What It's Like to Live in a Creepy Town
Charleston has seen two major American wars and dozens of devastating natural disasters, which leads many to believe the city is haunted.
“Ghost experts believe Charleston is one of the most haunted places in America because of all the tragedy that’s occurred in our town,” says lifetime resident John LaVerne. “They say a lot of untimely deaths cause people to stay in this transient state. My 90-some-year-old grandmother jokes about it, saying Charleston is so great, we all want to do it at least twice.”
Creepy factor: One of Charleston's best-known haunted locations is the Battery Carriage House Inn. Several guests of the inn, particularly those who have stayed in room eight, have reported waking up in the middle of the night to find a headless torso floating above them, dressed in a Confederate uniform from the Civil War. One man tried to reach out and touch the ghost's clothing, and the apparition responded with a threatening moan. Other female guests have awoken to discover a "gentleman ghost" lying beside them, thought to be a college student whose family once owned the home.
Getting around: Getting from place to place in Charleston is no big task -- most residents walk or ride bikes to get around, LaVerne says. Because of the city’s many narrow one-way streets and limited parking spaces, driving is not the preferred method of transportation.
But aside from these obstacles, LaVerne points to another reason why walking is your best bet: “The city has its own personality that changes day and night, in every neighborhood. Around every corner there is a long-lost secret or something new you didn’t see last time. It’s always great to get out and explore Charleston,” he says.
Owning a home: With its small-town feel and bustling population of about 120,000, Charleston is a great place to call home. LaVerne, who owns two homes in Charleston, currently lives in a plantation-style home teeming with Southern charm.
An average home in Charleston will run you, on average, between $200,000 and $250,000, depending on location, LaVerne estimates. The closer you get to downtown, for instance, the higher the price will be. And there are plenty of options to choose from -- be it a home in the historic district, a home by the beach or perhaps a home near one of the area’s five colleges.
Finding fun: In Charleston, there is “an endless supply” of activities to enjoy, LaVerne says. Because of its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, there's a ton of outdoor fun to be had, including jet skiing, parasailing, kite flying and fishing. Known as the low country, Charleston doesn’t have many hills, but it does have a great bike path system and emphasis on sports, such as golfing and tennis, and various athletic leagues.
Locals enjoy listening to live music, eating at world-class restaurants and, what LaVerne insists is the best pastime, simply walking around, exploring Charleston. And if you’re really curious, you can even partake in an area ghost walk, perhaps with Bulldog Tours, which LaVerne owns and operates.
Tallying the cost of living: Compared to some other Southern cities, Charleston is “a bit expensive,” LaVerne says, “but totally worth it.” With so much history, architectural beauty and an endless supply of things to do, living in Charleston is “a complete joy.” There’s never a dull moment considering all the fun activities -- many of which are free -- and spooky appeal Charleston has to offer.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FL
Nicknamed the “Ancient City,” St. Augustine, Fla., has more history than almost any other city in America. Established by Spanish explorers in 1565, it’s no wonder St. Augustine is thought to be a haunted city.
“When you’re talking about being haunted, what’s top of mind for most people is it’s a historic place. People don’t think of a brand new place that’s haunted,” says 15-year resident and Florida native Glenn Hastings. “Throughout the four and half centuries, and before that, there were a lot of characters who have gone to the other side.”
Creepy factor: Built between 1672 and 1695 by the Spanish to protect their claim on the New World, Castillo de San Marco, or "The Old Fort," is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in St. Augustine. A well-known tale about the Fort involves Colonel Garcia Martis, his wife Dolores and Captain Manuel Abela. During the night, Dolores frequently sneaked off with Abela, and the Colonel discovered their affair when he smelled his wife's perfume on the Captain. The Colonel locked the two lovers in the dungeon of the Fort, where they eventually died. Their skeletons were discovered years later, and to this day, many still claim to hear their screams coming from the dungeon, or to catch an occasional whiff of Dolores' perfume.
Getting around: In small-town historic St. Augustine, the easiest way for locals to get around is by foot. Most people tend to walk to and from their destinations, but there is a large community of bicycle riders as well.
As for traffic, Hastings claims it’s typically not an issue. “Some weekends can be pretty busy on the main routes, but after you’ve lived here a while, you learn your way around,” he says.
Owning a home: In its peak, Hastings says, his bungalow-style home was worth about $600,000. But Hastings got a great deal, paying only $165,000 for his beautiful historic house. He also recalls a friend of his who recently purchased a home on a short sale for $169,000, even though it was sold for $450,000 just two years ago.
The average price of a home in St. Augustine last year was around $150,000. But, of course, the price depends on a variety of factors, Hastings says, such as whether it is an older home or located in the historic part of town.
Finding fun: As is the case with most of Florida, there are many outdoor activities to enjoy in St. Augustine. “Generally, being on the water is a big part of it,” Hastings says. He points to boating, sailing, kayaking, fishing and nature watching -- or looking for dolphins and bald eagles -- as some of the most enjoyable activities.
