Tales of hauntings abound, both in fiction and throughout history. Otherworldly spirits lurk in the dark shadows of alleys, old buildings, and our imaginations. Old stories become legends, while new reports of ghastly encounters regularly appear.
All this begs the question: are ghosts real?
What Are Ghosts?
It is a loaded question. When we talk about ghosts, we typically mean spiritual leftovers of the dearly departed. However, that broad definition does not dig deep into the potential causes of the “spiritual leftover.”
We typically think of ghosts as spirits or shadows of those who no longer live on this Earth.
Some ghosts seem conscious, both of the world around them and of the fact that they’re a ghost, while some are more like echoes of the living, doomed to repeat the same actions ad infinitum for eternity.
Ghosts are the collective way we describe such entities, real and imagined. But we don’t truly know if they exist, and if they do, what they really are.
Are Ghosts Real?
All current science points to no. Ghosts are not real.
However, science cannot explain everything. Millions of unanswered questions are lingering in the universe, just waiting for an ambitious young scientist to make a name for themselves.
Some of the phenomena associated with ghosts seem unexplainable, but that only means we haven’t discovered what it means yet.
Maybe someday we’ll learn that the ghastly spirits of fairy tales have a scientific cause. It may not be the traditional idea of a ghost, but that doesn’t mean the experiences aren’t real.
Millions of people believe they are.
How Many People Believe in Ghosts?
If you ask regular folks, “Are ghosts real?” you’ll likely get a varied response.
The research firm Statista did just that in 2021 and discovered that nearly 36% of Americans believe in ghosts. Another 20% said they aren’t sure, while 43% said they don’t believe.
A YouGov survey found a similar split, but this time, people favored belief. In this survey, 41% said they believed, while only 39% said no. A similar 20% remained uncertain.
Why Do People Believe in Ghosts?
Science says no when asked, “Are ghosts real?” but that doesn’t stop people from believing.
Many convince themselves because it gives them hope that there’s an afterlife. If ghosts exist in this realm, there must be something beyond.
Others believe because they’ve had experiences with supernatural entities. They’ve seen and felt ghosts or have had strange incidents happen they can’t explain.
True Believers: Tales from Real People of Ghostly Encounters
Many people believe in ghosts because they’ve encountered an otherworldly spirit.
Urban legends abound about ghosts, from the restless spirit at Resurrection Cemetery (nicknamed Resurrection Mary) to the infamous Flying Dutchman, an entire ghost ship.
Some insist they’ve seen a ghost, an experience that formed their worldview.
Here are a couple of real ghost stories people shared across internet forums. You can judge whether these tales provide evidence of real hauntings or if there are reasonable explanations for the events.
A Door With a Mind of Its Own
One person can’t explain a phenomenon with their bathroom door when they were a teenager. They came home to an empty house after school one day and went to use the restroom. They left the door open, but apparently, the spiritual inhabitant preferred modesty. The door slammed shut and locked, all of it’s own accord.
The poster admitted that the house was old and drafty, so they could accept a pressure difference causing the door to slam, but can’t explain how it locked itself.
Missing Items Returned
Some ghosts enjoy games like hide and seek and driving their human roommates crazy. One poster shared their tale of growing up with Mrs. Kaufman, a ghost who stole things but returned them when asked nicely.
Though only a child then, the poster distinctly remembered seeing a black mass that looked like a woman and feeling the purple color of her dress. They’d lose things around the house, unable to find them. Of course, the parents assumed that it was kids being kids until a discussion with the landlady uncovered the truth.
The landlady asked the mom if they’d met Mrs. Kaufman yet. Mom assumed it was a neighborhood, but the landlady clarified, describing a woman who passed away in the home years ago. She lingers on, wearing purple and stealing items. She said Mrs. Kaufman would give things back if asked nicely.
When they started asking Mrs. Kaufman to return their things, they’d magically reappear.
Hearing the Ghosts
One woman said she moved into a home known for tragedy. A mother and baby perished during childbirth. They’d hear moaning and whimpering every night from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. They moved out in less than a week.
Mean Drunks Make Mean Ghosts
Ghosts, like people, can be playful and happy or mean-spirited and spiteful. As a teenager, one boy lived in a home haunted by two mean drunks.
The man would try to frighten him, but his trusty Great Dane would always come to scare the ghosts away.
Ghosts are notorious for throwing stuff around and demanding attention. One woman refused to engage with her spirit roommate when emptying the dishwasher.
She had just finished putting a plastic cup on a shelf behind the dishwasher and bent over to get the next item when the cup smacked her in the back.
“I stood straight up and said “Okay, but we aren’t going to do that, though,” she shared.
Real-Life Hauntings: Are Ghosts the Culprit?
There’s no doubt that some places hold profound, angry energy. You’ll find paranormal happenings everywhere, from cemeteries to hotels to inside our homes.
Some places are notoriously haunted, offering numerous people the opportunity to enjoy a supernatural experience.
Here are some of the most haunted places in America, many offering ghost tours for brave travelers who want to uncover the truth for themselves.
Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery
Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, nestled in Chicago’s South suburbs, enjoys a top spot on the list of most haunted places in the United States.
The old, abandoned cemetery features graves from the 1800s, the ruins of old structures, and a serene pond. People from all over the Chicagoland area journey to the old cemetery, hoping to see one of the spirits still wandering the grounds. Many report glowing orbs, a disappearing house, weird sounds, and an apparition of a woman weeping near the graves.
