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Fascination with the occult and all things ghostly is not restricted to Halloween. In fact, you can travel to haunted houses and spooky sites throughout the year in a variety of countries, but for an authentic Halloween scare, you may wish to indulge in a few of these frightful fantasies.

Nowhere in the US is Halloween more revered than in the traditional hometown of American witchcraft, Salem Massachusetts. It has been centuries since women were hanged here, but the month of October is full of occult activities all the way up to Halloween. The website Haunted Salem (www.hauntedsalem.com) has information about on-going cemetery tours and ghost walks plus a day-by-day calendar of events for the month, with highlights including:

  • Friday October 28: The Official Salem Witches' Halloween Ball where witches from across the globe, descent upon Salem to celebrate an evening of spells and sorcery. No eye of newt and toads legs here -- these witches accept credit cards, with tickets being available online for $150 each.
  • Saturday October 29: Ms Firefly's School of Spirit Conjuration, where the witches of Salem teach your children how to make friends with spirits. Ms. Firefly gives instruction to kids of all ages, teaching that spirits are not dangerous forces but can be fun playmates. Tickets are $20 per child
  • Sunday October 30: various Day of the Dead celebrations including the Death and Rebirth Ritual Transformation ($75), Messages from the Spirit World -- an authentic séance performed by Shawn Poirier, an internationally renowned medium and psychic ($100 including a lecture, a demonstration, the séance itself and light appetizers) and a Spell Children's brunch at the Hawthorne Hotel (a haunted hotel) where kids in costume and can participate in numerous activities like pumpkin decorating ($29 adults, $16 kids).

Savannah is often referred to as America's most haunted city and there is a seeming obsession with the supernatural among its residents. The nightly "Ghosts and Gravestones Tour (tel. 912/233-0083; www.ghostsandgravestones.com) takes visitors to a house where an exorcism was performed, Wright Square, where people were traditionally sent to the gallows (and are supposedly still hanging around) and the historic Colonial Park Cemetery. Priced at $22.50, tours depart hourly each evening from 7pm to 10pm. The Boston Ghosts and Gravestones tour (tel. 617/269-3626) visits historic 17th century burial grounds and retraces the steps of gruesome murders from the notorious Angel of Death to the infamous Boston Strangler. The tour departs hourly (nightly until the end of October) from 6pm to 9pm and is priced at $29 per person.

America's Best Online (www.americasbestonline.net/hotels.htm) provides a list of the top ten recognized haunted hotels in the country. Included are:

  • The Hawthorne Hotel (www.hawthornehotel.com) in Salem, MA, located on Salem Common, which was the center of the infamous witch hunts, when over 200 people, mainly women and denounced witches, were burned at the stake. The spirits of many of the victims are believed to reside within the hotel.
  • The Stanley Hotel (www.stanleyhotel.com) in Estes Park, CO, which was the setting of Stephen King's novel "The Shining". Actually King was inspired to write the novel while he was a guest in room 217, however room 418 seems is reported to have the most ghostly activity and the entire fourth floor (formerly the servants' quarters) is believed haunted. Apparently the sound of children playing in the halls can be heard even when there are no children to be seen.
  • The Queen Mary Hotel (www.queenmary.com) in Long Beach, CA, is a former transatlantic ocean liner, rich in history and tradition, and equally famous for its ghostly residents. Supernatural sighting abound from guests who have stayed on board, and the hotel celebrates its notoriety with regular ghost tours and its annual Shipwreck event, the Queen Mary Halloween Terrorfest. Shipwreck 2005 is open for 13 nights in October (including Halloween) and admission is $30 per mortal including unlimited entry to numerous haunted mazes, the Boiler Room Club (featuring live bands) plus the huge three level dance party in the Queen Mary's Exhibit Hall. Shipwreck is not recommended for children under 12 or the faint of heart. Costumes and cameras are not permitted, and guests enter at their own risk. Visit www.queenmaryshipwreck.com for more details.

Journey through Europe's most notorious underworld locations with International Tours and Events' Ghost and Dracula Tours (tel. 866/TERROR-TOUR; www.ghostour.com and www.dractour.com). This year's Halloween tour is completely sold out with a long and eager waiting list so you'll have to think ahead and sign up early for some of next year's tours. The Halloween Dracula Tour to Transylvania (Romania) runs from October 27 to November 3 in 2006. Visit the ancestral home of the count, dine in his castle, stay in a nearby and equally spooky castle and share your love for all things vampire with others who share your passion for the macabre. The Halloween tour gathers together ghost and horror fanatics of all ages and backgrounds (almost 80 people are participating in this year's tour). If you can't wait that long, there is also an earlier Spring Dracula Tour from May 14-21, 2006. This year's summer tour featured guest host Butch Patrick (Eddie from the Munsters) so only the devil knows who they'll have to help you on your haunted way next year!

The third annual Haunted Vacation to England takes place from September 10-17, 2006. Hosted by a world-renowned psychic, this one-week guided tour includes visits to haunted churches, theatres, pubs, houses and hotels, creepy graveyards and historic murder scenes. Starting in London, the tour takes a ghostly trail to Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon and Canterbury.

All Ghost and Dracula tours (to both Transylvania and England) include roundtrip airfare from New York, deluxe hotel accommodation, all transfers, ground transportation, events, attractions, admissions and parties for $1,999 per person based on dual occupancy.

Also across the pond, London Ghost Walks (tel. + 44/20-8530-8443; www.london-ghost-walk.co.uk) lets you delve into the gruesome history of this city that you've only read about in books. Led by ghost author and researcher Richard Jones, the tour features good, old-fashioned storytelling and is guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine. The walk through Old London's narrow streets and dark alleyways lasts approximately two hours and takes place regardless of weather conditions (the grayer the better!). The tour costs $11 per person and reservations are essential.

You can't escape the deadly clutches of the spirits even as far away as Australia. Ghost Tours (tel. + 617/3344-7264; www.ghost-tours.com.au) is a Brisbane-based company run by Jack Sim, confessed ghost aficionado. His Saturday and Sunday night cemetery or historic prison tours range in price from $23 to $30 per person. They include tales of historic ghost stories, many with gory and macabre material like murders, heinous crimes, violent deaths, executions and suicide. The stories can be frightening and distressing especially for young children so those under 12 are not advised to participate.

The website Haunted Accommodations (www.hauntedaccommodations.com) is a guide to staying in haunted castles, hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts in England, Ireland, Scotland, the US and Canada. Examples include:

  • Comlongon Castle (www.celticcastles.com/castles/comlongon) in Galloway, Scotland where the ghost of Lady Marion Carruthers, who took her own life by leaping from the lookout tower where she was being held captive, is said to commonly appear.
  • Ballygally Castle (www.hastingshotels.com) in Country Antrim, Ireland where the ghost of the former lady of the manor Lady Isobel Shaw is reputed to knock on the guest room doors of this 17th century estate.
  • The Old Hall Hotel (www.theoldhallhotel.com), built in 1656 in Cheshire, England, considered one of the most haunted buildings in Great Britain
  • Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort and Spa (www.deltahotel.ivictoria.com) in Victoria, British Columbia (Canada) which is built on top of an ancient Native American burial ground and is said to house a number of spirits.

For those with more than a passing interest in visiting haunted locales in the US, it may be worthwhile to purchase a copy of Mitchel Whitington's A Ghost in My Suitcase - A Guide to Haunted Travel in America ($19) (www.ghostinmysuitcase.com) which provides insight into 50 haunted places in the 50 states.

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