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Westover, a mansion on the James River in Virginia, said to be haunted by a woman who died of a broken heart in the 18th century.
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Westover, a mansion on the James River in Virginia, said to be haunted by a young woman who died of a broken heart in the 18th century.Nina Leen—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Westover, a mansion on the James River in Virginia, said to be haunted by a woman who died of a broken heart in the 18th century.
"The Baldwin Lights" are said to appear near railroad tracks in North Carolina, not far from where a train conductor was decapitated in 1867.
The ghost of Harriet Douglas Cruger is said to haunt her former home in Herkimer County, New York.
Mrs. Theodore Douglas Robinson, Harriet Cruger's great-grandniece, plays a piano in the reportedly haunted house.
The stairwell in the Octagon House in Washington, down which a lovelorn girl is said to have plunged to her death sometime in the 19th century.
A white horse was said to appear each time someone died at Cliff House, near hendersonville, North Carolina.
The Bell Witch of Tennessee had only one aim in the afterlife: to haunt and harass a prosperous farmer named John Bell and his daughter Betsy.
The Bell Witch of Tennessee was said to have appeared to Betsy Bell near a tree like this one, warning Betsy not to marry the man she loved.
A house in Henniker, N.H., said to be haunted by a red-haired woman named Mary who died in 1814.
A house in Henniker, N.H., said to be haunted by a red-haired woman named Mary who died in 1814.
A house in Hadley, Mass., said to be haunted by Elizabeth Porter, dead for more than 200 years. This four-poster bed reportedly often "shows the impress of her frail body."
In a house in Hadley, Mass., the whirring of long-dead Elizabeth Porter's spinning wheel is often heard toward dawn.
A garden at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., is said to be the site of a 17th-century murder of a young man by a father who forbade his daughter to see the lad. The father and daughter, caught by townspeople while they were trying to feel the scene of the crime, were both burned to death.
When the moon is full, the ghost of a young woman burned to death centuries before is said to haunt a garden at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., "and in the air can be sensed a pungent, lingering smell of smoke."
Photo made for the article, "Ghostly American Legends," LIFE, Oct. 28, 1957.
LIFE magazine, October 28, 1957.
LIFE magazine, October 28, 1957.
LIFE magazine, October 28, 1957.
LIFE magazine, October 28, 1957.
LIFE magazine, October 28, 1957.
LIFE magazine, October 28, 1957.
Westover, a mansion on the James River in Virginia, said to be haunted by a young woman who died of a broken heart in th
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Nina Leen—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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Halloween Special: The Haunts of Famous American Ghosts

Oct 15, 2014

This October 31st, as they do every year, millions of costumed kids—and a good number of grown-ups—will be fanning out across neighborhoods and going to parties in cities and towns all over the world. The creatures and characters on display will range from the topical (ebola, anyone?) to the classic (ghouls, pirates, witches, superheroes, zombies).

But no single emblem captures the spirit of the holiday quite as neatly as that old stand-by: a ghost.

Way back in 1957, in an article titled "American Ghostly Legends," LIFE magazine paid spooky tribute to some of the country's most celebrated ghosts—and ghost stories. The magazine's editors introduced the elaborate, multi-page feature thus:

The native ghosts of the U.S. are less famous than their Old World, other-world counterparts. But there are a surprising number of them and they make up a colorful and diverse group.

Most American ghosts were born in the simpler past of colonial or frontier days. Even in today's scientific age their stories, like the ghosts themselves, die hard. From the annals of unearthly Americana, nine of the most fascinating stories were selected [for this feature]. At their sites photographer Nina Leen caught the haunting and haunted atmosphere which might make any man, having heard the creaks and seen the eerie moving lights and shadows, believe that ghosts still walk.

Here, on Halloween a six full decades after it first published, LIFE.com recalls "American Ghostly Legends" with a gallery of Nina Leen's striking color pictures, as well as reproductions of the article's pages as they ran in LIFE.

Finally, it's worth noting that Leen's work—while perhaps rather staid when compared with the filters and effects available via Instagram, Photoshop and other modern media—was impressive enough at the time to win first prize for Magazine Color Story in a 1958 contest sponsored by Encyclopaedia Britannica, the National Press Photographers Association and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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