Eastern State Penitentiary
The ruined prison in Philadelphia saw its share of cruelty and despair. Though initially built as an experiment to rehabilitate lawbreakers, overcrowding quickly turned it into a haven for murder, torture, and anguish.
Tales of hauntings date to the 1940s, when the structure still operated as a prison. It transformed into a museum in the 1990s, aiming to highlight society’s harsh treatment of prisoners.
Staff and visitors alike report strange happenings on the ruined prison grounds. People feel negative energies, hear echoing voices, and even see shadowy figures on the walls.
Gettysburg Battle Field
If ghosts are real, battlefields would be the perfect place to find them. Thousands of people perished in the deadliest battle in US history, and many believe that some still haunt the grounds.
Visitors report hearing echoes of cannon fire and smelling cigar smoke while touring the grounds. Some even hear the moaning of wounded soldiers and see unexplainable spectral figures lurking about the grounds.
Moon River Brewing Company
Savannah, Georgia, claims the title of the most haunted city in the United States. The long and sordid history includes battles from the Revolutionary era, horrific treatment of enslaved peoples, and a critical Civil War location for the Confederacy. Finding a site that’s not considered haunted in Savannah is tough!
Moon River Brewing Company, a brewery off Bay Street downtown, is often considered the most haunted venue in the city. Some say the ghost of infamous gambler James Stark lurks in the basement, while others claim to glimpse a lady in white roaming the upper levels.
Waverly Hills Sanitorium
Waverly Hills Sanitorium served as ground zero for the Tuberculosis epidemic devastating Kentucky in the early 1900s. Thousands of patients lost their lives fighting the disease at Waverly, and some never left.
According to legend, numerous spirits roam the grounds. Visitors share tales of a drifting man in white and a young boy named Timmy, who likes to play ball. People also hear unexplained sounds, like slamming doors, and voices echo in the corridors.
Numerous Haunted Hotels
Hotels provide beds for the weary. Most older inns see their fair share of tragedy, from jilted brides who lose the will to carry on to the final resting spot for many an elderly traveler.
You can find tales of haunted hotels across the US, each with sordid tales of mystery, mayhem, tragic accidents, and owners who can’t move on.
Discover the Emily Morgan, San Antonio’s most notorious haunted hotel, the Queen Mary, a haunted ship turned hotel in Long Beach, or several other haunted hotels you can stay in across the country.
Experiences Points To the Possibility of Ghosts
All these personal experiences, coupled with the vast array of haunted places, point to something.
There’s something strange occurring, though we may not know what.
Sometimes, these weird occurrences do have scientific explanations.
What Really Happens When We See a Ghost?
Skeptics search far and wide for reasonable explanations to rationalize these seemingly supernatural occurrences.
Here are some scientific reasons why people may claim to see a ghost.
Many people describe a similar experience when sharing a ghostly encounter. They’ve just woken up, lying frozen in bed. They can’t move but hear and see things they can’t explain. Some feel a crushing weight, while others feel every hair on their body standing on end.
Modern medicine claims it’s a psychological experience called sleep paralysis. During a sleep paralysis episode, patients are halfway between waking and sleeping. Their brains are still slightly unconscious, so they can’t move, but they also experience hallucinations as if they’re dreaming.
Although skeptics try to explain many otherworldly encounters using sleep paralysis, the hypothesis falls flat when you discover that no one knows what causes it.
Who’s to say that some otherworldly being doesn’t cause sleep paralysis?
Toxic chemicals are known to cause hallucinations. The deadly carbon monoxide can cause hallucinations and feelings of dread, making it a likely candidate for many paranormal experiences.
Other chemicals can cause hallucinations, too. Scientists even think the Oracle at Delphi’s visions were chemically induced due to vapors in the air.
We don’t yet understand how the thousands of chemicals we breathe daily might affect our brain function, so it’s likely that toxic chemicals cause at least some of the paranormal incidents reported.
Toxic chemicals are not the only cause of hallucinations. Neuroscientists are still unlocking the secrets of brain activity. We don’t yet understand how our minds work.
Hallucinations occur when our brains sense something that isn’t really there. We can hallucinate with any of our senses, from touch to taste to scent. Many things can cause hallucinations, including pain, illness, medication, or neurological misfunction.
Some mental illnesses cause severe hallucinations, which sufferers may falsely attribute to paranormal activity.
Sometimes, people see what they want to see. When ghost hunters embark upon an adventure in a notoriously haunted house, they’ll attribute any mundane thing they feel to a haunting, even if there’s a rational explanation.
Old dark places abound with faulty plumbing, creaking floors, poor insulation, and shadowy corners. It’s easy for a true believer to see and hear things in these areas that seem supernatural but really aren’t.
We Want To Believe
Suggestion works wonders on our brains. Sometimes, we want something to be true so profoundly that we’ll use even the least compelling evidence as truth.
So, Are Ghosts Real?
Though scientists will say no, the truth is we don’t know. We don’t have the technology to observe every phenomenon on earth, nor the information to truly understand everything we’re seeing.
Though the traditional idea of a phantom haunting a secret corridor in an abandoned mansion is likely inaccurate, that doesn’t mean ghosts aren’t real. Paranormal phenomena are widely reported across times and cultures. Maybe someday we’ll have the tools to understand what it really is.
Who knows, it might indeed be some type of leftover energy from a person who lived long ago.
Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life.