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When hitting the road on most vacations, it’s a good idea to pack a swimsuit, sunscreen, and comfy shoes. But when genre geeks are fantripping, and setting out on an adventure of the bizarro boulevards, weird ways, and absurd avenues of America, the suitcase might also contain ghosthunting gadgets, UFO skywatch goggles, a detective kit, and, above all else, an insatiable curiosity for all things odd and off-center.
And trust me, there is a lot to see in America alone. An endless assortment of odd destinations could fill several passports dedicated solely to the nation’s quirky corners. With that in mind, we could never complete an entire mad map. However, with this fantripping starter guide, you’ll be able to calibrate your curiosity compass with 10 favorite haunted locales, UFO hotspots, true crime capitals, and sci-fi stops.
True Crime Travel Destinations
Perhaps one of the nation’s most notorious true crime stories is the Villisca Axe Murder case. In the dead of night, June 10, 1912, eight people were brutally killed, suffering head wounds from an ax. Six members of the affluent Moore family were among the dead, including their four children, as well as the young Stillinger sisters who slept over that night. Multiple suspects were investigated (including a potential serial killer) but the crime remains unsolved. The house in Villisca still stands, and is notorious for being a haunted location, and has been featured on multiple paranormal reality shows, and podcasts.
Fall River, Massachusetts
The Lizzie Borden house, a museum and B&B, became famous following the 1892 ax murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. Daughter Lizzie was suspect No. 1 in a trial that captured the attention of the nation, but the charges were dropped. The murders remain unsolved, but would-be investigators (and paranormal investigators) can visit this location, and stay in the same room where Abby was murdered.
New York, New York
There are a lot of reasons to visit the Big Apple, with iconic locations that could fill each of these categories. However, NYC has been home to so many gangster movies for a good reason: The town has a long history of wise guys, and organized crime. The NYC Gangster and Mob Tour is just one such group that explores the sites of notorious mobster murders in Little Italy, Chinatown, and Five Points. Other crime-related sites in the city include stories of Jewish gangsters, Prohibition-era pubs.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Like New York City, New Orleans alone has a lot on entries for each category. But the Crescent City is a capital of the macabre for the LaLaurie Mansion, where a socialite abused (and tortured her slaves) before being run out of town. Meanwhile, the Big Easy was also home to The Axeman, an early 20th Century xenophobic serial killer who largely targeted Italians before escaping, leaving the crimes unsolved.
Wild West Travel Destinations
Deadwood, South Dakota
Touting itself as the only museum in the world with a bar, the Legendary Old Style Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood is the site where Wild Bill Hickock was murdered in broad daylight, but where the Wild West’s history continues to live. Artifacts and historical photos line the walls, and sawdust covers the floor, as music, gambling, and re-enactments entertain guests every night. And then there is the whiskey selection (South Dakota’s largest) with more than 171 offerings …
The Meramec Caverns is a 4.6-mile system of foreboding caves where Wild West history unfolded around geological wonders. Legend has it Jesse James and his brother used the caves as a hideout in the 1870s, and left behind artifacts. While the claim is disputed, Stanton is home to the Jesse James Wax Museum (as well as home to the story the outlaw wasn’t murdered in 1882, but lived until 1951). Even if the James stories are myths, Meramec has the rare cave formation called The Wine Table – a six-feet-high onyx table with three legs.
Two Guns, Arizona
A former stop along Route 66, the ghost town of Two Guns is located about 30 miles from Flagstaff, and described by the Legends of America site as a “wild and lawless place” where drifters, gamblers, and outlaws gathered. In 1878, Navajo tribes committed mass murder against the Apaches. Around 1880, Billy the Kid used the area on the west rim of Canyon Diablo as a hideout. And in 1889, bandits robbed a train, and made off with $100,000, as well as silver dollars, gold coins, and diamonds – which was buried, and supposedly remains hidden to this day.
Old Trail Town is a restored town that harkens back to its 1880 era when Buffalo Bill Cody would roll through. The town is named after that showman, and continues to feature artifact from the time period, as well as the grave of John Johnson, aka “Jeremiah Johnson” of the film.
Weird Travel Destinations
Home to the Dinosaur National Monument, where both 1,500 dino fossils and petroglyphs from indigenous tribes can be seen, Vernal is likewise a gorgeous destination for outdoor activities. Not far from Vernal is the Skinwalker Ranch, a private ranch where UFO sightings – as well cryptids, and other paranormal activity – has been alleged, earning the location fame. While Skinwalker is not accessible to the public, camping in Vernal might yield interesting sightings in the night sky. Even if nothing out of the ordinary is spotted, it’s still a gorgeous place to lay one’s head.
Roswell, New Mexico
In 1947, something crashed 75 miles near Roswell, New Mexico. Was it an alien space craft, a weather balloon, or (the current official explanation) a nuclear surveillance balloon? Whatever it was – and there are still enough researchers who argue the “flying disc” was of extraterrestrial origin – the town of Roswell remains a destination dedicated to the incident, and to UFO culture at large. Hosting the annual Roswell UFO Festival – a celebration of pop culture as much as the crash — the town is emblazoned year-round with images of saucers, and aliens. It is also home to the Roswell UFO Museum (open daily).
