Depending on your beliefs, it’s not hard to imagine that in a city as old as Philadelphia, there could be plenty of paranormal residue still hanging around after years of battles and a real smorgasbord of historical happenings.
It’s all believable to John Levy, a Philadelphia Police Department veteran and longtime paranormal investigator with Olde City Paranormal, which he cofounded in 2009. The group has investigated scores of local homes and historical locations up to and including City Hall itself (where people have reported seeing a young girl on the second floor). Sometimes, they even lead public investigations and seminars that bring members of the public in on the action.
Far from a farce, the work is taken seriously by Levy and his investigators, some of whom are also police officers. And Levy says he and his team have observed plenty of the paranormal, from unexplained voices and noises to shadow figures.
“When people think their place is haunted, I guess they expect me to laugh at them,” Levy says. “But one of my responses always is, ‘Well, you do know you live in Philadelphia, right?’”
And, sure, you may be a skeptic — after all, science is important and it’s natural to want evidence. But Levy loves to have people like you along for the ride.
“I love having skeptics there because if something is going to happen, nine times out of 10, it happens to them,” he says. “When it comes down to it and you try every angle to try to debunk what you captured, and you can’t do it, what’s your explanation at that point?”
» READ MORE: Broad & Eerie: Hunting for ghosts in City Hall.
But whether or not you believe in the paranormal — or even if it’s not Halloween — there are certainly plenty of places in the region that are rumored to be haunted, or have been home to reported ghostly occurrences. And at some of them, you can book a paranormal investigation, or go along for a public ghost tour or event — or at least give yourself the willies just reading about it.
So, here, we’ve rounded up a few (supposedly) haunted spots in Philly, the ‘burbs, and New Jersey. Read on, if you dare:
Since he first started investigating here nearly a decade ago with his Free Spirit Paranormal Investigators (FSPI) outfit, Frank Cassidy says he has seen enough unexplained occurrences to call it “very active.” Shadow play, moans, groans, whispering, shapes, and figures walking through the cemetery — FSPI has reportedly seen it all during their public and private investigations at Laurel Hill. But given that the cemetery is home to about 77,000 graves, and has been interring the dead since 1836, that should come as no surprise to believers.
Every paranormal buff knows this Revolutionary War-era fort, considering that it describes itself as one of the most haunted places in the country. One reason: The Screaming Lady. Supposedly, she’s the ghost of Elizabeth Pratt, a woman who lived with her husband and daughter in the fort’s officers’ quarters, and reportedly died by suicide after disowning her daughter for falling in love with a soldier. Today, many visitors claim to have heard her wailing — and, Levy says, there have even been police reports made over hearing female screams from Fort Mifflin.
As one of the most famed spots on this list, Eastern State Penitentiary has been featured on shows like Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters for its paranormal activity — and, as Cassidy puts it, it’s another “very active” site. After all, it describes itself as “the world’s first true ‘penitentiary’ ” and was an active prison from 1829 to 1970, housing thousands of incarcerated people. At Halloween, you can still take a spooky nighttime visit for some of its Halloween Nights activities, like the After Dark CB3 Tour, which has a guide lead you through cell block 3, the prison’s former hospital block. While the site still does lean into the macabre for Halloween, its regular exhibits are a different kind of haunting, focusing on the all-too-real horrors of mass incarceration.
Philly is the birthplace of the United States, and much of the birthing took place at what is now Independence National Historical Park — home to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and other historic spots. But if you believe the tales told on the Spirits of ‘76 Ghost Tour, ghosts abound almost as much as history does. One of tour founder Jonathan Bari’s favorite spots is Carpenters Hall, where the First Continental Congress met in 1774 — but, given reported incidents of unexplained sounds and smells, and even phantom footprints, there could be a lot still going on.
Set in beautiful Burholme Park in Northeast Philly, this Italianate-style mansion from 1859 today is home to a wonderful free library and museum with artifacts from around the world, thanks to original owner Joseph Ryerss, a railroad tycoon and merchant, and his son, Robert. But there may also be some supernatural inhabitants. As Levy says, the only time he ever captured what he calls video evidence of the paranormal — in the form of a shadow figure in Robert’s former bedroom area — was right here in 2009.
Historically, this ship is perhaps best known as the one that carried home the remains of the Unknown Soldier from France 100 years ago this year. Docked today at the Independence Seaport Museum, it’s also something of a paranormal icon, thanks to years of reported ghostly experiences, recordings, and photos from believers — many of which happened in the ship’s engine and boiler rooms. The most famous ghost is reportedly Navy coxswain John Johnson, who was killed when a 6,000-pound gun barrel landed on him during a firing trial in 1895.
Dating to the 1700s, Graeme Park is the former home of physician and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas Graeme, and is, according to Levy, very haunted — particularly Keith House, where he says he and his team have observed plenty of paranormal activity on investigations. In one incident, Levy says, his wife felt something come over her and temporarily couldn’t move (that incident, he adds, turned her from a skeptic to a believer). But who is the haunter? Well, it could be Graeme’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, who has been rumored to be haunting the grounds since her death in 1801.
As the site of the Continental Army’s winter encampment during the Revolutionary War, this famed park has seen its fair share of real-life horrors — some of which, some say, have left a ghostly, paranormal residue some 240 years later. After all, about 2,000 soldiers died as a result of the hardships they endured there, even though no battle was fought. Stories of spectral soldiers wandering the area, phantom campfires, and sounds of unexplained musket fire have all been reported throughout the years.
This historic Levittown mansion goes all the way back to the late 1600s and served as the home of Phineas Pemberton, chief administrator to William Penn in Bucks County. But is it haunted? Well, according to the Friends of Bolton Mansion, paranormal activity has been reported there for more than 50 years, including sightings of a ghostly young girl gazing out of a window in the building’s second floor, an apparition in a white dress walking the grounds, and a spectral feline figure stalking the home.
Located south of New Hope near Washington Crossing Historic Park, this otherwise gorgeous covered bridge, built in 1875, has the grisly legend of being a so-called “crybaby bridge.” As the story goes, a young woman once had a baby (possibly out of wedlock, depending on who is telling the tale) and ended up killing both the child and herself at this bridge. It’s dubious whether or not this is actual history — the story doesn’t specify when this happened, or who the woman was — so this could really be a morality tale dressed up as a meant-to-scare-you urban legend. Supposedly, Atlas Obscura reports, if you park in the center of the bridge, you can still hear the cries from that fateful night, though, while you look for ghosts, it’s not a bad idea to also look at the social attitudes that have let this legend endure.
In September 1777, this Revolutionary War site saw British forces execute a surprise attack on Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne’s troops in the dead of night in what is known as the Paoli Massacre. At least 53 American soldiers were killed, and 52 were buried in a mass grave while another was reportedly buried somewhere on the battlefield. Today, the park is home to paranormal tours that investigate its “hot spots” where paranormal activity, such as ghostly voices, has been reported.
At 171 feet, this spot is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey — but it could also be one of the most haunted. Among the first paranormal stories about the lighthouse is one from 1909, in which a keeper reportedly saw the Jersey Devil himself perched at the top of the structure, and even fired a shotgun at the figure. In the years since, others have reported spirit sightings and phantom footsteps, among other alleged occurrences.
» READ MORE: Scaring up a better list of Philly's 'ghosts.'
Jonathan Bari, founder of The Constitutional Walking Tour and the Spirits of ‘76 Ghost Tour.
John Levy, co-founder of Olde City Paranormal.
Frank Cassidy, founder of Free Spirit Paranormal Investigators.