America's 5 Most Popular Really Haunted Houses

Every fall brings corn mazes, pumpkins all over the place, and of course a new batch of scary haunted houses that will make some giggle and others flee for the hills. No matter what type of horror is popular that season—werewolves, vampires, the Slender Man—haunted houses never go out of style. Unlike monsters and villains in horror movies, you can't escape the haunted house and that's the scariest part. As The New York Times pointed out in 2012, haunted houses are scary because they represent a violation of a seemingly safe space. "That's your refuge. When that barrier is breached, you have it," Dr. John Tibbetts told The Times .

This explains why audiences are fascinated by both the Paranormal Activity series and Shirley Jackson's novels, but some prefer to experience their hauntings up close. That's where modern haunted houses come in - elaborate spectacles where victims are (inexplicably) willing to pay actors to scare them in creative ways. Whether the idea delights or terrifies you, the fact is that haunted houses are extremely popular every fall. Last year, it was reported that there were thousands of people on the waiting list for McCamey Manor, an "extreme" haunted house in San Diego.

So, what are the scariest haunted houses in the world? Halloween Express recently analyzed Instagram posts from across the U.S. tagged #HauntedHouse, and the results are useful for anyone who loves Halloween (which is to say, everyone). According to their analysis, Northeasterners most often post about haunted houses on Instagram; New York is the state with the most haunting posts throughout the year, followed by New Hampshire and Utah. When October is excluded, New York remains at the top of the list, but two other states swap places: Utah in second and New Hampshire in third.

The most popular haunted house attraction—as opposed to being truly haunted, but more on that later—is the Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta, Georgia. Second place went to "Terror Behind the Walls," which took place at the famous Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, followed by "Halloween," Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.

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But man-made horror is certainly not the only horror. If you're more of a haunted person, the study also looked at the most popular "real" haunted houses on Instagram - locations with a history of ghost sightings, visions and things that usually happen at night. The top five are detailed below. To learn more about Halloween Express research, including a full list of haunted houses, head here.

1. Eastern State Penitentiary—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) is not only one of the most popular haunted house attractions in the United States, it is also widely considered to be one of the most haunted places in the country. This Quaker-run prison was built in 1829 to rehabilitate prisoners through a combination of isolation and labor. Unfortunately, things took a dark turn, and by the time the prison closed in 1971, its walls had witnessed events straight out of a horror movie. You can learn more about the history of ESP on NPR.

2. Whaley House – San Diego, CA

The Whaley House has been the home of so-called paranormal activity for over a hundred years, starting with a sighting report by homeowner Thomas Whaley in the 1800s. Before the house was built, the property was used for public hangings, and after the Willey family moved in, several descendants lived and died in the house. No one has lived in the house since the 1950s, but ghost sightings continue to be reported to this day.

3. Queen Mary – Long Beach, California

Permanently docked in the Port of Long Beach is the Queen Mary, a converted ocean liner that now houses a luxury hotel. The Queen Mary has been responsible for the deaths of at least 49 people since the ship was built in 1936, and it has become nationally famous for ghost sightings: apparitions, unexplained noises, cold spots and more. You can visit the Queen Mary yourself and even take a ghost tour if you'd like - just maybe don't go into the boiler room.

4. Old Spanish Trail – Jacksonville, Florida.

The Old Spanish Trail passes through many old Spanish colonial towns in the Southeast, but according to local folklore, one house along the trail in Jacksonville, Florida, has had its fair share of paranormal activity—first as a stagecoach stop, and then It was originally a brothel and eventually a grocery store until it became the haunted attraction it is today.

5. Lalaurie Mansion – New Orleans, Louisiana.

When a place is home to one of the most notorious haunted houses in New Orleans, Louisiana, you know it's the place where something seriously scary has happened. In the early 19th century, Delphine Lalaurie was a well-known socialite among the public, but after a fire at the Lalaurie mansion, she was discovered to have secretly imprisoned and tortured slaves (or so the story goes) . Since then, the mansion has become famous for paranormal happenings. Kathy Bates even played LaLaurie in American Horror Story: Coven .

Image credits: Mark Ittleman /Flickr; Jiffy; Courtesy of The Haunted Mansion/Instagram; Wikimedia Commons (4)