidnap unsuspecting children. But we aren't here for her.

In the deepest depths of these ancient waterways is La Isla de las Muñecas, or The Island of the Dolls.

Legend claims that one day, resident Don Julián Santana Barrera saw the drowned body of a girl floating in the nearby canal. He could not reach the body, but he could reach her doll, which was floating closer to the shore. He fished out the doll and hung it on a tree on the island in memory of her.

This is when the hauntings began. Shortly after, Don began hearing footsteps, giggles, and the voices of a young girl. As the days passed, he began listening to the voices, and the girl kept repeating the same thing: bring me more dolls.

By 2001, Don had hung hundreds of dolls to the trees on the island. The collection had grown vast. On one fateful day, Don was out on the water fishing with his nephew Anastasio Barrera. Don was whistling a song, and Anastasio asked him why. Surely, whistling while on the water would scare away any potential fish? Don corrected him and said that it was actually to scare the mermaids away.

Once they got to shore, Don asked Anastasio to go check on some pumpkins while he tied the boat up and unloaded the fish. Anastasio did, and when he returned, he found his uncle face-down in the water, dead.  Anastasio believes he died in the same spot the girl was found a half-century before.

I met Anastasio when I visited The Island of the Dolls, but because of the language barrier, he couldn't tell me anything about the island. However, the walls of porcelain dolls and sparkling glass eyes told me everything I needed to know, anyway.

Anastasio, Don's nephew Island of the Dolls creepy doll head Island of the Dolls creepy female doll

7. Kay's Cross, Utah

After serving in World War II, Francis Herman Pencovic returned to the United States and proclaimed himself Christ.

Pencovic claimed to have been born 240,000 years ago on the planet Neophrates, where all humans originated. He also claimed to be possessed by the spirit of those from Neophrates; the same spirit that possessed people like Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Quetzalcoatl, and many more. In 1951, Pencovic decided to legally change his name to Krishna Venta and formally take on his new deity-like identity.

Venta then began preaching about an approaching cataclysmic event. He believed that the United States would break into a race war between the blacks and the whites and that the Russians would help the blacks win. But, he warned, the Russians would then try to take over the world. It was therefore up to Venta and the newly founded Fountain of the World to prepare for a war to save humanity.

(If this story sounds like Charlie Manson's "Helter Skelter", it is! Manson was inspired by Venta and his teachings. In fact, a decade after The Fountain of the World disintegrated, Manson even lived at the former location with his "family" prior to relocating to Spahn Movie Ranch.)

Long before arriving in California to prepare for the upcoming war, Venta was in Utah and started a following of his own. He would even establish a base near Kaysville, Utah, just outside Salt Lake City.

I'm uncertain of the events that lead to the construction of the cross, but a K-shaped cross was nevertheless created in Venta's honour. It is said that Venta would burry several of his wives around the base of the cross; even burying one standing straight up.

That cross would stand for decades, long after Venta moved to California and was assassinated, and long after the threat of a Russian invasion was gone. However, the cross had attracted a new crowd: Satanic worshippers began using the cross for animal sacrifice, demonic summoning, and a variety of arcane arts.

On February 15, 1992, an unknown party had had enough of the cross and dynamited it. They also burnt down a house on the property, killing a family inside. It was believed these people were Satanists and were allowing these practices on their property. The police investigated but closed the case without any charges.

Today, Kay's Cross is saturated in black magic. The ruined remains of the cross are said to burn people who touch it under a full moon, and dark entities are said to roam the area. More than one person has committed suicide on the property too – one of them just mere feet from the cross. When I visited the area, I felt no paranormal presence, but my guide told me the spirits were there, and they were watching us.

Ruins of Kay's Cross Ruins of Kay's Cross Suicide tree

6. Renwick Smallpox Hospital

Renwick Smallpox Hospital

I remember when I first saw the Renwick Smallpox Hospital from Manhattan, across the East River. The dilapidated stone building was massive. I asked a local photographer what it was, and he told me it was the old smallpox hospital. Intrigued, I visited it a few days later on my last night in New York.

I got to the hospital during sunset and took some pictures through the gates that surrounded the monolithic structure. I then sat on a nearby bench and watched the sun go down over Manhattan, reminiscing about my time in the Big Apple. Like clockwork, a vehicle slowly rolled past the other side of the hospital, but after a few passes, it did not appear again. I thought nothing of it.

It was not until the sun went down and the area started getting dark that I began questioning if hanging around an old smallpox hospital after dark was a good idea. I began walking the way I came and made a horrible discovery. The car that had passed the hospital was security, and they had made their final rounds for the night. They locked me in!

