The sun sets over Mansfield, Ohio, and a group of ghost hunters ventures into The Ohio State Reformatory’s East Cell Block. Gloom infuses the six-story stack of prison cells bearing rusted bed frames and ribbons of peeling paint, but no actual people. The prison closed to inmates in 1990; it’s been reincarnated as a movie set for films like The Shawshank Redemption. In this cell block, a tour guide says, prison guard Frank Hanger was killed in a 1932 prison break. For decades, prisoners and guards have sworn they saw his ghost making rounds. The group pauses, watching for Frank. When he doesn’t appear, they move on to The Hole, the bleak solitary confinement block.
The approach of Halloween makes haunted (or “haunted”) destinations especially appealing, and ghost-tour season kicks into high gear. But not all ghost tours are created equal. Tours like the ones above offer creepy locations, engagingly told stories or enough lighthearted jokes to keep tourists entertained, with or without spectral sights.
Missouri State Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Missouri For more than 150 years, felons spent time behind this prison’s brick walls, and many never escaped them. Public or private tours explain why the prison became known as the bloodiest 47 acres in America and include tales of mysterious sounds, shadows and chills in the air. (866) 998-6998; missouripentours.com
The Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio During the day, video kiosks throughout the prison relay tales of strange shadows to visitors on self-guided tours. A few times each month, two-hour ghost walks embark at twilight; the guides share details of murders and apparitions. Tickets sell out quickly. (419) 522-2644; mrps.org
Springfield Walks, Springfield, Illinois Lincoln’s Ghost Walk: Legends and Lore weaves facts about Abraham Lincoln’s life with tales of séances and prophecies. Stops during the lantern-lit walk include the law office where Lincoln started his career and the 1861 Lincoln family home. (217) 502-8687; springfieldwalks.com
Wabasha Street Caves, Saint Paul Costumed characters (a mad Nurse and scythe-toting Death, perhaps) lead the Caves and Graves tours through Minnesota’s capital. Start with ghost hunts at the Wabasha Street Caves, then continue with a bus tour combining city history, stops at haunted sites and corny jokes (such as “Here lies an atheist; all dressed up and no place to go”). There are few legitimate scares, but lots of campy fun. (651) 224-1191; wabashastreetcaves.com