Key West Ghosts Make Key West One Of The Most Haunted Places

Captain Tonys Key West Bar Hanging Tree

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The Ghosts Of Key West

Audubon house and gardens 205 whitehead street, banyan resort & guesthouse 323 whitehead street, captain tony's saloon 428 greene street.

Captain Tonys Key West Bar Has Grave In Floor

Chelsea House 709 Truman Avenue

Club chameleon 524 eaton street, crowne plaza la concha hotel 430 duval street.

Crowne Plaza La Concha Key West Hotel May Be Haunted

Eaton Lodge / Old Town Manor 511 Eaton St

Fort zachary taylor south end of key west off southard street.

Parade Grounds Fort Zachary Taylor With Key West Cruise Ship In Background

Hard Rock Cafe 313 Duval Street

Ernest Hemingway House 907 Whitehead Street

Ernest Hemingway Photos Adorn Walls At Key West Home

Key West Cemetery 701 Passover Lane

Marrero's Guest Mansion 410 Fleming Street

Key west heritage house aka porter house/robert frost cottage 429 caroline street.

Historic Porter House and Robert Frost Cottage

Key West Lighthouse 938 Whitehead Street

St. paul's episcopal church cemetery 401 duval street.

St Pauls Episcopal Key West Church

Other Key West Ghoulish Tales

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Creepy Legends And Stories From The Florida Keys

Patrick Thornton

A trip to the Florida Keys is a dream vacation for most people. The white sandy beaches, cool ocean breezes, and tropical waters make the Keys a virtual paradise. But like all things, the Keys have their dark side. Of course, Florida is known for its weird news stories, but the Keys are a world of their own.

Key West is said to have so many ghosts that the living are outnumbered on the scenic island. Creepy stories of the Florida Keys range from an entire ghost family haunting their old home to a corpse turned into a human doll. The ghost of one of the world's most famous writers has been seen in multiple locations around Key West. There are plenty of stories of the haunted Florida Keys.

Spirits Of Soldiers Still Defend The Old Fort  

Spirits Of Soldiers Still Defend The Old Fort  

The construction of Fort Zachary Taylor was completed just in time for the Civil War, where it was used as a blockade by the Union Army. Most of its gruesome passings have nothing to do with the fighting though. The fort was plagued by yellow fever in the late 1800s, and as many as 15 people per day perished from the sickness. While the fort is now a scenic state park, its dark past lingers.

Over the years, park employees and visitors claim to have seen ghostly soldiers lining up in formation, the sound of cannons, and cold spots in the oldest sections of the fort. Others have heard men screaming and the sound of a trap door opening near the old jail where many met their end. There are also multiple accounts of a severely burned little girl wandering the hospital area.

Spirits Of Former Guests and Staff Frequent Key West's First Luxury Hotel

Spirits Of Former Guests and Staff Frequent Key West's First Luxury Hotel

The La Concha Hotel opened at the height of the roaring '20s as a luxury hotel for visitors to Key West. Notable guests at the time included Ernest Hemingway, Tennesee Williams, and Al Capone. The Great Depression hit the hotel hard, however, and it never fully recovered, falling into disrepair over the years. Rising seven stories above Key West, the hotel was famous for its wraparound observation deck, which allowed for a view of the entire city. But the observation deck eventually became the site where over a dozen people reportedly took their lives, and much of the hotel's paranormal activity is said to occur there.

Guests have reported seeing a man pace near the railing, while others have had their wine glasses knocked out of their hands. There are even claims of a precocious Hemingway tipping over objects and playing tricks on people.

Possibly the most notorious haunting resulted from a terrible accident following the hotel's grand reopening in 1986. As the story goes, on a New Year's Eve in the '80s, a waiter attempted to back a cart onto the fifth-floor elevator. He heard the elevator door open, stepped back, and fell five floors with the cart following close behind. He's said to be seen wandering the fifth-floor hallway, and staff members have felt someone watching them when visiting the fifth floor.

A Local Man Obsessively Tried To Preserve The Woman He Loved

A Local Man Obsessively Tried To Preserve The Woman He Loved

Carl Tanzler was a radiology technician at Key West's Marine Hospital in 1930 when a young Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos sought treatment for tuberculosis. He immediately fell in love with de Hoyos and was obsessed with nursing her back to health. She eventually succumbed to the disease, and a grieving Tanzler went to her crypt in the local mausoleum for two years until he was fired from his job.

