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The best frightfully fun spots for Halloween

PW8FHD Vicksburg, USA - June 22, 2014: Tombstones of unknown soldiers at the Vicksburg National Cemetery, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, USA Vicksburg National Cemetery, part of Vicksburg National Military Park, has stories of unexplained fog hovering over battlefield graves. (Peek Creative Collective/Alamy Stock Photos)

Americans love to be frightened—for fun, that is. Last year, more than half the country planned to celebrate Halloween, spending more than $8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Here’s a collection of year-round Midwest attractions that range from strange and terrifying to intriguing and fascinating, as well as Southern hotels and a military park with ghoulish histories, all perfect to scare up a bit of Halloween fun for you. Check with each site for any late updates regarding operation hours or tours. 

Curiosity Museum, Alton, Illinois

It probably tells you something that the Curiosity Museum’s former name is The Historic Museum of Torture Devices. Owner Janet Kolar has curated instruments of torture, failed medical inventions, optical illusions, vintage stereoscopic viewers, and more, all housed in the former Mineral Springs Hotel, which is said to be haunted.

You’ll even see an eastern European vampire-killing kit (complete with the family’s Slovakian Bible). This place is recommended for guests 18 years and older, and admission is $8 (cash only).

Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum, Carthage, Illinois

The Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum acquired the former Illinois Funeral Directors’ Funeral Customs collection to create a fascinating, if not macabre, look at the mortuary profession. The exhibit includes coffins—one of them a replica of Lincoln’s—a horse-drawn hearse, an assortment of tools, and funeral jewelry and dress.

The recreated late 1920s preparation room will produce chills. There’s no admission fee.

Missouri State Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Missouri

The old Missouri State Penitentiary

The old Missouri State Penitentiary was named "the bloodiest 47 acres in America." (Courtesy Missouri Pen Tours)

Once named “the bloodiest 47 acres in America” by Time magazine, this was one of the country’s largest prisons. The Missouri State Penitentiary opened in 1836 and was said to resemble a castle from a distance. Inside, it felt like anything but.

Nestled alongside the Missouri River, the decommissioned (2004) institution once housed inmates such as gangster Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and arsonist John B. “Firebug” Johnson. Arriving in 1950, Sonny Liston learned to box at the prison and went on to win the 1953 National Heavyweight Championship.   

Visit the prison on a narrated history, photography, or ghost tour. Guides include former guards and a chief engineer, which means you’re going to get a wide range of stories while you’re exploring. Tour tickets start at $20. The 2-hour tours are for those 6 years and older; 3-hour tours for 10 years and older. 

Glore Psychiatric Museum, St. Joseph, Missouri

The Glore, established in 1968, moved to the current location adjacent to the former 1874 State Lunatic Asylum No. 2 in 1997. Named for George Glore, who worked for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the museum chronicles 145 years of mental illness history. Devices on exhibit include the “bath of surprise” that was filled with ice water, and the tranquilizer chair, complete with restraints and a toilet.

Among the more than 2,000 items displayed is an astonishing array of patient artwork, but the grimmest exhibits are surely the contents removed from one patient's stomach. Admission is $7 for adults.

Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Crescent Hotel

The Crescent Hotel has a mysterious past with numerous ghost sightings. (Courtesy Arkansas Tourism)

This massive stone structure sitting high above the town served first as a Victorian hotel, then as a girls’ school, and later as a hospital for cancer patients headed by Norman Baker, who peddled hoax cures.  

Today, the Crescent Hotel (AAA Three Diamonds) welcomes guests to the Ozarks, many of whom are interested in popular nightly ghost tours. Tour guides detail the many spirits who refuse to leave, such as a stone mason who fell to his death while building the hotel and now lingers in room 218.

Some nights, a girl believed to have been a student at the Crescent College and Conservatory descends from the third-floor balcony in a mist. Sounds of a nurse’s gurney can be heard rolling down the third-floor hall. There’s even the ghost of a tabby cat who frequents the lobby. Ghost tour tickets are $22.50 for those 13 and older, $8 for participants 5-12 years. 

Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans, Louisiana

Owners insist that the ghosts haunting the Hotel Monteleone (AAA Four Diamonds) in the French Quarter are friendly. Some spirits—like William “Red” Wildemere and two entities in the Criollo Restaurant—are former employees.

Then there’s the story of Josephine and Jacque Begere who were at the hotel with their young son, Maurice, in the late 19th century. While the parents were at the opera on Bourbon Street, Maurice fell ill while with his nanny and later died. Many visitors to the Monteleone’s 14th floor have heard children running up and down the hallways at night, only to peek outside their room to find the hallway vacant.

Tours of the hotel aren’t offered, but you can book a room and see what happens. 

Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi

The Civil War devastated Vicksburg in 1863, and many believe the Vicksburg National Military Park has its share of apparitions. 

Stories include unexplained fogs hovering over battlefield graves or weird phenomena occurring on statues dedicated to those who perished in battle. Most experience sounds of fighting, cannon fire, and screams.

Another story contends that shining a flashlight on the Pennsylvania Memorial causes the eyes of the five commanders depicted in bronze medallions to blink. During storms, some claim blood trickles from the eyes. 

McRaven House, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Labeled Mississippi’s “Most Haunted House,” McRaven has had multiple owners since 1797, some of whom appear to be still hanging around. Visitors have repeatedly seen an impression of a body at rest on the bed where Mary Elizabeth Howard, the wife of former owner Stephen Howard, died shortly after childbirth.

Former owner Leyland French claims to have been injured several times by unseen hands he believed belonged to William Murray, another past McRaven owner. Add unexplained noises, moving rocking chairs on the porch, and an armoire door that opens and closes on its own, and one can begin to understand how McRaven House earned its dubious label. Haunted tour tickets are $25.

Karen Eakins is an easily frightened contributor based in Omaha, Nebraska. Cheré Coen is the author of Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana and a paranormal mystery series under the pen name of Cherie Claire.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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