NEW YORK CITY (SBG) — Halloween is meant to be a spooky holiday, but the very scary possibility of catching COVID-19 is probably not what you have in mind for your celebrations this October. While the tradition of trick-or-treating has received a tentative green light in plenty of places and socially distant events can allow you to experience some of the magic in-person, the pandemic has given rise to online happenings that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home, like virtual parties, virtual costume contests, and even virtual haunted houses.
But although taking a walk through a digitized haunted house will leave you feeling safe from coronavirus, you may not feel entirely safe from the spirits that you'll encounter along the way. Don't be surprised if you find yourself having trouble sleeping after taking one of these terrifying tours.
For the past decade, Shocktober has transformed a mansion from the 19th century into four floors of terror for those brave enough to walk through its haunted doors. Carlheim Manor, located in Leesburg, Va. and sometimes referred to as Paxton Manor, has long attracted the attention of paranormal investigators with stories of supernatural activity, making it the ideal location for a Halloween attraction. Due to the pandemic, Shocktober decided to turn the annual event into a virtual experience for its 10th anniversary. Visitors can purchase a ticket to one of four global watch parties, and at the time of the watch party, they'll be able to tune into a live two-hour episode that takes them on a scream-worthy journey through the manor.
2. Winchester Mystery House
In 1886, construction began on the personal residence for the widow of firearm magnate William Wirt Winchester. As Sarah Winchester hired carpenters to renovate the unfinished California farmhouse, rumors began to spread that the widow had fled to the state at the suggestion of a psychic and that the building was haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. For as long as she lived, Mrs. Winchester continued to make peculiar additions to the mansion, its interior becoming labyrinth-like in structure; this continuous construction during Mrs. Winchester's lifetime is commonly said to have been her attempt to ward off spirits.
With its bizarre backstory and its unusual architecture, the Winchester Mystery House became a top destination for paranormal tours after Mrs. Winchester's death in 1922. But this past spring, the haunted estate temporarily closed its doors at the guidance of the CDC and launched an immersive 360-degree virtual tour. While the Winchester Mystery House has reopened to visitors, the virtual tour remains an option for those looking to discover the mansion's oddities without traveling all the way to the California property.
3. Bran Castle
Though Bram Stoker, the author of "Dracula," never actually visited Romania, Bran Castle has gained a reputation in the country and beyond as being "Dracula's Castle." The connection of the Transylvanian castle to the Gothic horror novel has been a major draw for tourists to visit Romania, particularly during the Halloween season, but the pandemic has dramatically reduced the number of people heading to Bran Castle for the October holiday this year. For those who aren't able to tour the castle in person, video tours are available for free online, and you can even walk through the interior at your own pace on Google Maps. Make sure that you have some garlic on hand before you step inside.
Virtual haunted houses may sound like a modern concept, but the Frightbytes website has been around for years before the pandemic, and its design will have you nostalgic for the early days of the internet. The website offers a number of interactive choose-your-own-adventure stories; some will transport you to a haunted inn, while others will take you to a carnival of terror. In addition to the archive of past stories, there's a brand new story for Halloween this year that guides you through a spooky dreamworld full of unnatural creatures and faceless figures.
5. Bangor Opera House
Several spirits have been spotted at Bangor Opera House, including the ghost of a firefighter who died when the theater that formerly sat on the site of the current building went up in flames in 1914. Now, you can take a virtual tour of the haunted theater by booking an experience on Airbnb with "haunt enthusiast" and actor Ben Layman. The Zoom event starts with a séance, and then you'll travel through the theater in pursuit of ghosts. Layman will allow you to decide which route to take throughout the opera house.
By downloading a ghost box app on your phone prior to the experience, you'll likely be able to feel the presence of spirits in the opera house during the tour, even if you're far from Bangor. Skeptical? Check out the reviews on Airbnb, which emphasize just how eerie this ghost hunt can get. "I was so spooked that it truly felt like I was in the theatre with them," wrote one satisfied participant.
6. Nightmare Vermont
Since 2004, Nightmare Vermont has been putting on an all-volunteer Halloween event with the goal of raising money for several local charities. Upon hearing that many haunted houses in the area were called off this year, the team behind the Vermont event was even more determined to provide a safe alternative to their usual in-person production for the community. Buying a ticket to this year's iteration will grant you access to a livestream that promises bloodthirsty goblins and treacherous magic. There is plenty of audience participation to be had during this event; live polls will dictate character choices, and audience members will band together to solve puzzles throughout the course of the evening.
7. Pleasanton Ghost Walk
Rumor has it that many of the buildings along Main Street in Pleasanton, Calif. are inhabited by ghosts. The ghosts are thought to date back to a time when the town was known as "The Most Desperate Town in the West" and had a reputation for being filled with bandits and brothels. If you'd like the chance to meet Pleasanton's ghosts, you can purchase tickets to the Museum on Main's virtual ghost walk, a digital version of the in-person tour that the museum has offered for the past 13 years. Your ticket will include access to the Zoom event, as well as an accompanying e-book that offers tips for ghost hunters and suggests recipes for spooky snacks and Halloween-themed cocktails.