Tanzler then carted de Hoyos's body out of the mausoleum and took her back to his home, where he did his best to preserve her . Tanzler used wires and coat hangers to connect her bones, replaced her decaying eyes with glass, and filled her body with rags to help keep its form. As her skin began to decompose, he applied wax and Plaster of Paris. When her hair began to fall out, he salvaged it and made a wig for her.

Tanzler kept de Hoyos's cadaver in his bed for seven years until her sister visited and saw the body. Police detained Tanzler, but he was later released as the statute of limitations had expired. Following his detainment, Tanzler made a plaster effigy of de Hoyos that he slept with until his passing. It was reportedly three days before he was discovered, still holding the effigy bearing de Hoyos's face.

An Impoverished Widow Is A Permanent Resident At The Marerro Guest Mansion

An Impoverished Widow Is A Permanent Resident At The Marerro Guest Mansion

Francisco and Enriquetta Marrero were one of the wealthiest and supposedly happiest couples in Key West at the turn of the 20th century. But everything changed when Francisco, a successful cigar maker, passed under unusual circumstances while on a business trip to Cuba. A grieving Enriquetta was left with their Key West mansion and eight children, but the home Francisco built for her wasn't Enriquetta's for long.

Francisco's first wife in Cuba inherited his entire fortune and the mansion since the pair allegedly never divorced. As a penniless Enriquetta left her beloved home, she vowed to return . Some say she made good on that promise.

Today, visitors to Key West can stay at the Marrero Guest Mansion, where the original owners may still reside. The sound of crying babies can be heard in the rooms where Enriquetta's children once slept, even though kids are no longer allowed. Some have felt Enriquetta's welcoming presence and even seen her moving from room to room, caring for the home she never wanted to leave.

Ernest Hemingway Is Said To Haunt His Key West Home

Ernest Hemingway Is Said To Haunt His Key West Home

Ernest Hemingway is perhaps the most well-known resident of Key West, and his home remains a popular tourist attraction. And while you tour the home, you may see the late author somewhere on the property. Hemingway's ghost has been seen throughout Key West, but the main paranormal activity  takes place at the Spanish Colonial-style home where he lived with his children and second wife.

Although Hemingway didn't pass on the property, he joked during his life that he wanted to live in the house even after he was gone. Since his passing, people have reported seeing Hemingway's ghost in his old study, and passersby have claimed to see the writer looking out a second-story window around midnight.

Hemingway is not the only ghost in the house. His second wife, Pauline, lived there for years and loved the home. Some visitors have seen Pauline's spirit sitting at the top of the staircase where she used to watch her husband and sons play outside, and others have heard the clicking of a typewriter from Hemingway's study late at night.

The World's Most Haunted Doll Lives In Key West

The World's Most Haunted Doll Lives In Key West

Robert the Doll may be one of Key West's most notorious residents, with a history of mischief spanning over a century. In the early 1900s, a young Robert Eugene Otto, who went by Gene, was given a doll by his nanny. While it seemed like a harmless gift, one legend states the nanny had a falling out with Gene's parents and cast a voodoo curse on the doll.

All seemed well at first; then, Gene kept spending more and more time with the doll. It's not unusual for children to talk to their toys, but Gene's parents could hear Gene speaking in two different voices, as if he was both himself and Robert. Some of the staff claimed they heard giggling coming from the doll when no one else was around. Gene often blamed Robert for broken objects and overturned furniture. Things got so bad that Gene's parents locked Robert in the attic, where he stayed until they passed.

Gene inherited his parents home, found Robert in the attic, and began his obsession again as an adult. Even Gene's wife hated Robert and thought he watched while she slept. Some even claim the doll made her go insane. It's said that Robert was by Gene's side when he passed.

Today, you can visit Robert the Doll in his locked glass case at the Fort East Martello Museum . But be careful, some claim bad luck follows those who take a picture with Robert.

The Ghost Of A Slain Woman Has Been Spotted At Key West's Former Morgue

The Ghost Of A Slain Woman Has Been Spotted At Key West's Former Morgue

Captain Tony's Saloon has played host to the likes of Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, and even Jimmy Buffet during its long life. The saloon has been a cigar factory, speakeasy, gay club, and now a bar. But the building itself, built in 1850, was originally Key West's first morgue .

The "Hanging Tree" was located conveniently close to the morgue, and it's said that over a dozen pirates and one woman lost their lives to it. The saloon eventually expanded to a point where the tree now runs through the middle of the restaurant, with a gravestone marking the fallen. The bones of eight to 15 bodies were also found under floorboards during renovations.