Homestead/Leisure City, Florida
Coral Castle is a series of limestone structures of mysterious origin, and the site of numerous legends. Having appeared on Ancient Aliens and In Search Of … “Florida’s Stonehenge” was completed by Edward Leedskalnin around 1923, who was said to single-handedly construct the castle using “reverse magnetism” (and having unlocked the secrets of the Great Pyramids) to move the several-ton stones. Then, around 1936, he somehow moved the structures 10 miles away to its current location. Consisting of a two-story tower, fountain, rocking chairs, and Leedskalnin’s living quarters, the truth behind Coral Castle’s construction remain a mystery.
Point Pleasant, West Virginia
This town’s story of the Mothman was made famous by John Keel’s 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, documenting sightings of a red-eyed, winged creature (which some believe is either a cryptid, alien, or interdimensional being) during 1966-67. The tales of the Mothman, and other supernatural happenings surrounding Point Pleasant, were tied into the tragedy of the Silver Bridge collapse, which killed 46. An annual Mothman Festival is held, and a 12-feet-tall metal Mothman statue watches over the town.
Haunted Travel Destinations
If you check into the Alaskan Hotel in Juneau, you might discover some guests who never checked out. Opened in 1913, the hotel in the old goldmining town was also a bordello. These days, guests don’t so much look for companionship, but some encounter specters as spotted in old photographs. Rooms 218, 219, 308, 315 … there is potential paranormal activity in each room. Some may see a woman in a mirror, on their bed, or at the bar downstairs. As recently as 2007, a sailor requested “the haunted room,” and his bizarre exit was accompanied by walls covered in blood, and an escape through the third-floor window (he survived).
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The luxurious Skirvin Hotel is a pride of the city, so why don’t visiting sports teams like the Lakers and Cavaliers want to stay there? It may have to do with Effie’s ghost, and her ghostly child. According to legend, she was a maid who had an affair with the hotel owner, William Skirvin. When she became pregnant, he locked her in a 10th-floor room to hide his scandal. Though she and her infant jumped out the window, she is said to still be seen (sometimes even nude, and propositioning guests), and her young child is heard crying. However, the facts behind the story are questionable at best.
“Come for the ghosts, stay for the music” is the slogan for Bobby Mackey’s Music World, a honky-tonk that has become famous amongst paranormal circles as place where hell itself can be breached. While these claims must always come with a heaping dose of skepticism, there is no denying that several paranormal reality shows are drawn there. Supposedly built on a site where a slaughterhouse once stood, Bobby Mackey’s opened in 1978, and is said to be haunted by the ghost of Pearl Bryan, a pregnant woman brutally murdered in 1896 (although no official connection between the nightclub and notorious homicide exists). For believers, evil entities stalk the establishment, lashing out in violence – and visitors can book paranormal tours to see for themselves.
Pop Culture Travel Destinations
Pittsburgh is the birthplace of the modern zombie (the undead kind, not the Haitian voodoo variety) thanks to legendary filmmaker George A. Romero, and his film Night of the Living Dead. Though the film was technically shot in nearby Evans City, Romero brought his ghouls back to the Steel City area for Dawn of the Dead (at Monroeville Mall, where the director is honored with a bronze bust), as well as other films The Crazies, Martin, Creepshow, Monkey Shines, and The Dark Half. Also home to the Living Dead Museum, Pittsburgh is a must-visit pop-culture destination for fans of Romero — and the horror genre at large – to tour locations seen in his work.
Although this cozy city in Illinois feels more like “Smallville,” Metropolis is the hometown of Superman. With a 15-foot Man of Steel statue in the city center, and a statue dedicated to actress Noel Neill’s Lois Lane nearby, Metropolis also features a Superman Museum. Every June, the town hosts the four-day Superman Celebration, which combines the feeling of a comic con with a state fair. Fly by for a visit, but leave the Kryptonite at home (because, incidentally, there is a Kryptonite “meteorite” on display in the area as well).
Westfield, New Jersey
Westfield isn’t creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, or altogether ooky, but it is home to The Addams Family. Cartoonist Charles Addams hails from the town, and landmarks populated some of his work, which appeared in The New Yorker. Moreover, the town has come to embrace their artist – who died in 1988 – by holding the Addams Fest celebration in October, and highlighting what they believe is the inspiration for the Addams Family house (not to be confused with Addams’ house, which can also be seen). Of particular interest is “Dudley,” a human-sized chalk sketch of a skeleton discovered in a barn, which is attributed to Addams, from when he was a boy.
The 4,000-acre nature reserve known as Kualoa Ranch is a veritable can’t-miss destination for pop-culture fantrippers who just so happen to love luscious surroundings, and stunning natural beauty. Setting for films such as Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Godzilla, Jumanji (and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), and much more. Not surprisingly, the environs lend themselves to expecting prehistoric beasties, and other monsters, to emerge from the ranch’s verdant greenery. And aside from trying to escape large creatures, it’s also a good spot for four-wheeling, and horseback riding.