Some people turn to a travel agent to help plan a fabulous vacation. If you're trying to go on a haunted one this Halloween, though, you might want to ask a different kind of expert. Enter Greg Newkirk, a paranormal investigator, travel writer and monster hunter.
Newkirk and his wife, Dana Matthews-Newkirk, ran rival ghost-hunting websites as kids. They now work together on their media company, Planet Weird, which encompasses other projects like the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult and documentary web series "Engaging the Strange."
The couple's unique profession sends them traveling across the country, seeking out new paranormal destinations and experiences. One of their most important tips for those who want to follow in their footsteps and find spooky places has nothing to do with buying ghost-hunting gear or night-vision goggles.
"The best piece of advice I can give to people who are looking for something that's off the radar is to ask the locals," Newkirk says. "Anytime I show up in a town, the first thing I do is I go to either the local bar or the local diner and I just start asking questions. There's legends everywhere. They're in everyone's backyard. Anyone can find one, all they have to do is ask."
For those unconvinced about paranormal activity in general, Newkirk suggests supporting haunted destinations as a way to preserve history.
"If someone's skeptical, it's totally reasonable. Being skeptical is important," he says. "Without folklore and ghost stories, we would lose very important histories and pieces of communities."
Here are some of Newkirk's favorite off-the-beaten-path, "haunted" travel destinations worth visiting.
Mission Point Resort
Mackinac Island, Michigan
For the most bang for your haunted-vacation buck, visit Mackinac Island on Lake Huron. Mackinac was once home to the indigenous Odawa people until Jesuit priests, French fur traders and British soldiers came along.
"The entire island is haunted," Newkirk says. "It's impossible not to be. It was sacred land to the indigenous people. You can walk the island and feel things everywhere."
To stay at Newkirk's recommended Mission Point Resort, you'll have to take a ferry to get to the carless island, where horse-drawn carriage is still a viable form of transportation. According to Newkirk, the hotel is frequented by a ghost named Harvey (whom he and his wife say they have met). Legend has it that Harvey took his life after being turned down by a woman he loved.
"He still hangs out there," Newkirk says. "You can smell him. He has a very strong sense of body odor."
Point Pleasant, West Virginia
In the 1960s, the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, was allegedly terrorized by a seven-foot-tall creature known as Mothman. It's been said the Mothman spawned from an abandoned TNT factory and went on to scare the living daylight out of couples in parked cars.
Come to Point Pleasant for the Mothman lore, stay for the Lowe Hotel.
"We've stayed there numerous times in haunted rooms," Newkirk says. "We've experienced everything from faucets turning on and off, even someone saying one of our names waking us up in the morning when there was no one else on the floor except for our group."
When booking at the Lowe, ask the reception to put you in one of its haunted accommodations for the scariest stay.
Belvoir Winery and Inn
Ghost. Children. That's what drew the Newkirks to the Belvoir Winery and Inn. Formerly the Odd Fellows' Home complex (which included an orphanage, school, hospital and cemetery), the renovated Belvoir now hosts guests for much lighter activities like wine tastings, weddings and weekend getaways. But remnants of the past remain.
"They've maintained the place so well - you can see the grooves where the kids would walk single-file up to their rooms," Newkirk says. "We've had really creepy experiences there. Lights turn on, doors open and close. The sound of kids laughing in the middle of the night outside your door."
The inn stocks notebooks in the rooms so guests can document the ghostly moments they experience and share them with future visitors. Newkirk recommends bringing kids' toys with you for your stay to prompt a spirit to manifest.
Longfellow's Wayside Inn
Naturally, the oldest continuously operated inn in the United States has to be haunted. Longfellow's Wayside Inn has two rooms haunted by Jerusha Howe, the sister of a Longfellow's innkeeper who is said to have died of a broken heart. Prospective guests can request to stay in Rooms 9 and 10 to have the chance to experience her hauntings firsthand.
"What's really interesting is, so many people have had experiences with Jerusha at this inn that they've started what's called the Secret Drawer Society," Newkirk says. "If you stay there, you'll start to notice that in all the nooks and crannies - like behind the headboard, in the drawers - there are notes from people who've had ghostly experiences."
If you experience something yourself here, make sure to write it down and stick it in an available crack behind the floorboard or ceiling to add to the collection.
1889 McInteer Villa
Wikipedia will tell you that Atchison is aviator Amelia Earhart's hometown. What it won't tell you is that the place is haunted.
The small city in Kansas has gotten national attention for the Sallie House, a haunted former private residence that's been promoted on television shows, thanks to its ghost inhabitant Sallie, a girl who died in a botched appendicitis surgery. But that's not the only site that makes Atchison spooky.
"What people don't realize is, there's stuff like that all over this entire town," says Newkirk.
Newkirk recommends staying at 1889 McInteer Villa.
"It's a big mansion, haunted as all get-out," says Newkirk.
When he stayed at the villa, "there was a straight-up knocking on walls. We were there with many other ghost hunters, and their equipment was going off like crazy."
What makes the property particularly special is that people aren't sure where the activity comes from. There's no ghost story attached to the place. Visitors have the opportunity to take part in the ongoing investigation into who's haunting the mansion and why. Newkirk believes that eventually, as word gets out about the paranormal activity going on at the mansion, it will become just as popular as the Sallie House.
Omni Mount Washington Resort
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
The swankiest haunted option Newkirk recommends is the Omni Mount Washington Resort, a luxury accommodation that has hosted the likes of Thomas Edison and multiple U.S. presidents. The Bretton Woods resort sports Spanish Renaissance architecture and the creepy presence of Carolyn Foster Stickney, Princess Aymon de Faucigny Lucinge, the widow of Mount Washington's original owner, who later remarried to a French nobleman.
"They say that she still is there and she watches over the place," says Newkirk. "Lots of people have seen her. Lots of people have experienced her presence."
Another draw to the property is that it sits on a large patch of land that cryptozoologists believe is where Bigfoot hides.
"You can experience the haunting inside, and then, if you want, you do a little Bigfoot hunting in the woods later," says Newkirk.
If you don't experience the princess's presence, you might have a shot at seeing a bear enjoying the New Hampshire sunrise from the resort deck.
Loveland Castle & Museum
Take a trip outside Cincinnati to Loveland, where you'll find a castle in the middle of the suburbs. The tourist attraction has interesting architecture, a collection of period weaponry and, according to its website, ghosts.
"They say that it's haunted by the man who built it," says Newkirk of the Loveland Castle & Museum. "He had such a strong connection to the place, he never left."
Although the castle is closed for overnight guests during the winter, you can stay there the rest of the year.
Near the castle, you can hunt for the Loveland frog, a four-foot-tall creature allegedly spotted in the area in the '50s. According to Newkirk, the creature has been said to smell like almonds and carry a wand.
This article was written by Natalie Compton, a reporter for The Washington Post.