Today, employees and patrons report seeing a woman in blue who lost her life there centuries ago after slaying her husband and two children.

Key West Has Its Own Haunted Hard Rock Cafe

Key West Has Its Own Haunted Hard Rock Cafe

The Hard Rock Cafe in Key West was originally the home of Robert Curry, given to him by his parents, William and Mary Curry. William was the first millionaire in Key West and made his fortune by salvaging shipwrecks. He opened multiple businesses across the island, but after William's passing, Robert proved he did not inherit his father's business sense.

The family businesses began failing after Robert started to manage them, his wife left him, and his health began to fail. Distraught by his mismanagement and misfortune, Curry took his life in the home, and many are convinced he never left.

When the house was converted into the Hard Rock Cafe, employees reported seeing a young, dark-haired man when opening and closing the restaurant, and guests have reported the door to the bathroom where Robert took his life shaking - only to find no one on the other side. 

Children's Screams Can Be Heard Echoing Through The Abandoned Club Chameleon

Children's Screams Can Be Heard Echoing Through The Abandoned Club Chameleon

The Carib Theater has had many names, but every local knows about its gruesome past. The theater began its life at the First Baptist Church of Key West in 1863. When the pastor found out his wife was having an affair with the deacon, he reportedly locked them inside the church and set it on fire. Seventeen local children were also inside at the time, and every one of them perished.

In its later years, the church became the Club Chameleon, where patrons often smelled smoke and heard children's screams. The building was abandoned for years, while rumors of hauntings kept anyone from buying the building. When the building was abandoned, some claimed that if you tapped on one of the shuttered windows, you could hear someone tapping on the other side.

Key Largo Is Home To The Oldest Haunted Lighthouse In The United States

Key Largo Is Home To The Oldest Haunted Lighthouse In The United States

The Carysfort Reef Lighthouse is not only the oldest lighthouse in the United States, but it's also the site of countless shipwrecks, lost lives, and hauntings. In 1824, Captain John Whalton set sail from New York aboard the  Caesar , a lightship that would be stationed at Carysfort to prevent shipwrecks. The  Caesar itself ran ashore on its way to Key Largo though. The ship did survive, however, and was able to anchor near Carysfort under the command of Captain Whalton.

But even after the Caesar  was stationed, ships commonly wrecked on this stretch of the key. From 1833 to 1841, about 64 ships sank in Carysfort Reef. Less than 10 years after his arrival, Whalton and a member of his crew were slain by Seminole. The captain's wife and young daughter were visiting him at the time of his demise.

Captain Johnson became the first keeper of the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse in 1852 after construction was completed, but he perished on the property not long after he took the position. People, however, still consider him the keeper of Carysfort.

Subsequent keepers claimed they heard moaning and chains rattling in the night. Some were so frightened that they kept an open Bible next to their bed. While no one has lived in the lighthouse since the 1960s, one repairman said he saw a human skeleton appear beneath the lighthouse before vanishing into the turquoise waters of the Keys.

A Ghost Family Still Lives In Their Beloved Home

A Ghost Family Still Lives In Their Beloved Home

The Audubon House & Tropical Gardens in Key West was, and is said to still be, the home of the Geiger family. John Hulling Geiger and his wife, Lucretia, raised their 12 children in the home in the mid-1800s. Captain Geiger made his fortune retrieving the remains of shipwrecks and keeping a portion of the profit. It was a good way to make a living, and there were rumors the captain buried some of his treasure on the property.

Although Captain Geiger passed in 1885, he's often seen walking the second-floor balcony, perhaps watching ships in the distance. A ghostly woman has also been seen wearing a long blue dress on the central staircase and is thought to be Lucretia.

Ghosts And Spirits Haunt The Beaches Of Key Largo

Ghosts And Spirits Haunt The Beaches Of Key Largo

While much of the paranormal phenomena of the Florida Keys takes place in Key West, Key Largo also has reports of ghostly activity. Some say you might even see an entity appearing as an older version of yourself waking the haunted beaches. One man's  paranormal encounters  left him hiding in his hotel room for the rest of his trip to Key West.

At one beach, he reported his EVP recorder picked up heavy breathing that was not his own. So, he used his thermal camera to find the source and saw an old man kneeling in the sand. When he looked without the camera, however, there was no one there. He saw the same man once again at another Key Largo beach lying on the sand, but when he put his camera down to go help, the old man vanished.

