I’d love to hear from folks about the scariest places they’ve ever been. I’ve seen a lot of lists lately of the top most haunted sites, but frequently visited places just don’t seem to have much oomph to them viscerally. I have a list of my top 10 untapped favorites that left lasting impressions on the personal discomfort meter (not in order):
1. Aspen Grove. I can’t make a post about scariest places without mentioning the one that started my fascination with scary places, Aspen Grove, my childhood home. Actually, the outbuildings were pretty scary too including two carriages houses, a barn, and a stable, but the scariest place on the entire estate was the basement. Isn’t it always that way? We had a crawlspace in ours that went under the kitchen which was added on in the early 1900s. It had powdery silt and had about 3’ headroom so you had to crawl. We found some amazing relics in this crawlspace and all the black snakes liked to curl up there for the wintertime. We gave each other lots of space when moving around in there. One time, I set up my cot in the basement determined to face my greatest fear and sleep there completely alone. I put a radio on my father’s workbench and lay there looking at the ancient stonewalls and the mud-streaked concrete floor from all the flooding when it rained through the root cellar doors. The sense of being watched was so intense, I packed it up and left within a half hour. My mom used to store the canned goods down there and she’d ask for something for supper and I’d literally run the entire way, feeling something on my heels the whole time. I suppose fears begin in childhood, but that one made even the adults in the family shudder.
2. Big Bend Tunnel, Talcott, West Virginia (Summers County). Boy, this one’s a hard one to explain. My family had relatives in Summers County WV, so we traveled from VA there all the time. We went through this tunnel often and it has a huge statue of John Henry near it and a plaque. The minute we got even near the bend where you go into the tunnel, I’d start having a fit. The child inside of me knew something was wrong with it. I’d been through loads of tunnels in the DC area and New York and the Chesapeake, but this one little tunnel made me nearly hysterical. To this day, if I even think about it, I get shivers. I’d love to go back as an adult and try it out again but I know I’ll break into a sweat. I have no rational explanation for this, except as a kid my mom would ask me I told her the mountain was made of bad stones. That’s all I could voice about it. I tried to hold my breath because I actually thought if I inhaled, I’d take in some kind of evil. Once again, childhood creates the best fears to tackle.
3. The George Mason University-owned woods between Green Acres Elementary School and St. George’s Church on Roberts Road. I spent my entire childhood tromping through these woods, but there were certain parts of them I avoided at all costs. It wasn’t just that back then (early 70s) the college kids like to hike the paths and smoke pot, but it was more about the legends. There were a lot of spreading rumors about a man living in a shack out there who would abduct anyone who was silent. If you whistled, he’d run off and hide, but if you were quiet, he’d take you and make you his pet. Apparently, he hated noise??? I spent my childhood walking to the elementary school through those woods, whistling until my mouth went dry. There was a lot of history there on that land from the Civil War and the times of settlements and Native American citizens. The woods had a weird feel to them that was unlike any woods I’ve ever been in before. The feeling of being constantly watched, of being unsettled and lost in what direction you were headed, and the way the wind went through them… Gives me shivers even today. Yet another scary place from childhood.
4. Oregon City, OR. My next choice is Oregon City, Oregon. We went on a family trip here a couple years ago and we were driving along the bridge that leads into Oregon City. The town is powered by a hydroelectric plant on the river and along the bridge, fishermen had hung sturgeon (which look a lot like sharks). My husband passed it and I started getting a feeling like I was going to die if I didn’t go in there and feel the place. I said, “if you don’t pull over and turn around and go there, I’m going to jump out of the moving car.” Hubby was accommodating and swerved the car around and drove over the bridge. I’ve never felt a sensation like this in my entire life. As someone who’s used to being drawn to objects and places by psychic sensations, this place was off the charts. I couldn’t get my senses to slow down. It’s a tiny little village tucked into a hillside on the river and looks very industrial and bleak. I felt like someone who just found a past life hometown after reincarnation. I couldn’t explain it other than perhaps the river, the hydroelectric plant, and the rock… Something was there that was so strong that I vowed I would write a horror novel about this place. I’ve never seen a location more begging to be a doomed town. We left but I couldn’t shake the sensory overload. It was like being barraged by a thousand people’s thoughts all at once and trying to sort one out of the mix. I can feel this in crowds but can easily hone in on one or two people, not everyone at once as if they were a mass of zombies with the same master controlling their minds. I’ll never forget that place. It really left an impression like no other place, not even Salem could touch the power that place gives off.
5. Nimitz/Hinton, West Virginia. Hinton’s at the bottom of the mountain near the New River, Nimitz is atop the mountain. Both are equally freaky. I used it as the setting for the novel I’m writing called “The Thicket” because it just feels strangely as if the people are pod folks. They stare at you kind of strange and they act nice, but it’s like there’s someone else behind the eyes. We walked in the McDonald’s and literally the entire place went silent. We ended up eating on the porch. They’re highly religious and very close knit, so maybe that’s what’s going on, but the geology of the place and the rushing river makes for a very strange mix, a lot like Oregon City, OR. I have a lot family that for some insane reason settled there. When I was a kid, I’d cry when we had to visit. It felt like entering another dimension and I get an overwhelming sense of sadness. It’s like the land that time forgot. It’s really tucked away in SE West Virginia and you have to purposely go there to find it. In fact, a guy at the gas station took one look at us and said in a slow drawl, “ya’all take a wrong turn?” Yup!
