Lonely abandoned chair waiting at the abandoned Pennhurst Asylum. Photo via Mark Gaudlip / Shutterstock
Lonely abandoned chair waiting at the abandoned Pennhurst Asylum. Photo via Mark Gaudlip / Shutterstock

It’s spooky season time—but these historical sites are believed to be haunted year round.

Pennsylvania has a rich and storied history, and wherever you find rich and storied histories, you’re also bound to encounter a ghost or two hanging around to ensure history is not forgotten. That means in the fall, you’ll find plenty of haunted houses designed to scare and entertain visitors around Halloween. 

But there are many locations in Pennsylvania that are believed to be genuinely haunted, year round.

At these five historical sites throughout the state, people frequently report paranormal activity and spooky, unexplained things happening. If you’re brave enough, you can visit any of them.

Pennhurst Asylum, Spring City

Pennhurst is an abandoned insane asylum. Originally known as the State Institution for Epileptics and Feeble Minded, it was founded in 1908 and remained in operation until 1987. For decades it was overcrowded and its residents suffered cruel and inhumane treatment. It wasn’t until the late 1960s when Bill Baldini, a Philadelphia TV reporter, produced an expose titled “Suffer the Little Children,” that the horrific conditions of the previous 60 years came to light. 

The asylum is now considered a hotbed of paranormal activity. Trvl Channel reports that the buildings and tunnels are “haunted by the angry spirits of patients who suffered and died there.” 

Despite the documented atrocities that happened on the property, today Pennhurst is a tourist attraction. Particularly in the fall, tens of thousands of people purchase tickets to tour the asylum, the tunnels, and the morgue when they’re turned into a haunted attraction. 

Mishler Theatre, Altooona

Photo via Magicpiano / Creative Commons

Altoona’s Mishler Theater is haunted enough to have garnered the attention of the guys behind the reality TV show Ghost Hunters, who visited the theater in 2004. Isaac Charles Mishler built the theater in the early 1900s, spending his life involved with it until he died in 1944. He’s buried nearby, but many believe his spirit visits the theater often. There are numerous reports of sightings of ghostly figures, spotlights on the stage turned on inexplicably, and the aroma of Mishler’s cigar smoke in the air. 

Civil War Ghosts reports that a young girl named Madeleine Letsche frequently spoke to a man who wore all sorts of hats when she accompanied her mother who worked at the theater. The man would tell her about the history of the building, but there was no living man at the theater who fit her description. It’s generally believed that Mishler’s ghost was reminiscing with the girl.

The beautiful, old theater is still in operation, putting on plays, musicals, concerts, and other events. 

Ax Murder Hollow, Millcreek Township

The story varies depending on who is telling it, but it goes something like this: About 70 years ago, a husband killed his wife—whom he believed to be unfaithful—and their children with an ax. There’s no proof it happened, police have no record of the murder according to Go Erie, but it doesn’t stop the locals from reporting that they see a ghostly farmer at night or that their car engines stall out at the same time there are eerie sounds coming from the woods of the Weis Library area of Millcreek Township.

Some call the man Billy the Butcher. Birds won’t chirp on the side of the road where the farmhouse supposedly was, others point out. There was 30-minute movie produced in 2003 based on the reported paranormal activity, aptly titled “Ax Murder Hollow.” Whether the original grizzly killings happened or not, the urban legend lives on and people purposely go into the woods, hoping to catch a glimpse of a ghostly ax murderer and perhaps the family he murdered. 

Cresson State Sanatorium, Cresson

Built in the 1910s, the sanatorium reportedly housed over 40,000 tuberculosis victims, many of whom died of the disease. Their dead bodies would be carried through tunnels to the morgue and burned in an incinerator or placed in unmarked graves. Decades later the property became a prison, housing violent criminals. Several of the existing structures are sites of frequent paranormal activity, believed to be the souls of those who died painful deaths there, particularly the Maple Building that housed children with TB, the morgue, the death tunnels, and an old chapel. 

The current property owners use a portion of the land to build hydroponic equipment and grow hydroponic produce and hemp as well as develop sustainable energy projects. But, to offset some of the costs, a portion of the former prison grounds is now the Imaginarium Sanitarium, a massive haunted attraction where you can feel the fear, if you buy tickets. 

Washington Square, Philadelphia

Photo via Bovineone / Creative Commons

By day, you’ll find families picnicking in Washington Square in the Old City section of Philadelphia. By night, you may cross paths with the ghosts of those who were given unceremonious burials in the field. 

From 1704 to 1794, the square was a potter’s field for those considered unworthy of Christian burial. According to Ghost City Tours, a Quaker woman named Leah is one of the ghosts many people believe they encounter. Buried there because she committed suicide, Leah now roams the square with her lantern, watching over others. Some of the other specters are thought to be Revolutionary War soldiers—a Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier memorial honors those in the mass graves—and victims of the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic.

Anyone can visit Washington Square on their own, day or night, or take a guided ghost tour at night. Wander beyond Washington Square, and there are several other haunted spots in Old City including Elfreth’s Alley and Independence Hall.

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