A Phantom Appears To Those Who Disrespect The Departed In The Key West Cemetery

A Phantom Appears To Those Who Disrespect The Departed In The Key West Cemetery

In addition to reports of hauntings, Key West Cemetery is known for its New Orleans style vaults and quirky headstones. The cemetery stretches 19 acres and is believed to hold over 100,000 people, outnumbering the region's living population by three-to-one.

Visitors to the cemetery have witnessed the ghost of a Bahamian woman who appears to those who have been disrespectful of the departed by walking across graves or sitting on headstones. Others have heard disembodied voices and discovered unexplained shadows in photos taken at the cemetery.

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What Makes a Ghost Story Effective?

Good ghost stories rest solidly within the purview of real life.

In the summer of my 36th year I made a daring change in my life and moved to a farming community in the Hudson Valley. I rented a 200-year-old Dutch stone house, all but empty except for the necessities. During the week days I was by myself and at night, I started to have a strange sort of dream experience. When I was on the edge of sleep, I found I could rise from the bed and float down the stairs and through the house, encountering figures who also lived there.

I never knew if they were going to be friendly or unfriendly. Sometimes one would slowly turn around and appear to notice me, but usually not. It became clear that these night figures did not exist on my terms. During some of my float-downs, the house and its environs were in a more primitive state. Once I came upon men working to build something, and one of them gave me a threatening scowl.

The other thing that happened during that time was that a friend had a late miscarriage for the seventh time. While she was in the hospital, a nurse mistakenly laid a new baby in her arms and said, “Here is your little boy.” Soon after, I wrote the story “Dream Children,” which combined my friend’s horrific experience with the story of a woman’s deep country life interrupted on weekends by the arrival of her husband with houseguests and city gossip. The woman clings fast to the weekday visits of a phantom boy who seems to be the same age as the one thrust into her arms that one time. She buttresses the validity of these night visits by reading about people like herself who can commute between worlds. From scholars, mystics, theologians, and novelists, she comes to accept that dream and reality aren’t competitors but reciprocal sources of consciousness.

Her discovery marked the beginning of my search for the kind of ghost story I myself could accept. Throughout my fiction, characters meet their ghosts, confronting them on the stairs, conversing with them while driving alone, discovering late in life that a powerful person’s spirit inhabits them. But not until Flora (2013) does a ghost keep audible company with her granddaughter throughout the entire novel. The late grandmother’s imperious comments and advice continue to guide ten-year-old Helen, influencing the child’s choices and actions.

In my new novel, Grief Cottage , 11-year-old Marcus never hears the ghost-boy, but sees him twice. Marcus sets out to court the lost soul trapped inside the ruined cottage, though he is not sure whether the ghost-boy is friendly or follows some sinister agenda of its own.

What are the hallmarks of a successful ghost story? The masterful ones are almost always founded in psychology. The ghost’s arrival usually coincides with a mental crisis in the protagonist’s life and the ghost usually affects a change in the person who has experienced the supernatural.

In Henry James’s “The Jolly Corner,” an American returns to New York after 33 years and wonders if he has made a mistake in living abroad so long. He’s determined to meet the man he would have become if he had stayed at home. When he at last corners the specter of what he might have become, the sight is so hideous that he faints. When he is found at daybreak by Alice Staverton, the devoted friend from his youth, it finally dawns on him what this woman means to him. Of the glaring, disfigured ghost Brydon tells her, “He has a million a year. But he doesn’t have you.”

In A.M. Burrage’s lesser-known masterpiece, “Playmates,” communing with ghosts also changes the character for the better. A misanthropic bachelor who treasures his solitude takes on the care of a joyless young girl who begins to play with “imaginary friends” when they move to an old country house. While the ghost-children are a comfort to the girl in her time of loneliness, the local Vicar believes the girl would develop a gift that might eventually harm her if she continued to see and converse with “wretched souls.” The bachelor makes arrangements to send the girl off to school, but when she leaves, he begins to feel shy little presences in the empty house. “Don’t be afraid,” he whispers to the ghosts, “I’m only a very lonely man. Be near me after Monica is gone.”

