With the launch of our new homeowners insurance product in Wisconsin, we’re all about houses here at Esurance. And with Halloween just a few days away, our minds have turned to haunted houses.

According to an Adweek poll, 23 percent of American adults believe they’ve seen or experienced a ghost. I’m not one of them — when I stayed the night at a haunted hostel in Scotland, my companion said she saw the resident ghost at the foot of her bunk, while I slept right through it. The experience has left me curious, though. What might I have seen if I’d been awake?

Maybe someday (but definitely not on Halloween) I’ll put my clairvoyance to the test again. If I do, my best bet might be one of these seriously spook-filled haunted houses. (Warning: these tales are a bit on the grisly side.)

Whaley House, San Diego

Long before it became famous as one of the most haunted houses in the United States, this building had an eventful history. It was built as a granary and then converted to a courthouse and gallows, where infamous thief “Yankee Jim” Robinson was hanged in 1852. Local entrepreneur Thomas Whaley, who reportedly witnessed the hanging, bought the property a few years later and built his family home and general store on the site. Soon after moving in, the Whaleys heard heavy footsteps moving around the house; they concluded these were the footfalls of Yankee Jim’s ghost.

Tragedy seemed to follow the Whaleys — they lost a daughter and son to heartbreaking circumstances, and a series of arson-set fires at the general store created financial hardship. Perhaps this is why their spirits joined Yankee Jim and continue to haunt their old home. Mr. Whaley is frequently spotted on the upper landing, dressed in a frock coat, while Mrs. Whaley often drifts through the downstairs rooms and garden. A small woman in a long, full skirt is also said to haunt the courtroom.

LaLaurie Mansion, New Orleans

New Orleans is so notoriously haunted that locals take it in stride — but the LaLaurie mansion is exceptional even by NOLA standards. In 1832, Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his wife Delphine moved into this Creole mansion, and were soon highly respected citizens, renowned for their elegant social events. However, there were whispers about Madame Delphine’s treatment of her slaves. A neighbor reportedly saw her chasing a slave girl onto the roof with a whip — the girl then fell to her death. Other slaves mysteriously disappeared. The truth came to light one night when a fire broke out at the mansion; firefighters discovered awful scenes of abuse in a locked attic room. When word of this reached the city, an angry mob gathered outside the mansion and the LaLauries fled, never to be seen again.

Stories of hauntings began almost immediately. People claimed that screams and groans came from the empty house at night, and apparitions of the slaves roamed the balconies. More recently, a hastily dug graveyard was found beneath the floorboards, dating back to the nineteenth century.

For more about “Mad” Madame LaLaurie, check out the new season of American Horror Story: Coven, with Kathy Bates in the role of Delphine.

Gardette-LaPrete House (aka “The Sultan’s Palace”), New Orleans

This French Quarter house also has a gruesome history. Purchased in the 1830s by plantation owner Jean Baptiste LaPrete, it was rented some decades later to a mysterious Turk. Claiming to be a sultan, this new tenant arrived with a full harem and held lavish, incense-scented parties behind the home’s closed doors. One night, screams were heard instead of music and laughter — the next morning, the entire household was found murdered, and the Turk had been buried alive in the courtyard. No one is sure who committed the crime — some say it was pirates who came to loot the house’s rich furnishings. Another explanation is that the Turk’s brother, an actual sultan, had his relatives killed to eliminate any claims to the sultanate.

After the slayings, passersby reported exotic music and the smell of incense wafting from the house. Others heard shrieks echoing through the rooms, and residents say the fair-haired Turk himself makes occasional, sudden appearances.

Franklin Castle, Cleveland

Called the most haunted house in Ohio, this gothic mansion certainly looks the part with its imposing façade, stone turrets, and wrought-iron trim. It was built by wealthy merchant Hannes Tiedemann in 1865 and was reportedly the site of several murders.

The castle’s history is unquestionably tragic. In the space of a few years, 3 of Teidemann’s children as well as his mother died in the house. Perhaps to take his wife’s mind off these tragedies, he began building a series of secret passageways and hidden rooms. Soon after, his wife also died, presumably of natural causes. Other deaths were more sinister, including those of Teidemann’s niece and a servant girl. Legend says he killed them both as well as his alleged mistress, though the stories were never verified.

In 1913, the house was sold to the German Socialist Party, fueling rumors of Nazi spies and machine-gun massacres. It was largely unoccupied until the 1960s, when the tales of haunting began. Owners and tenants claimed to hear organ music and babies crying, and saw ceiling lights spinning and faces in the woodwork. A woman clad in black is often spotted in a turret window; the turret room is called the “cold room” because it’s 10 degrees colder than the rest of the house. Enhancing the castle’s creepy reputation still further, in the 1970s a number of human skeletons were found in one of the secret rooms.

Do you believe in ghosts?

If you have a paranormal tale to tell, share it with us below. And if you’re more worried about your house being plagued by hail damage or burst pipes than phantoms, fear not — we’ll help make sure you’ve got the right homeowners coverage.

Homeowners 101


about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.