Ever wonder where horror writers find inspiration for their most frightening novels? Well, search no more. We’ll guide you on a journey to the creepiest ends of the Earth and show you the scariest story settings and places only the living fear.
Fengdu Ghost City
Fengdu Ghost City, referenced in the apocalyptic zombie novel World War Z, by Max Brooks, is where the King of Hell and its gates reside. In the novel, the Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River was taken over by zombies resulting in the dam bursting and killing thousands of souls downriver. This curse was unleashed to punish the living for building this massive structure and flooding the sacred city of the dead upriver years earlier.
In reality, by 2002, portions of the ancient site and scary story setting were preserved and relocated to higher ground to avoid being completely deluged upon completion of the dam. The Gate of Hell still awaits anyone brave enough to visit the vast complex of temples, shrines, and hideous statues torturing the dead. If you want to explore the underwater portion of ancient Fengdu, dive into the underworld of the abyss at your own risk. The dead await you in their watery graves.
Oak Hill Cemetery
Lincoln in Bardo, by George Saunders, is based on a true story of the death of William Wallace “Willie,” the son of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1862. The President makes several visits to the mausoleum locked behind an iron gate at Oak Hill Cemetery, in Washington, D.C., to grieve the loss of his son, who died when he was only 11 years old. Spirits surround them both as Willie descends deeper into a state of limbo, delaying his transition into the afterlife.
Over the centuries, the cemetery has been host to many other famous residents and departed spirits who reportedly do not rest in peace. Several white horses have been observed near John Van Ness’ tomb. Other headless apparitions haunt the garden cemetery regularly, making this one of the scariest story settings.
The Scandinavian town of Oslo, Norway, is the mysterious setting for the fictional novel, The Snowman, by Jo Nesbø. The horrific story follows detective Harry Hole’s race to catch a serial killer who stalked and murdered women who had extramarital affairs that resulted in children being born with hereditary illnesses. Not far from the penthouse of character, Arve Støp, owner of the magazine Liberal, is the infamous Akershus Fortress.
This medieval castle is one of Europe’s most terrifying former prisons. Many locals believe it is haunted. This infamous landmark suffered several fierce sieges since the Middle Ages, including Nazi occupation during World War II, when several captives and traitors were executed. The most famous residents today are the apparitions of a woman and demon dog who wander the castle grounds.
Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs of Paris are home to a diabolical coven of vampires in the novel, An Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice. Louis’ adopted daughter Claudia meets her unnatural end here at the hands of the coven. The distraught father later gets his revenge by burning the unholy beings while they rest deep within the catacombs.
The catacombs beneath the city of Paris are actually the final resting place for the skeletal remains of over six million people. You can see the departed stacked on top of each other in a ghastly display of mortality within this labyrinth of horrors. The underground network of tunnels was used to ease the problem of the city’s overflowing cemeteries in the 18th century. Tourists and the dead alike are always welcome.
The Witch House
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a dramatic play based on the true story of the infamous Salem Witch Trails that took place in the early 17th century. The story follows John Proctor’s pursuit for justice as he and others stand falsely accused of the crime of witchcraft.
The Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts, is the last site still standing in this small New England village that was associated with the trials. By the time the mass hysteria subsided in this cruel chapter of colonial American history, 20 men, women, and children were tried and executed. The home belonged to Judge Jonathan Corwin. This witch investigator was part of the panel that condemned the majority of the accused to their cruel deaths—mostly by hanging. Now the museum hosts visitors worldwide, including the ghostly voices of children who still can be heard within its haunted walls.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness in the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson, is the true story set in the backdrop of the spectacular 1893 World’s Exposition, where over 200 grizzly murders took place. Near the Chicago Exposition Grounds, on the corner of Wallace and 63rd Streets, H. H. Holmes built his “murder castle” (which he named the “World’s Fair Hotel”) to satisfy his obsession for killing.
Holmes began his murdering spree before the fair opened. He would seduce women before he killed them and their children. It was suspected that he took the innocent lives of approximately 200 men, women, and children by the close of the exposition. However, the courts could only prove nine killings.
Although this scary story setting no longer exists, there were numerous reports of supernatural activity before the building was torn down in 1938. The castle’s former caretaker reported that the house was haunted before taking his own life after months of suffering from hallucinations.
Lake Shawnee Amusement Park
In the tale Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, strange happenings occur when the carnival comes to town. The fictional story follows two thirteen-year-old boys named Jim and Will, who discover the evil that lurks at Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. A variety of bizarre transformations occur, many of them connected with the carousel ride. It seems to have the power to turn adults into children and children into adults.
People of all ages are strangely drawn to weird amusement parks, unaware of the dark consequences that lurk in every dimly lit tent or poorly maintained ride. The age-old troupes of creepy clowns, fortune tellers, and strange potions are all suspect, but the real dangers are much worse. Horrific deaths by electrocution, fires, and derailed roller coasters are the most hazardous. So are the spirits of several accident victims believed to still haunt the Lake Shawnee Amusement Park in West Virginia. Even though it’s been closed since the late 1960s, the rusted rides still remain. They serve as a ghostly reminder of the perils that await carnival goers anywhere one comes to town.
Old Dutch Burying Ground
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving, follows the story of a school teacher pursuing his love interest in a small secluded town in New York that was settled by the Dutch. His plans are thwarted by a Headless Horseman who is believed to be a soldier beheaded by a canon during the Revolutionary War. The ghost runs nightly in search of his head, always returning to the buried body in the cemetery by daybreak.
The cemetery referenced in the book is the Old Dutch Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow, New York. It’s where some of the oldest graves of European settlers can be found in the United States. Some of the famous bodies buried there include Carnegie, Rockefeller, Chrysler, and the author, Irving.
Visitors often report whispers from the mausoleums and the woods beyond this scariest story setting. Some speculate it’s the apparition of a decapitated soldier who was found and later buried in the cemetery during the Revolutionary War. Irving’s Headless Horseman was based on this unlucky casualty of war. Go for a midnight stroll through the graveyard if you dare.
The Stanley Hotel
A boy’s perception and a possessed hotel interact with deadly results in the novel The Shining, by Stephen King. Five-year-old Danny Torrence and his parents, Jack and Wendy, are spending the winter at a resort high in the Colorado mountains. As Jack becomes more and more obsessed with the hotel, he becomes its possession. He even tries to follow through with its demand to kill his wife and son. It is the hotel’s one weak spot, its aging boiler, that allows Danny and his mother, along with his friend Hallorann, to get out of the hotel without becoming its victims.
According to King, he was inspired to write the disturbing novel after he and his wife spent the night at The Stanley Hotel, in September 1974. They were the only guests because the staff was in the process of closing down the seasonal vacation spot for the winter. That night he had a disturbing dream about his young son running and screaming down the halls of the hotel. After he woke up shaking he decided to write the book about a possessed writer.
Tourists are encouraged to visit the historic hotel that opened in 1909 and still hosts a Shining Ball on Halloween. Guests often request Room 217 referenced in the novel. An early check out time is expected.