There are places you expect to be populated with ghosts—catacombs, museums of horrors, creaky houses with attics and hidden passages. And then there are ghosts in places you might not expect—like the pristine halls of a museum. Nevertheless ghosts seem to congregate in these 10 museums, for reasons we mere mortals can only guess.
1. THE CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART
Claude Monet, the forefather of French Impressionism, was perhaps most recognizable for his full salt-and-pepper beard and penchant for bowler hats. These are also the traits that defined him for the staff of the Cleveland Museum of Art, where Monet’s ghost was purportedly photographed surveying the site of a new installation, Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.
“What are the chances someone looks like that and happens to be at the museum the day we are finishing installation?” Caroline Guscott, communications director for the museum, wrote in an email to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In the scene captured by the museum’s director of design and architecture Jeffrey Strean, the Monet look-alike stands on a balcony overlooking the exhibition space, directly above a vintage image of the artist himself. It might just be a stunt designed to draw attention to the installation—or it could be the specter of Claude Monet returned to watch over his work.
The Cleveland Museum of Art seems to be an attractive location for ghostly residents of all sorts. The museum records purported paranormal events, and it published a blog post in 2010 detailing the most common happenings.
One particular gallery seems responsible for extinguishing flashlights at random, while former museum director William Mathewson Milliken has been spotted wandering the original museum space, known as the 1916 Building. Milliken came on board at the museum in 1919 and was promoted to director in 1930, a position he held until his retirement in 1958. He died in 1978. Milliken now appears in a tweed jacket, a folder tucked beneath his arm.
The subject of Portrait of Jean-Gabriel du Theil at the Signing of the Treaty of Vienna, an oil painting by Jacques André Joseph Aved, has also been sighted observing his own likeness. And though the gallery space where the painting previously hung had often been prey to electrical and mechanical issues, when the painting was placed in storage, the issues stopped.
2. MUSEUM OF THE ALBEMARLE // ELIZABETH CITY, NORTH CAROLINA
It’s not the new museum building itself that plays host to otherworldly denizens—it’s the transplanted Jackson House, according to paranormal investigator Mark Anderson of North Carolina Paranormal Research. He told mental_floss he was first drawn to the site because of some of its antique items; the museum owns several possessions that once belonged to a young woman who was murdered in Elizabeth City (the crime was never solved). Anderson suspected there might be some foundation to rumors of the occult in the area.
Anderson explained that Jackson House was first constructed back in the 18th century by a North Carolina family named Jackson. It was dismantled and moved to the Albemarle museum site, and that's where what Anderson described as the “major event” of his investigation occurred. During a walk-through in 2013, one of his investigators felt a light prodding. When she asked if there was anything she could do to assist the spirit, the response came back in a man’s deep tones: “Get out.”
3. MERCHANT’S HOUSE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY
Merchant's House Museum
Wedged between two residential buildings on an unassuming block just east of Manhattan’s Lafayette Street sits the Merchant’s House Museum. You have to ring the doorbell to gain entry to the house, which is still populated by the possessions—and perhaps the spirits—of the Tredwell family, who lived there from 1835 to 1933.
“Most historic house museums have to sort of cobble together furniture that’s period-appropriate but that didn’t actually belong to the house,” explained Emily Wright, communications and programs manager at the museum. (Wright herself has never had a paranormal experience, but says she has heard “compelling” reports from fellow staff members, volunteers, and visitors alike.) However, most of the objects in the Merchant’s House have been there for well over 100 years. “The 19th century is very palpable here,” Wright says. Some say this makes the museum a particularly apt home for the spirits of those who once resided there.
Each year, paranormal investigator Dan Sturges comes to the museum to document the ghostly activity through photographs and audio recordings.
“The museum would never come out and definitively say, ‘Yes, we’re haunted,’” Wright said. Yet visitors have matched reported sightings with images of the family, including Gertrude, the youngest daughter, who died in 1933; Seabury, the father; Elizabeth, the eldest sister; and Samuel, the younger brother, as well as several unidentified servants.
4. PENANG WAR MUSEUM // PULAU PINANG, MALAYSIA
Chris Price, Flickr
Originally a British fort built in the 1930s, the building that is now the Penang War Museum, which sits atop the Bukit Batu Maung in Malaysia, fell to a Japanese offensive during World War II. The Japanese occupied the site in the following years, and the locals began calling it “Bukit Hantu”—Ghost Hill—due to the volume of prisoners tortured and beheaded at the garrison.
Though restored and opened to the public in 2002, the haunts of its dark past still linger at the Penang War Museum. Bukit Hantu was featured on a 2013 episode of the National Geographic Channel series I Wouldn’t Go In There, which named it one of the 10 most notorious haunted locations in Asia.
5. FORT WORTH MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND HISTORY
Jeff Stavan, Flickr
An image surfaced earlier this month that purports to show a mysterious, goblin-like figure lurking in the background of a play area at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. However, a former museum employee, Jim Miller, was quick to dismiss the image, which had drawn attention on Reddit. Miller noted that the figure's pose seemed fairly banal: “It looks like the all-too-familiar position of putting toys away—something we as employees or parents would do,” he told the Dallas Observer. Though there are any number of mundane explanations for the image, Miller, who worked at the museum for two years, also told the Observer that he had heard reports of eerie events around the Titanic exhibit and of shadows moving across security footage.