Thankfully, as I approached the gate, I saw the security guard had not left yet. I called to him from the other side of the gate. He came over, asked where I was "hiding", and let me out. We had a good chuckle, and I carried on my way.

Little did I know that the Renwick Smallpox Hospital comes alive at night, with shadowy figures, mysterious lights, and rustling footsteps coming from the shell of the building. It is said that many of the victims were thrown into the East River instead of being buried, and their souls still haunt those hallowed grounds.

Renwick Smallpox Hospital Renwick Smallpox Hospital

5. Pripyat & Chernobyl

Pripyat bedroom

On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl's Reactor 4 exploded twice – once as a steam explosion, and the other as a small nuclear explosion. The combination of these two explosions set off a chain reaction in Eastern Europe that continues to threaten their very existence to this day.

Over thirty years later, the radioactive fallout from the disaster has left the area deadly for long-term visitors. Animals who live there may thrive without humanity but die quickly and prematurely from radioactive poisoning. The plant is now contained under two protective structures – the original "Sarcophagus", and the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement structure. These two keep the still burning radioactive core safe from exposure, as it won't stop burning for thousands of years.

Pripyat, the city closest to the plant, is abandoned. The towering apartment complexes are now empty hollow shells. The schools are lined with empty, rotting desks. The gymnasium's floors are warped and torn up. Pianos in the concert halls have rotted away. The hospital is a paint-peeling labyrinth of wheelchairs, tables, filing cabinets, surgical beds, and vials of unknown brown fluid. In the heart of the hospital is a piece of cloth, still crackling with radioactivity. This piece of cloth is 10,000 times more radioactive than normal background radiation. It is a torn-off piece of clothing from the victims of the disaster.

Although Chernobyl is not scary in a paranormal sense, the horrors of the accident will send shivers up your spine. Or maybe that's just the radioactivity.

If you're interested in the story of Chernobyl because of the HBO series, here is a list of things they got wrong in the show.

Pripyat hospital waiting room Pripyat surgery room

4. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia

Eastern State Penitenary Hospital Gates

Penance is the act of showing remorse for your crimes, and at Eastern State Penitentiary that was done through soul-crushing solitary confinement. Criminals – men, women, and yes, children – were locked away inside cells, alone, for years at a time. The only way to measure the passage of time is through the giant window in the ceiling of the cell. This glowing hole in the sky was nicknamed The Eye of God and through its people would come to terms with the crimes they committed.

Eastern State Penitentiary was built and 1821 and was created to be a model prison. However, the trend did not catch on in the United States as it was too inefficient and too expensive. Instead, the more humane "New York Model" caught on. Nevertheless, the "Philadelphia Model" gained popularity world-wide, being the template for over 300 prisons across six continents.  

Prisoners in Eastern State would live alone, unable to speak to guards or other prisoners. If they were caught misbehaving, they would be tortured – and if their crimes were bad enough, they would be placed in "The Hole". This was an underground room below the prison where not even the Eye of God could see them. Down there, their only company would be their own thoughts, the chains that hold them, and the occasional curious rat.

As the decades passed, Eastern State grew from an iconic wagon-wheel design into a monstrous octopus. The population grew too fast and not enough cells could be built for individual prisoners. Eventually, they were forced to do away with solitary isolation and instead put two, three, or even five prisoners in a single cell. This led to overcrowding, violence, and various diseases that ran havoc throughout the halls. During its 130-year long history, over 50 people either took their lives or had their lives taken within the prison.

Eastern State Penitentiary is so haunted that even the famous Al "Scarface" Capone is said to have been heard screaming inside his cell. It is thought that while imprisoned, victims of the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre would visit him.

Today, Eastern State is a historical museum. It is a testament to the horrors of solitary confinement, the effects of overcrowding in prisons, the need for proper mental health management, and a testament to America's current prison–industrial complex.

Eastern State Penitenary Room Eastern State Penitenary Hallway

3. Ted Bundy's Cellar, Utah

Between 1974 and 1978, Ted Bundy claimed to have killed 30 women across the United States, although the exact number will never be known. When Bundy's killing career began, he found himself in Salt Lake City, Utah, attending the University of Utah Law School. He would convert into Mormonism for a time, and frequent both the church and the university.

