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Places That Are Haunted, and Places That Haunt

Written By Avra Margariti

Avra Margariti is a queer author and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Strange Horizons, F&SF, The Deadlands, Vastarien, and Reckoning. Avra lives and studies in Athens, Greece. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).

Why do humans exhibit such fascination toward allegedly haunted places? These are the grounds—houses, hospitals, schools—where tragedies happened in the distant, or not so distant, past. Years later, these structures are revisited, meaning assigned to their ruins or reworked skeletons, history given shape—and calamity given context—with everything coalescing into a new narrative.

These are a few examples of such places:

Playground of Souls, Greece

A small clearing in Mount Penteli, Attica, located near the former Palace of Tatoi, where royal family members were buried in their private cemetery—including the last King of Greece, Alexander who died of sepsis on the palace grounds after being bitten by one of his pet monkeys. Meanwhile, an old sanatorium lies abandoned nearby, once housing mistreated patients, now left to the wild animals and trespassers. The mountain burned several times due to heatwaves and arson, and out of the burned trees, humanoid sculptures now emerge from the ground in a circle to honor the lost souls of the sanatorium patients and the burned animals. Deer are known to visit the Playground of Souls, to graze on new grass.

Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia

Known as a “ship graveyard,” this central Pacific coral reef holds in its bottom the wrecks of almost fifty Japanese ships and thirty American aircraft, which sunk the year 1944 in an offensive campaign known as Operation Hailstone. The underwater scenes truly look like a graveyard of metal covered in algae and eroded by salt, the bones stripped clean by aquatic life as the atoll claimed man and man-made craft in its depths.

University of St. Andrews, Scotland

The first university of Scotland, and one of the country’s most spiritually charged places. The University of St Andrews is said to be inhabited by several ghosts, from spectral monks roaming its towers and cathedrals, to The White Lady, who was allegedly one of the ladies in waiting of Mary, Queen Scots. After her lover’s violent, untimely death, the Lady too succumbed to grief, haunting the sanctified grounds of St Andrews.

Poveglia Island, Italy

An abandoned island off the coast of Venice, where those infected with the bubonic plague were quarantined and, once their situation failed to improve, left to die. As a result, the island soon became a mass burial ground. Later, in the early 1900s, the remote island was used as a psychiatric hospital to keep mentally ill patients away from polite society, and conceal the injustices committed by the hospital’s staff.

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    Bhangarh Fort, India

    Entry to the fort is prohibited in the inter-spaces between sunset and sunrise. It is a place that, through the intricate architecture woven between old ruins, inspires visitors with feelings of paranoia and a paranormal sense of dread. Those who stay overnight don’t come out in the morning according to local legend. The 16th century fort had been cursed in the past by a sage who had used the fort’s grounds as meditation space. The king had asked for the hermit’s permission to build his fort in the area, and the hermit replied he would only give his approval if the fort’s shadow didn’t touch him and his dwelling. But the king added tall columns to his fort, breaking his promise. The hermit cursed the fort and the nearby village, so that its structures even now stand roofless and ruined.

    Hoia-Baciu, Transylvania, Romania

    The Bermuda Triangle of Romania is a forest whose heart cradles a large, circular bald spot ringed by trees. Those trees don’t grow in straight lines, but twist and curve in eerie configurations. A shepherd and his flock of 200 sheep disappeared one day while visiting the forested area, never to be seen again in the vicinity or beyond. In the crooked nucleus of Hoia Forest, the strange trees are said to guard a portal to other, stranger worlds.

    Stanley Hotel, USA

    The Colorado hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. The Stanley’s owner was a “lunger,” who originally built the hotel as a summer resort to aid his recovery from tuberculosis. A gas leak killed the hotel’s head maid in 1911 after she brought an open flame into the room, which made one of the hotel’s wings explode. The boiler scene in The Shining is directly inspired by that tragic event.

    The Cave of Zugarramurdi, Spain

    Witches were said to meet inside this cave during the 17th century to summon entities and practice their dark magic together as a coven. A lot of those witches, once caught, were accused of violating the rules of man and nature, and eleven of them were sentenced to burn at the stake. Were these rituals simple folk healing practices, or did they have a darker undertone? The cave walls that stand unchanged can’t speak their story, but the wind still whistles through the passages like a witch’s sigh.

    Capella dos Ossos, Portugal

    The chapel of bones took its name from the stacks upon stacks of human skeletons that line its walls in grotesque decorative patterns. During the church’s construction by Franciscan friars in the 1800s, the bones were disinterred from nearby cemeteries when they became overcrowded. The skulls built shallowly into the interior look as if they are trying to emerge through the stone and break free of their binds.

    Perhaps this fascination with haunted places found throughout human history has to do with memory. The fear of being forgotten, therefore wanting to believe your life experiences is capable of seeping through a structure or deep into the soil; lingering, long after you are gone.