But his personal favorite pastime is entertaining neighbors and friends in his backyard. After all, he says, St. Augustine residents put so much into their homes that they love the opportunity to enjoy it. “We have cocktails on the porch with neighbors around Memorial Day, for instance. It’s all part of that strong sense of community you develop here.”
Tallying the cost of living: By Florida standards, Hastings says, St. Augustine is “not cheap.” He cites the price of activities and area restaurants as proof of that. But, he maintains, taxes are reasonable, especially compared to the rest of the U.S. Overall, Hastings says, most residents would agree the value is fair.
“The city has a lot of charm, a lot of history and, in the older neighborhoods, a great sense of community,” he says. “It’s an eclectic place -- something different. It’s really invigorating living here.”
NEW ORLEANS, LA
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There’s no denying the fact that New Orleans is a city unlike any other. With a long, rich history, it comes as no surprise that it is known as being one of the nation’s most haunted cities.
“New Orleans is haunted for a lot of reasons,” says 17-year New Orleans resident Karen Jeffreys. “We’re about 300 years old; we’ve been around a long time. And because of all the tragedy that’s happened here -- hurricane, wars, fires, epidemics," she says. Jeffreys works part time as a ghost hunter and owns a bed and breakfast, which she says is home to five ghosts.
Creepy factor: Located in New Orleans' famous French Quarter, the LaLaurie Mansion is said to be one of the city's most haunted homes. In 1832, Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his wife Delphine moved into the home at 1140 Royal Street. Though the couple appeared to be upstanding socialites, their dark secret was discovered when the mansion caught fire in 1834. Behind a secret, locked door, firemen found more than a dozen brutally abused slaves chained to the walls.
The LaLauries managed to escape the authorities, but the ghost stories and sightings started almost as soon as they fled the city. The home remained unoccupied for many years, with the few tenants reporting mysterious screams and strange noises. Others claimed that they were strangled in the night by an invisible force, or saw shackled servants roaming the halls.
Getting around: Jeffreys’ B&B is located in a quiet residential neighborhood just outside the French Quarter. Even though it’s not among the hustle and bustle of the city, Jeffreys says it’s still within walking distance of everything you need. “When you live in or near French Quarter, you don’t really need a car,” she says.
But for those who don’t prefer walking, Jeffreys says, bicycles and Vespas are popular alternatives. Additionally, New Orleans offers street cars that can take residents a little farther and a convenient bus system, too.
In terms of traffic, Jeffreys says it can be an issue in the suburbs but not in the Quarter -- although parking can be a challenge if you do own a car.
Owning a home: Jeffreys estimates the price of a home in the French Quarter might fall between $400 and $500 per square foot. But, she insists, prices are much lower the farther out you look. In her neighborhood, for instance, which is just outside the French Quarter, houses go for half of that, between $200 and $300 per square foot, she says.
As is the case in many urban areas, you can find a home for as low as $100,000 in some areas and for as high as several million dollars in the high-end neighborhoods.
Finding fun: Perhaps the easiest thing to find in New Orleans is fun. Around every corner on any given day is something for everyone, Jeffreys says. There are food and music festivals, great local theater, outdoor recreation such as fishing, boating and exploring the swamps, and enough restaurants and bars to appease anyone.
But, according to Jeffreys, there’s a lot more to New Orleans than what many people perceive. “There’s a wonderful attitude here that everything is about friends and family and fun. I know this is known as a party town, but there is more to it than that,” she says. “I’m not a big partier, and you don’t have to be one to live here.”
Tallying the cost of living: The cost of living in New Orleans falls just below the national average. Jeffreys says she doesn’t consider the cost of living high or low -- she thinks, generally, everything is reasonably priced.
What New Orleans really has to offer can’t be monetized, though. Despite all of what the city has been through, especially considering the effect Hurricane Katrina had on the city, New Orleans persists.
Even though we’ve got some problems -- and we're working on them -- I wouldn’t want to live any place else,” Jeffreys says. “New Orleans has gone through so many changes, and yet we’re still here. It speaks to something special about New Orleans, that we are strong, resilient, gregarious, spiritual. It’s like no other city on the entire planet.”
A town that is a true cornerstone of American history is Gettysburg, Pa. It’s rife with monuments, shrines and historic attractions that pay special tribute to the significant Battle of Gettysburg fought there during the American Civil War.
Mark Nesbitt, who has written several books about the ghosts of Gettysburg, understands this history quite well. “There were 51,000 casualties in three days,” Nesbitt says. “And they say when people die under violent, tragic circumstances, especially young people, they sometimes don’t know they’re dead, so their spirits remain.”
