There are some frightening sites within easy reach of New York City — think haunted houses, creepy castles, and even the “gates of hell” itself.
Ironically, they’re usually situated in picturesque towns whose well-preserved main streets and friendly merchants make you want to stick around. With Halloween in mind, here’s a bone-chilling guide to some of our favorite fright-filled attractions that make for great day trips or weekend getaways.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
Once the most expensive prison in the world, Eastern State Penitentiary (2027 Fairmount Ave., easterstate.org) fell into ruin after closing in 1971. Today, it’s run by a nonprofit foundation that offers guided tours, education around corrections — and a haunted house called Terror Behind the Walls that taps the scare potential of the jail’s infirmary, machine shop and other rooms. It’s not all make-believe; even the prison’s new overseers acknowledge frequent ghost sightings, and dozens of paranormal investigators comb the place every year.
Breaking out of Eastern leaves you steps from Spring Garden, one of Philadelphia’s most distinct neighborhoods. Philly Flavors (2005 Fairmount Ave., phillyflavors.com) makes a sweet escape, with homemade ice cream, funnel cakes and the signature waffle-ice cream sandwich. A short walk west leads you to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., philamuseum.org), one of the nation’s most acclaimed museums. You’ll pass the famous “Rocky” steps on the way in, so raise your fists in tribute. Philadelphia is less than 100 miles from the Big Apple.
Ledge Lighthouse, New London, CT
Say hi to Ernie if you visit the Ledge Lighthouse (ledgelighthouse.org) in New London, Conn., one of the most beautiful on the state’s coast. Or maybe not; Ernie’s the ghost of a former lighthouse keeper who offed himself after learning of his wife’s escapades with a ferry captain. Over the years, according to the website Damned Connecticut, Ernie’s vengeful spirit has reportedly punked locals by snatching tools, unmooring boats and blasting foghorns.
Snake Hill, Secaucus, NJ
An ad executive on a train is said to have created Prudential Financial’s rock logo after seeing Snake Hill, the 150-foot rock formation that juts from New Jersey’s lowlands. These days, the mountain’s surrounded by leafy Laurel Hill Park (secaucusnj.gov), which makes for a beautiful outing on a sunny fall day, just 11 miles from the Big Apple.
But locals know the hill’s sinister history. In the late 19th century, an enormous psychiatric hospital occupied the site — and turned adjacent grounds into an illicit human dumping ground. When construction began on a nearby train station in 1962, thousands of coffins and corpses surfaced. Tales of restless ghosts have even attracted the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” crew.
These days, it’s the range of shopping options that’ll freak you out. Secaucus’ famous outlets, more than 100 stores (visitnj.org/city/secaucus), with brands like Gucci and Kenneth Cole, could easily fill an entire day. Fuel up on flawless Italian at elegant Bareli’s (219 Rt 3 E., barelisrestaurantandbar.com), which locals laud as the town’s best. And plan your visit to coincide with a Giants game or concert at MetLife Stadium (metlifestadium.com), three miles north.
Gates of Hell, Clifton, NJ
Turnpike traffic might make you think New Jersey’s hell on earth. But in Clifton, it’s the truth. The Gates of Hell (weirdnj.com/stories/gates-of-hell) is a seven-level deep tangle of sewers and drainpipes you explore by descending a ladder. These connecting tubes are covered with Satanic graffiti — and are said to contain remains of sacrifices, like bones and feathers. A spray-painted sign helpfully points out that you’ve entered the Gates of Hell. According to the Atlas Obscura site, the underground rooms are still used for meetups by devil-worshippers.
Clifton’s also got a little piece of heaven: The Hot Grill (669 Lexington Ave.,thehotgrill.org), which has been slinging plump Texas wieners, juicy burgers and superb homemade chili since 1961. Look for its iconic hot-dog-in-Western-gear sign. Walk off the pounds at the nearby Clifton Arts Center (Clifton Ave. at Van Houten Ave., cliftonnj.org), a sculpture park and gallery set in a complex of historic barns. Clifton’s just 18 miles from New York City.
Raynham Hall Museum, Oyster Bay, Long Island
Spread across a historic 20-room house, the fascinating Raynham Hall Museum (20 W. Main St., raynhamhallmuseum.org), offers an enchanting look at Long Island life through the centuries. But its Revolutionary-War history means it’s got some very longtime residents. According to HauntedPlaces.org, phenomena here have included a phantom white horse and rider, a courtly male spirit and the sound of swishing petticoats on stairways.
Oyster Bay, 36 miles from NYC, offers plenty to shake off the ghosts, including the sprawling Bailey Arboretum, (194 Bayville Road., baileyarboretum.org), whose lush trails, grounds and gardens offer a fascinating immersion into nature — including the world’s largest dawn redwood tree. The rather civilized Wild Honey Dining & Wine (1 E. Main St., wildhoneyrestaurant.com) makes a tasty re-entry into the real world, with signatures like goat-cheese ravioli and iron-skillet mussels.
Wing’s Castle, Millbrook, NY
You might recognize this stone castle (wingscastle.com) — right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales — from HGTV’s “Extreme Homes.” Artists Toni Ann and her husband, the late Peter Wing, lovingly restored it as a B & B over 40 years, using 85 percent salvaged materials from antique buildings. But this picturesque property has a spine-tingling side. A dungeon suite situates you underground, where no one can hear you through thick walls. And Toni Ann has never explained why she took an ax to a goat-headed ornament in a castle wall years ago.
The village of Millbrook, in Dutchess County, is a pretty regal setting for the castle, and a terrific day trip just 80 miles north of New York City. After nibbling on salade nicoise at Parisian-style bistro Les Baux (152 Church St.,cafelesbaux.com), browse the shelves at Merritt Bookstore (57 Front St.,merrittbookstore.com), an honest-to-God indie book shop with a terrific little gallery tucked upstairs. Then motor to Millbrook Vineyards (26 Wing Road, millbrookwine.com) for a tour and tastings of award-winning wines.haun
Categorised in: haunted
This post was written by Nadia Vella