But on the edge of Salt Lake City, near the site of Donner Hill, the crossing of the infamous, cannibalistic Donner Party, is an old hunting lodge. Bundy spent a lot of time here when he was living in Salt Lake City, but he did not use it for hunting animals. Instead, he used it to hunt women. He would find them at the nearby university or hiking in the hills, lure them to the cabin and – if the stories are true – hide their bodies in the nearby cellar.

However, nobody has ever been discovered in the cellar, nor has there ever been evidence of one. However, the cellar is extremely popular in Bundy lore, and visitors come from all over the world to visit it. Although no evidence of the crimes was ever found there, visitors still said they get an icy feeling in their veins while walking around it, and they leave feeling horribly sad and forgotten.

After several attempts to seal the cellar from visitors, the door to the infamous underground chamber has now been weld shut. Whoever, or whatever is in the cellar will forever remain a mystery – but at least they will perhaps finally be at peace.

Ted Bundy's Cellar Ted Bundy's Lodge

2. The Jail Hotel

In many ways, jail is like a hotel – except the guests are not allowed to leave. Before 1862, criminals in Lucerne, Switzerland were kept in eight towers throughout the city. But by the 1860s, the discussion in Switzerland changed from locking up and forgetting prisoners to finding some way to rehabilitate them. They would close the prison towers and move them all to a new prison in Lucerne. Although this new prison was within the city walls, it was separated from the general public by a moat.

For 136 years, this 56-room prison held a variety of inmates. I have had trouble researching just who was held there or what their crimes were, but I did discover that they held executions in prisons, and Switzerland's final sword execution was held in Lucerne. I also learned that Lucerne had the country's only guillotine, and often lent it to jails that need it. There is a good chance this portable guillotine was also used inside this jail.

In 1999 the jail was shut down, and in 2001 it reopened as JailHotel. I stayed at this hotel in 2011. Six years later it would close and reopen as Barabas Hotel, which is named after the prisoner Barabas who had a love for painting.

While I can't say for certain the Barabas Hotel is haunted, I wouldn't be surprised to find out some prisoners never left.

Jail Hotel in Lucerne Me inside Jail Hotel

1. Kingston, Ontario

Hochelaga Inn

Yes, the whole city. I am not joking about this place either. To begin, Kingston was the capital of the cadaver trade in early Canadian history, exporting the deceased not only throughout Canada but also in the United States. Every medical student and university wants fresh bodies to do experiments on, and they knew Kingston was the place to get them.

But why Kingston? Because they loved their executions. People gathered by the hundreds to see the hangings and event posters were mailed throughout the Great Lakes inviting people to attend. Wealthier citizens even built towering rotundas on their houses to get a bird's-eye view of the grounds. This was the case of the Hochelaga Inn, which is only a few blocks from an execution site.

There were so many bodies hanging (pun intended) around Kingston that some of them were buried inside the very infrastructure of the city. From parking stall walls to recreational parks, it is not uncommon to find bones sticking out where they shouldn't be. In fact, the aptly named Skeleton Park is home to over 10,000 unmarked graves, with victims from six different epidemics that ravaged the city. Bones are often found in the park, and in the 1960s were frequently used by school children for bicycle decorations.

But not all of Kingston's secrets are transparent. Some are as secret as death itself. The former Prince George Hotel (which is haunted, of course) is home to Tir Nan Og Irish Pub. Below this pub, down century-old slimy stone stairs, one can find the catacombs that transverse under the city's cobblestone roads. These catacombs are not open to the public, and even the staff of Tir Nan Og don't like to use them because of OH&S standards. Are they old military tunnels? Were they for smuggling liquor to the hotel? Were they to transport cadavers? We will never know.

But one place that is certainly haunted is the Kingston Penitentiary, which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. Not only did these stone walls hold various riots, but it also contained criminals like Paul Bernardo, Norman "Red" Ryan, and Clifford Olson, the Beast of British Columbia.  It also held 16-year-old Grace Marks, who was convicted of killing her boss in 1863. She is the inspiration behind Margaret Atwood's 1996 novel, Alias Grace. At one time, Kingston was home to ten different penitentiaries but today that number is only four.

But as if all that was not enough to put Kingston as the scariest place I have ever been, it is also home to the Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane and Fort Henry National Historic Site, one of the most haunted places in the country.

With ten penitentiaries, an asylum, hundreds of mass executions, a cadaver trade, parks full of skeletons, haunted hotels, and secret catacombs, there is a reason why Kingston is the scariest place I have ever been.

Inside Kingston Pen Kingston's Fort Freight

Have you ever been to a creepy or scary place? Would you ever spend the night? Would you ever visit one of these? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.

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