12 Real Ghost Stories That Will Send Shivers Down Your Spine

Updated: Jun. 26, 2024

Calling on only the bravest and boldest of ghost hunters. These scary stories are not for the faint of heart.

The best ghost stories feel so real, so believable and so utterly chilling that they virtually guarantee you at least one night (if not more) spent tossing and turning while listening for creaking floors and the sound of ghostly moaning. Of course, that is the paradox inherent in scary stories. The better they are, the worse you’ll sleep at night.

In the spirit of the season, we’ve rounded up some spooky stories—all of them based on true events—that are guaranteed to haunt you. So turn off the lights (if you’re brave enough) and get ready for horror stories so real and so terrifying that you won’t sleep through the night.

The Little Hands

“I’ve never lived in a haunted house, but my mother did as a teen,” writes Reddit.com user PatentedSpaceHook, recounting a true event. “Other houses on her street had strange things going on too. A few homes away from her lived a family. One night, the daughter went to bed with a bad headache. The next day, she was dead—she’d passed away from an aneurysm.

“After her funeral, the family went away to get their minds off the tragedy, and the father asked my uncle—my mom’s brother—to check on their pets. My mom and dad (who were dating at the time) went with him; my mother had heard there was a grand piano, and she wanted to play it. My dad was studying to be a veterinarian.

“After entering the house, my uncle and my father headed to the basement to see the animals, and my mother went to the piano on the ground floor. She was playing it when she felt something brush her ankles. She thought a cat must have left the basement and walked past her. She kept playing. And then she felt it again.

“She looked under the piano and saw nothing. When she started again, she felt hands clasp her legs tightly. She dashed to the basement door, called my uncle and father, and waited for them. Back outside, my uncle could tell my mom was rattled and asked what was wrong.

“She told him what had happened, and he turned white. He told her the daughter who had died used to play a game with her father. When he played the piano, she’d crawl underneath, grab his ankles and push his feet up and down on the pedals.”

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The Phantom Patient

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“The ambulance company that I used to work for had a ‘haunted’ ambulance: rig 12,” recounts Reddit.com user Zerbo.A lot of EMTs had stories about it, but I never put much stock in paranormal stuff. That is, until I had my own experience with rig 12.

“My partner and I were working in a rural community at 3 a.m., and it was pitch dark and completely quiet. We were both dozing; I was in the driver’s seat, and she was in the passenger seat. I woke up to a muffled voice, but I thought my partner was talking. I told her I was trying to sleep and closed my eyes. I distinctly heard a male voice say, ‘Oh my God, am I dying?’ followed by a few seconds of heavy breathing. My partner and I sat up straight and looked back into the patient compartment, where it sounded like the voice had come from.

“Things were quiet for a couple of seconds; then we heard the click of an oxygen-bottle regulator and a hiss, as if it was leaking. I turned on the lights, and we ran out of the rig. I thought a transient might have climbed in while we were asleep, so we opened the rear doors. No one was there. I checked the oxygen bottles; neither was opened. We didn’t sleep much after that.”

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The Impish Ghost

“My neighbor Diane and I had a playful poltergeist for years, and we called it Billy.” So begins Reddit.com user abbys_alibi in their real-life ghost story. “I’d come home and find something put in a weird place: milk in a cupboard, toilet paper in the fridge, laundry detergent in the bathtub. Diane once called to ask if Billy had been around, because she couldn’t find a gallon of milk. We finally found it outside on her back steps. And sugar … darn sugar! Every morning, my sugar bowl was empty.

“When I’d had enough, I would point to Diane’s home and yell, ‘Go see Diane!’ Within five minutes, I’d get a call from her. ‘Thanks a lot,’ she’d say. He’d gone and pulled shenanigans at her place. This occurred for the entire two years we lived there. No one believed us—not even our husbands. My mother thought someone was stealing from us when we were sleeping or out of the house. My sister believed something was going on but didn’t know what. I still can’t explain any of it.”

If these real-life ghost stories have you feeling eerie, indulge in some fictional frights with the best Halloween movies on Hulu.

The Eerie Attic

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Before Reddit.com user Digsdaws got down to recounting their scariest of ghost stories—about living in a place that was obviously teaming with honest-to-goodness members of the spiritual world—they pointed out the irony of ghost stories that begin with the phrase, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but …” After all, no matter how a ghost story begins, it always hinges on the notion that, come on, of course we believe in ghosts!