6. FREDERIC REMINGTON MUSEUM
Frederic Remington Museum
Like many historical houses-turned-museums, the Frederic Remington Museum may play host to a few otherworldly denizens. The reigning mythology of the museum, according to director Laura Foster, is the story of Madame Ameriga Vespucci, a woman who traveled to the United States in the 19th century and was reputed to be “won in a game of cards.” Newspapers began reporting hauntings at the museum in the 1940s, Foster said, though the claims may have been embellished to increase interest in the museum.
In March 2015, a local psychic medium named Freda Gladle conducted a walk-through of the museum to investigate reports of hauntings, accompanied by museum volunteer Donna Wright. The inquiry dovetailed with a simultaneous Clarkson University study of the air quality. Several undergraduate students, under the guidance of Shane Rogers, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, were investigating the claim that airborne organisms could provoke paranormal experiences.
Wright explained that there were no full-time spirits residing in the main museum, but she and Gladle did encounter some residual energy. (As Mark Anderson, who investigated the Albemarle museum, described it, residual energy is “energy that has impressed itself into an area.”) The image of a woman—likely Vespucci—appeared to assure the investigators that she was not won in a card game. But a “nasty” former owner inhabits the neighboring children’s museum, according to a transcription of the walk-through. An image purporting to show a ghost superimposed on the museum has been debunked as a hoax, though that doesn’t prevent reports of other supernatural occurrences.
7. SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION BUILDING
The Smithsonian Institution opened its doors in 1855, and during its 150-year history it has accumulated more than a few ghost stories. The Smithsonian "Castle," the museum’s administrative and information headquarters, is rumored to host many of these spectral residents—including founding donor James Smithson, whose remains have been interred at the museum since 1904.
Smithson was briefly disinterred in 1973 to investigate claims that his ghost stalked the museum by night. The survey revealed that his skeleton was, in fact, still in its proper place inside the coffin—though this doesn’t discount the possibility that his spirit lives out in the galleries. (Museum scientists had other motives aside from paranormal investigations, including studying the coffin in which he was buried and documents rumored to have gone to the grave with him.)
In 2009, Richard Stamm, the Castle’s curator, told Smithsonian magazine that he had never witnessed a ghost in the halls of the museum. But sightings date back to 1900, when the Washington Post described the ghost of Spencer Fullerton Baird, the museum’s first curator, continuing to walk the halls. Paleontologist Fielding B. Meek has also appeared on occasion—in 1876, he died in one of the Castle’s towers, where he had resided with his cat.
Other rumored sightings include explorer Emil Bessels and secretary Joseph Henry, both of whom devoted their lives to the museum. It makes sense that their spirits would remain at the site, ensuring their legacy is intact.
8. MAD RIVER & NKP RAILROAD SOCIETY MUSEUM // BELLEVUE, OHIO
J.L. Nelson, Flickr
Founded in 1972, the Railroad Society Museum sits on a property in Bellevue, Ohio, formerly occupied by a large mansion-turned-YMCA. In 2010, the Ohio Researchers of Banded Spirits (ORBS) conducted a survey of the site in response to rumors of paranormal activity around an abandoned train on the grounds. ORBS joined Deedee Runkle, the museum’s gift shop manager and daughter of its founder, and together they discovered that her father still resided on the premises, “watching over the grounds.” Or, at the very least, a spirit told the investigators he recognized two among their number—presumably Deedee and her mother. A deceased hobo named Steam Train Maury Graham who once frequented the trains was also captured standing on the back of one of the cabooses.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a museum where we didn’t capture some sort of EVP [electronic voice phenomenon] or some sort of disembodied voice or some sort of picture or video,” explained paranormal investigator Karlo Zuzic, project manager for ORBS. “Spirits can attach themselves to certain items.” That is, museums make particularly good homes for hauntings due to the high concentration of artifacts housed within their walls.
9. TORQUAY MUSEUM
Paul Hutchinson, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Paranormal investigators have expressed doubts about a recent photo that surfaced from the Torquay Museum in Devon, United Kingdom, depicting a blonde woman hovering in an exhibit of an 18th-century farmhouse. She was captured on film during an investigation by Real Investigators of the Paranormal back in May, according to the Huffington Post, but peer paranormal investigators have expressed some doubts as to the legitimacy of the image.
Ben Radford, an investigator and deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, told the Huffington Post he suspects that “there may be some confirmation bias going on here." That is, museum employees hope for evidence of the paranormal, and find their suspicions confirmed in this image.
Torquay Museum was founded in 1844 and possesses a dense collection of antique artifacts. “We’ve had a lot of spooky activity at the museum. Books will just fly off the shelves in the shop and people have said they have spotted a Victorian lady in a blue dress,” Carl Smith, the museum’s manager, told the Daily Mail.
10. INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons
Though the museum would never confirm or deny a haunting, two current Institute employees, Willie Mendez and Troy Simchak, have each had uncanny experiences as they walked the halls. Though Mendez, who has worked at the museum for 23 years, said that supernatural occurrences aren’t a daily phenomenon, he also said that he encountered a “full body apparition” in one of the exhibits. A Native American woman, likely of the Caddo people, appeared to him once; he’s also felt his shirt tugged, heard his name called with no one else around, and seen shadows moving in the corner of his vision. This was echoed by Simchak, who, though he said he came to the museum a skeptic, says he has overheard mumbled conversations in muffled tones with no mundane explanations.
The museum is located in San Antonio, Texas, whose colonial history extends to the 18th century. Mendez said that the spooky occurrences might be connected to buried history below the museum, or to the nature of the ancient artifacts it houses. And in addition to the occasional eerie sound or sight, Mendez said that the museum’s first two directors might still wander the third floor where they once lived. How else to explain the smell of cherry tobacco that sometimes permeates the halls?