Creepy factor: It probably comes as no surprise that some of Gettysburg's most haunted places are located within the 6,000-acre battlefield. One place particularly riddled with paranormal activity is known as Devil's Den. A rocky area full of massive boulders, Devil's Den was the site of some of the most brutal fighting at Gettysburg. Shortly after the battle, a photographer took pictures of the scene, sometimes dragging bodies to different locations to get better shots. Because of the disrespectful way these men were treated after death, some say their souls were never able to find peace. Years later, visitors of Devil's Den sometimes report seeing an apparition dressed in the typical garb of a Texas infantryman, while photographers find that their cameras often malfunction when trying to take pictures.
Getting around: Because Gettysburg is such a small town -- with a population of only 7,490 in 2000 -- Nesbitt says it’s easiest to walk from place to place. And because the town is such a popular tourist destination, driving only clogs up the streets.
The biggest problem caused by the number of tourists who come to tour the battlefield and other Civil War attractions, Nesbitt says, is a shortage of parking spaces. Other than that, and a little bit of traffic that might delay you by about two minutes, getting around is a stitch, Nesbitt insists.
Owning a home: Currently, the average listing price of a home in Gettysburg is around $219,000. But, Nesbitt says, “Like everything else, it goes up and down, especially lately.”
Of course, there’s also an emphasis on historic homes in Gettysburg, especially after a push for preservation in the 1970s. Historic houses, while charming and beautiful, tend to be rather small, he says.
Finding fun: According to Nesbitt, one of the best perks about living in small-town Gettysburg is how easy it is to make friends. Everyone knows everyone, he says, which makes for a good time no matter how you pass the time.
But some of the ways locals do pass the time is going to bars, restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, local theaters and antique shops. There are also a lot of seasonal festivals, usually celebrating delicious fruits and foods, as well as horseback riding, bike trails and wineries just outside of town.
Tallying the cost of living: According to Nesbitt, he’s always considered the cost of living in Gettysburg to be very reasonable, and certainly nowhere near the cost of living in nearby big cities such as Washington, D.C. Overall, Gettysburg has a lot to offer -- history, character and even a ghost or two.
”It definitely has a unique atmosphere, but it’s a nice place to live,” Nesbitt says.
An eerie past and frequent reports of ghost sightings have earned Portland, Ore. a reputation as one of the most haunted cities in the Pacific Northwest. Diane Burns has heard her fair share of spooky stories in her 18 years as a Portland resident, but they don't deter her from thinking of the city as a beautiful place to live with lots to offer.
Creepy factor: Some of Portland's spookiest spots are the Willamette River, where a phantom rowboat is sometimes spotted, and Shanghai Tunnels, a network of underground passages connecting the city to the waterfront. According to popular legend, these tunnels were once used to kidnap, or "shanghai," unsuspecting victims to be sold into slavery. Today, the tunnels are open for tours and offer a unique glimpse into Portland's past.
"Although I've never been in those tunnels, people who have say there's something quite unnatural going on there," Burns says.
Getting around: Thanks to a light rail system, an extensive system of bike lanes and a boundary plan that has kept urban sprawl in check, it's easy to get around Portland, which is considered to be one of the greenest cities in the country. On the weekends, Burns says hundreds of cyclists take advantage of the city's bike trails. But locals do frequently rely on their cars as well to avoid Portland's rainy weather.
Owning a home: Burns says $400,000 can purchase a fabulous home in Portland. While she doesn't know of any particular Portland neighborhoods that are thought to be haunted, the city has clusters of old homes that are filled with history. For instance, she and her sister recently sold a house that was built in 1896. While living in the home for five years, her sister would occasionally notice a chandelier swaying inexplicably.
"It didn't frighten her, but it did make her raise her eyebrows and say, 'Hmm,'" she says.
Finding fun: For a relatively small city, Burns says Portland offers a wide range of world-class cultural attractions and dining, including the Portland Opera, the Oregon Symphony and the Laurelhurst Market Restaurant and Butcher Shop, which was voted one of the Top 10 Best New Restaurants of 2010 by Bon Appetite Magazine. From May through October, one of Portland's most popular destinations is the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Many of the city's major events are held here, including the Blues Festival, the Oregon Brewers Festival and the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta.
Pittock Mansion, an ornate, 22-room estate known as one of Portland's most haunted locations, is a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike -- Burns takes all of her visitors to see the home. While she has never had a spooky experience herself at the mansion, she's heard stories from those who have.
"I've talked to people who have done volunteer work there, and they've closed windows and found them open again an hour later," she says. "But Pittock Mansion is a beautiful home, so you would think that any ghost residing there would just have the lap of luxury," she says.
Tallying the cost of living: Although Portland's property taxes are fairly high, the lack of a sales tax is a nice perk of living in the city, Burns says. Overall, Burns considers Portland to be a more affordable option than other cities in the western United States.
"It's not San Francisco, it's not L.A., but it’s a beautiful town," she says. "When I first came here, I was amazed to see how clean they keep the city streets and how lush the forests are."