“A few years ago, I moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Melbourne, Australia,” they went on to recall. “It was my first time living on my own. The apartment block had been built in the 1930s. I’d been there for a few months when I came home from work one day and went into the bathroom. I saw something strange: A wooden board, which had covered a hole in the ceiling that led to a small attic space, lay fractured in two pieces on the ground. I examined the pieces. The board was an inch thick, and it would have taken Bruce Lee to break it. I thought the landlord had sent someone to work on the attic. I was frozen stiff with fear. Someone is up there for sure, I thought.

“I emailed pictures to the landlord, asking if anyone had been there (with an undertone of annoyance, since she hadn’t warned me). Her reply read, ‘Please call me as soon as you are able to.’ I called, and she explained that her last two tenants had said the same thing happened. She promised to replace the board, and she did.

“A month later, I woke up one night around 4 a.m. My body was covered in goose bumps. It felt like someone was rubbing his or her hands on me. Everything was silent, but then I heard a dragging sound coming from above my bed. It was as if someone was pulling a sack of potatoes. I froze, convinced someone was up there. There is no way an animal could make that sound. After five minutes, I worked up the courage to turn on the light, armed myself with a cricket bat and walked to the bathroom.

“That’s when I saw that the new board covering the hole was broken in two! I felt sick. The dragging sound had stopped. But I heard something else: whispering. The sound was clear and coming from the attic. It sounded like children’s voices, and I could hear one sentence repeated over and over: ‘It’s your turn … It’s your turn …’

“I switched on every light in the apartment to make things feel normal. It was 5 a.m. and dark outside. I watched TV to try to unwind. Then a fuse blew. My pet budgie, Dexter, whom I kept in the kitchen, usually never made a sound at night, but he started squawking like he was being strangled. I’d never heard him make those sorts of noises—he was screaming. I grabbed my car keys, ran out, sat in my car and waited there until the sun came up.

“When I saw people walking their dogs, this comforted me enough to go back in. The front door was open, but I figured I might’ve forgotten to close it when I ran out. I went to the kitchen to check on Dexter, but he wasn’t in his cage.

“I felt sick again. All my windows were closed, so I looked everywhere inside. When I walked to the bathroom, I heard splashing. Dexter was half drowned in the toilet! I took him out, washed him and dried him. I was so confused. At 8 a.m., I called the landlord and gave her a watered-down version of the night. ‘Oh, wow, you heard the whispering too!’ she said.

“I stayed in that apartment for another 18 months. I heard the whispering on a few occasions, and twice the board covering the hole in the ceiling moved. Although I live elsewhere now, the landlord recently called. She said that her new tenants had begged to speak with me about some of the stuff that’s been going on there. Forget it—it’s their problem now.

Now that you’ve got the chills from these scary stories, browse these Halloween quotes for more thrills.

The Boy with No Eyes

“One night when I was 10, I was woken up by my bedroom door opening, followed by someone sitting on my bed,” Reddit.com user kmendo4 recalls of a childhood brush with a very persistent ghostly apparition. “I felt my leg grazed and the bed sink under a person’s weight. It’s just Mom, I thought, and I opened my eyes.

“It was not my mom. I found an eyeless boy—he had black, empty sockets—about my age sitting at the foot of my bed. He extended his hand, and in it was a little box. I was startled but reached out. He pulled back. I reached again and said, ‘Give it.’ Then I blinked, and when I reopened my eyes, he was gone. But I could still see the imprint where he’d sat on my bed.

“Fast-forward five years. My girlfriend came over to do homework. After she finished, she took a nap while she waited for her parents. When they arrived, I tried waking her up. She opened her eyes suddenly, looking up at a corner where the wall met the ceiling. She pointed there and went back to sleep. I shook her again. She came to full consciousness, and I explained what she’d done. She looked haunted. ‘Up on the wall, I saw a little boy with no eyes. He was there, in a Spider-Man pose, staring at me.’ I freaked out and told her my story about the same kid.