6. Mt. St. Helens. This was one of those zen-like feelings when I was up there in all that devastated land for so many miles. I live in the desert, so open spaces like that with nothing much living are familiar, but this one felt like a burnt away history exposed and acute on chronic. I had the strangest feeling there. I wasn’t at all expecting it. I figured we’d go see the spot and the museum and take pictures and leave on our road trip, but what hit me was totally new. I felt that sensation some folks say they feel when they pass on and are revived back to life. A feeling of all-knowing, as if someone handed you the key to the universe and now you get “It” as in the collective knowledge of human beings on earth. It was very very strange and I felt sort of spiritually above all the petty stuff. Even the flight home I had no fear and I hate to fly. It lasted a few weeks. Every now and then I can recall the feeling, but man I’d like to live with that all the time, except I’d probably never get anything done.
7. Powhatan’s Chimney in Gloucester, Virginia. Supposedly this chimney is the remains of a house built for Powhatan by Captain John Smith. We stopped at this just about every time we headed to our summer home when I was a kid. I can’t explain the way this site made me feel. I was a sensitive kid but I usually blocked out places that were only mildly uneasy but ones that has something really powerful, I felt them full-on. I was pretty brave that way. I always became extremely quiet and respectful when we visited here. We visited hundreds of historic sites growing up, as mother was an historian and artist, but this one site gave me a feeling of a more ancient power. I don’t believe it was the chimney, but the land it was upon. I felt as if Native American spirits still sifted around the land there and watched us. I usually said goodbye when I left and that was not something I did for any other place. There's more spiritual energy in that small piece of land than I've felt anywhere and I've hit just about all the historic sites.
8. Law Cemetery, Pipestem, WV. West Virginia is honestly the scariest state I’ve ever been to in my entire life. At the same time, the most beautiful. And, once you get the people to warm up to you, they’re incredibly gracious. But, I’ve been visiting there since I was a small child and I’m in my mid 40s now and nothing has changed! I can still ride the same hillside tram at Pipestem Resort that I rode 40 years ago! That being said, there’s a cabin at the Pipestem resort. Cabin #5. It’s right beside a path that leads deep into the woods to a forgotten small cemetery called “Law Cemetery.” That is the creepiest feeling cabin, the creepiest woodland path, and the creepiest cemetery ever. In all my years of braving it as a ghost hunter, this was the first time I actually ran. My son and I thought it would be brave to turn off our flashlights on the path and stand there and listen. We had heard something walking parallel with us on two feet in the woods. We were starting to think Bigfoot. When it began to step with heavy steps again, we turned on our lights and literally ran. I felt so ashamed that I got hysterical, but everything inside of me was telling me that I’m being stalked. We walked the path every night to the cemetery while we stayed there. It was the bravest walk ever.
9. Joshua Tree Monument, CA. When I was pregnant with my son, hubby thought it would be fun to go camping (with morning sickness and a tent zipper that kept sticking). Well, I braved it out because I wanted to do some paintings of Joshua Tree Monument. It’s a lonely place in the California desert that is all huge boulders and Joshua tree plants which look like sad zombies drooping in the heat. There’s some trickling streams and a whole lot of rock climbers there. But, there’s also something in the geology of the land that’s very very unsettling. My dreams were extremely vivid there and my energy levels very high. It was like a fountain of youth or something. I had a headache the first day which I usually do when the land is really powerful, like in Sedona, but by the second day I felt invincible. Even with morning sickness until 4 in the afternoon, I was up for hiking and exploring. At night the coyotes go nuts around the campgrounds and the howling gets to you, but the shapes of the Joshua Tree plants and the giant boulders reminds me of “The Hills Have Eyes.” You’re on the alert there, but when you leave you feel strangely 10 years younger. Someone really should put a spa there!
10. Sedona, Arizona. I almost considered listing Jerome, but Sedona has a geology that surpasses even that mining town on the mountaintop. Sedona, Arizona will give you a serious headache the first day you're there. Almost everyone feels it. By the second day, you're ready to hike the canyons and streams and the red rocks in search of vortices. The airport vortex is my personal obsession. I understand it's the male vortex, so maybe it just says something about my mind's preoccupations, but I am seriously drawn to it. Every time I go there, my mind goes completely blank and I feel like I was just re-booted. All the glitches are gone and everything is running smoothly. I've since learned to bring an offering and leave it (many folks do). I let myself meditate and then to get me reorganized on the right path, I hold something in my hand that represents what I want to focus on for the next year. I go to the Oak Creek and I think about that goal, getting it really focused in my mind, and toss the object into the creek. Don't worry. I don't pollute. I usually take a rock with a word scribbled in charcoal on it. So far, perhaps its the subconscious, but every goal I set in that spot, I achieved within a few months of leaving there. When I go to send my novel in to the publisher--I'm going back again--you bet ya!