“Fast-forward another five years. I was with the same girlfriend, and we had a 2-year-old. We were living in my parents’ house, in my old room. My daughter started waking up at the same time every night, and she’d talk. After a while, I noticed she had almost the same conversation every night. I playfully asked her once whom she was talking to. She said, ‘It’s a little boy. He’s nice. He’s lost and looking for his mommy.’ My daughter’s nightly conversations continued until we got our own place later that year.”

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The Red Lady of Huntingdon College

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Here is a story that dates back to 1910, but almost any student at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, should recognize it. That’s because the events that led up to it are said to have actually happened. As the story goes, in 1910, a young woman who was new to the school was known for her love of the color red. Sadly, she was also known for being “strange” and a “loner.”

As the first term got underway, the young woman grew increasingly isolated. Eventually, she took her life by slashing her wrists. Her body was discovered in a red gown, drenched in blood. From then on, students and faculty have been reporting sightings of a young woman dressed all in red. She’s appeared all around the college’s campus. The figure, dwelling in perpetual isolation, is often cited as a reminder of the importance of being kind to one’s peers.

Now that you’ve read one of Alabama’s ghost stories, don’t miss these scary urban legends from every state.

The Ashley Street Ghost

Huntingdon College is just one of many haunted colleges in America, each with its own ghost stories. This next true tale comes from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The haunting happened in 1972, at a party hosted by University of Michigan students living on Ashley Street. A 15-year-old girl, who probably had no business being there in the first place, suddenly felt a “strange, bone-chilling cold,” according to The Michigan Daily.

In an attempt to warm up, she went upstairs (because heat rises, we guess). That’s when things really went awry. One of the walls of the house started moving, and a black shadow approached the girl. Meanwhile, downstairs, posters were spontaneously popping off the walls and falling into a growing pile on the floor.

The girl wandered back downstairs, where she found herself saying these strange words: “The drugs and addiction were my fault, and I accept responsibility for that, but I was not that way deep down inside. I want to apologize to everyone involved for what I have done.” What made those words even stranger was that the girl did not do drugs, let alone have an addiction.

Her words didn’t seem all that strange to the students who lived in the house though. Before they moved in, the house had been inhabited by a man with a very serious addiction. The reason he no longer lived there? He had died of a heroin overdose. Has the ghost of Ashley Street made any more appearances? That remains a mystery worthy of the most memorable horror stories.

The Ghost of Frederick Jordan

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This real-life ghost story concerns a man named Frederick Jordan, who held one of the most lonely and desolate jobs in existence. Jordan was the lighthouse keeper for Penfield Reef Lighthouse off the coast of Fairfield, Connecticut.

Built in 1874, the Lighthouse was primarily a way of warning ships of a treacherous, hidden reef responsible for more than its fair share of harbor accidents. In 1916, Frederick Jordan was the head lighthouse keeper. Tragically, he drowned in a boating accident just before Christmas of that year, when he was caught in a gale while rowing home to see his family.

Ever since then, lighting and equipment malfunctions in the lighthouse have been blamed on Jordan’s spiritual presence. But even more chilling is that keepers of the Penfield Reef Lighthouse often find the lighthouse logbook open to the day Jordan died. And locals have recounted witnessing an unidentifiable figure appearing on the water to help stray boats find their way to safety near the reef.

The Ghost Who Came to Play

This true ghost story might strike you as more “aw” than “eek”—but only until you consider that we really have no idea what our four-legged friends can sense that we cannot, including the scariest of scary stories. Can dogs see ghosts? Well, there are plenty of dog experts out there, including veterinarians, who will attest to the fact that there’s “lots of documentation that could support the notion that dogs can sense paranormal activity,” as Jesus Aramendi, DVM, a senior veterinarian for Chewy, put it.

And then there’s the fact that this story came to Reader’s Digest directly from a well-known psychic medium, Kristy Robinett, who has used her ghost-whispering skills to help detectives solve confounding cases.

“Marlene settled onto her side of the bed and patted Jack’s pillow beside her,” Robinett told Reader’s Digest. “A year had gone by, but Marlene was still adjusting to widowhood. Maybe it was crazy to think that after 40 years of marriage, she would ever adjust. Elmer the golden retriever seemed to understand this from the very first. That cold, moonless night when Marlene returned, alone, from the hospital, Elmer did something he’d never done before. He jumped up onto Jack’s side of the bed and lay his head on the pillow.

“Jack would never have allowed it,” Robinett pointed out, “but Marlene didn’t shoo him off. Instead, she lay down beside Elmer and let the peaceful sound of his snoring lull her to sleep. The next night was the same, and the night after that.

“Over the past year, it had grown into a comforting routine. But not tonight. Tonight was the first time Elmer had left Marlene alone in the bed since Jack’s passing. But hearing nails clicking on the wood floor downstairs, Marlene recognized the sound of Elmer requesting ‘outsies.’ With a sigh, Marlene made her way down the stairs to the foyer. But Elmer wasn’t pacing in front of the big oak door. Rather, he was dancing. And wagging. And wiggling and bowing. Just like he used to do when Jack would come home from work.”

To Marlene, it felt as if Jack had just come home, and Robinett, who is known for her intuition about these things, believes that is, indeed, what happened.

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The Lost Colony of Roanoke

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Roanoke Colony was one of the first European settlements in the United States. Located on an island off the coast of what is now the state of North Carolina, the colony was established in 1587 under the auspices of the first Queen Elizabeth. Soon after, the colony’s leader, John White, returned to England, where the settlers came from.

His trip was meant to be brief. He was only meant to grab supplies and return to the new world. But political upheaval (in the form of England’s war with Spain) prevented White from returning until 1590. It was only three years, but a lot had changed when John White returned. In fact, the entire colony—consisting, at the time, of 115 people, including a newborn baby by the name of Virginia Dare—was gone. Just up and vanished. All that was left was a post onto which the word Croatoan had been carved.

“Croatoan” referred to the name of a native tribe that had been on good terms with the settlers. So White thought the colonists had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras, North Carolina). But they had not. It remains one of the most famous disappearances that no one can explain. What’s more, there’s never been any evidence to suggest the colony was massacred.

Many believe that baby Virginia grew into a beautiful young woman, one who eventually fell into a doomed love affair with a native warrior by the name of Okisko. To this day, she haunts the woods in search of her man, often in the form of a diaphanous white deer, one that always vanishes at dawn. According to NCPedia, a state encyclopedia maintained by the North Carolina Government & Heritage Library, longtime residents of the island have no doubt that the identity of the phantom deer is the ghost of Virginia Dare.

If you’re itching for an explanation as to how an entire colony could just disappear that’s not simply more ghost stories, you’re not alone. On the positive side, it’s one of a handful of mysteries that could be solved in the next decade.

The Princes in the Tower

This is the story of two young princes, brothers Edward and Richard, who were imprisoned in the Tower of London to prevent them from becoming king and heir-apparent, respectively. In April 1483, when King Edward IV died, his eldest son, Edward V, who was just 12 years old, briefly became king. Because of his young age, he had a regent appointed. That regent was the young king’s uncle. Known as the Duke of Gloucester, this uncle was known to be deeply resentful that the boys even existed. If it weren’t for them, he would have been next in the line of succession.

What happened next is shrouded in mystery—indeed, it is one of the strangest British royal family mysteries. It appears that the young king and his brother (Richard, the Duke of York) were kidnapped and locked away in the Tower of London, after which the Duke of Gloucester declared himself King Richard III. The two young princes were never seen or heard from again, and two small skeletons that were eventually found in the tower are believed to be all that’s left of them—other than the ghostly apparitions, that is.

British papers have reported on visitors who claim to have seen the ghostly figures. Are these scary stories tabloid fodder or proof of the paranormal? That’s for you to decide.

The Ghost of the Hanged Man

One theme that many ghost stories have in common is that they offer a sense of justice in return for a wrongful death. This particular ghost story, however, offers a somewhat different take. It’s about wrongful treatment in death and revenge in the afterlife.

On October 13, 1877, Robert Schmale was hanged after a trial that found him guilty of a terrifying and inexplicable murder spree. The townspeople were filled with so much anger and hatred that they left his body hanging for days. The tale says not one of the townspeople demonstrated even a shred of remorse, let alone forgiveness.

Since then, Schmale has been said to haunt the town. Those who have seen him say he appears as a ghostly male figure, but as soon as the figure registers in your mind, it disappears (somewhat maddeningly) into the darkness. That seems like the perfect ending to the best of ghost stories.