But in James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” an insecure young governess, is undone by her experience, causing the death of one of her charges by her hysterical insistence on the presence of the ghosts. In Chekhov’s “The Black Monk” too, an exhausted young scholar, (“Andrey Korvin, MA”) is bewitched by a monk in black robes who floats across the landscape to soft-talk him into what he must do next. The murmurings of the black monk destroys the happiness of the loving family Kovrin has married into, and finally destroys Korvin. (“The monk floated past and stopped in the middle of the room. ‘Why didn’t you trust me?’ he asked reproachfully, looking affectionately at Kovrin. ‘if you had trusted me when I told you that you were a genius, you wouldn’t have spent these two years so miserably, so unprofitably.’”

A really effective ghost story rests solidly within the purview of the stuff of real life, the grounding details of everyday routines. Henry James, who liked to speak of “the terrors of the cheerful country home,” said that a good ghost story must be “connected at a hundred points with the common objects of life.” In the stories cited above there are houses and furniture and routines and a specific milieu.

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Connoisseurs of ghost stories maintain that the supremely satisfying ones leave a window open for the possibility of an as-yet unknown reality. Walking home after his meeting with the Vicar in “Playmates,” the bachelor realizes he looks no longer into the face of a blank and featureless wall but through a curtain beyond which there lie further manifestations of life. (“His footfalls on the ground beat out the words: ‘There is no death. There is no death.’”)

Since my “float-downs” four decades ago in the 200 year old house, I have never again seen people in another dimension. Like my character in “Dream Children,” I read the books she read in order to understand what was happening to her, and I came to the same conclusion: “dream and reality aren’t competitors but reciprocal sources of consciousness,” and, “I understood that when the mystics tell us that the mind is a place, they don’t mean it as a metaphor.”

So, do I believe in ghosts? I believe in the experience Brydon had in “The Jolly Corner,” and I believe Monica learned to play from the little girls who answered her need, and I believe the governess saw the ghosts of the former servants. And I believe I did see those people, in all their particulars, going about their business in the history of that old house. In an unusually receptive state of consciousness, brought on by deep country silence and the shock of my daring break from a safer life, I was somehow able to journey from my bed and float around the outskirts of their world.

While I was writing  Grief Cottage , I studied the James stories closely to see what language he chose to describe the actual confrontations with the ghosts. I copied down passages: The governess thinks when she sees the man on the tower: “What arrested me on the spot was the sense that my imagination had turned real . . . ” And when Brydon in “The Jolly Corner” crosses into the territory of his ghost, “he tasted a sensation more complex than had ever before found itself consistent with sanity.”

Something in my personal development must have set me up to seek a concept of personality that includes other dimensions of being. I expect, I hope, that characters in my books will continue to confront their ghosts and bring me back their findings. When Marcus as an adult finally tells a close friend about the ghost-boy in the ruined cottage, the friend says: “It’s like he needed you and you needed him and there was some kind of collapse in time . . . it’s got something to do with how time interacts with spirit, only you’re going to have to figure it out . . . “

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Gail Godwin

Gail Godwin

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25+ Ghost Story Prompts

Need a scary ghost story to tell over the campfire? Today we bring over 25 ghost story prompts to inspire you to write your own paranormal short story or novel.

A ghost story is a type of horror story that emphasises the theme of the supernatural, apparitions, and otherworldly ghost-like creatures. Generally revolving around death, hauntings or the afterlife. This genre often has an uncanny air about it, producing feelings of fear, dread, and the unfamiliar. A ghost story is one of the oldest forms of literature and can be found in all cultures.

If you’re looking for some new ideas for your next ghost story, these 25+ paranormal story prompts are perfect for writers of all levels. You might also find this ghost name generator useful.

The spookiest time of year is here, and that means it’s time for ghost stories! Whether you’re writing a ghost story for Halloween , a seasonal short story , or even a standalone novel, these ghost story prompts are a great place to start:

  • A young woman moves into an old house and finds herself in a terrifying situation with her new roommate, a ghost. The only way to escape is to get out of the house alive.
  • A man is haunted by his past and must face the demons that come back to haunt him.
  • A group of college students decide to spend their summer vacation in a cabin in the woods. But what starts as a fun vacation turns deadly when they realize that the woods aren’t quite as safe as they thought.
  • Use this story starter for a ghost story: The first time I saw it, I was only six. It was night and I was playing in my granddad’s garden when I heard this weird sound coming from the forest. I followed the sound and found myself in the middle of a circle of tall trees. It was so dark that I could barely see my hands in front of me. Suddenly, something grabbed my leg.
  • A woman is haunted by the ghosts of her ancestors, but she must learn to accept her fate and embrace the spirits before they are all gone forever.
  • An orphaned boy is taken in by a family of ghosts after his parents die in a fire. They teach him how to use his supernatural abilities to help people in need. But soon the boy starts using these powers for evil.
  • A group of teenagers visit their favourite haunted house during the Halloween season, but they never make it home again.
  • A couple gets married on Halloween night and discovers that their marriage is cursed. They must solve the mystery of the ghost bride to break the curse.
  • A boy finds a box of his grandfather’s old slides in the attic, and when he goes back to school, he starts seeing his grandfather’s ghost everywhere.
  • A man hears strange sounds coming from his attic, and he’s determined to find out what they are. He sneaks up to the attic to investigate, but when he does, he stumbles upon something much more frightening than he could have imagined.
  • An abandoned mansion on a lonely island is rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of a pirate who was hung for his crimes. A group of friends decide to spend the night in the mansion, and they quickly learn that there’s more than one kind of ghost in the house.
  • A family moves back into their old family home where their son died years ago. The father becomes obsessed with finding out who killed his son. He believes he knows who the murderer is but no one will believe him.
  • A man is tormented by a ghostly hitchhiker. He is forced to take them on a road trip until they reach their final destination…a mysterious abandoned town.
  • A family moves into an old Victorian home, where the previous owner mysteriously disappeared after getting locked in one of the rooms. Now the family is trapped inside by a malevolent entity.
  • A man is on his way home from work when he is attacked by a group of ghosts. He manages to escape, but now he has a few more problems than he started with.
  • Use this story starter for a ghost story: I woke up in the middle of the night, and I felt a cold hand touching my face. I tried to scream, but my voice wouldn’t come out. Then, I felt a sharp pain in my neck.
  • My father told me about his experience while we were driving home. He said he saw a dead girl walking towards him just after I was born, but when he got closer, she disappeared. He thought if was imagining things at the time.
  • My father used to scare me at night. One time he came into my bedroom and woke me up, telling me to come downstairs. He took me to the living room, and there he told me that a ghost had put a curse on me.
  • It was the most beautiful cemetery ever. People would come from far away just to walk through the grounds. There was a rumour about a ghost that roamed the graveyard at night.
  • A teenage girl is forced to spend her summer with her grandmother who believes she can communicate with ghosts.
  • A young woman moves into an apartment next door to an old house where she hears a woman screaming and sees a little girl standing in the window.
  • A woman hears a baby crying in her house, but she can’t find it. She keeps hearing it crying in another room, so she goes to check on it. When she opens the door, there is no baby there. But then, the door slams shut and locks itself.
  • A girl is staying at her grandmother’s house with her family for the night. She is sleeping in her grandmother’s bed, but she can’t get comfortable. Every time she falls asleep, she wakes up to see her dead grandmother sitting on the edge of her bed.
  • A woman is walking down a deserted road when she sees a figure standing in front of her. It turns out to be an old man in a top hat, holding a cane. He says to her, “Hello, young lady. My name is John Marley. I am a spirit from the other side.”
  • One night, a mother wakes up to hear her son crying in their room. When she goes into his room, he is not there. She looks everywhere for him and calls out his name. The only answer she gets is a terrible scream that echoes throughout the house.
  • In a small village, there lived a woman who was very lonely. Her husband had passed away and she was left all alone with her two sons. The boys were grown and had families of their own. The woman was so lonely that she began talking to herself. “I’m all alone,” she said to no one in particular. “I’m all alone.” And then she hears a voice.
  • There was once a man who lived by the beach. He loved the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. One day, he decided to go for a walk on the beach and ended up drowning. When he died, he came back as a ghost. Every night, he would come back to the place where he drowned, and stand there.
  • There was once a little girl who loved to play hide and seek. One day, while playing, she got separated from her family. She found a tree stump and went behind it, but when she peeked around the edge, she saw that no one was there. The stump began to move, and suddenly the girl felt herself being lifted off the ground and into the air. As she looked at the tree stump, she noticed that it had eyes. The eyes were staring right at her. Then, before she could scream, the tree stump opened its mouth.

For more spooky ideas, check out this list of over 110 horror story ideas .

How do you write a ghost story?

The basic structure of a ghost story includes an opening sequence that presents the reader with a situation that seems normal but is actually supernatural in nature. The protagonist then encounters the ghost and experiences events that are often strange and frightening, leading up to a climax where the ghost is defeated or disappears. Writing a ghost story is the same as writing a horror story . Before you start writing you need a good ghost story plot idea, like the list above. Both ghost stories and horror stories have a set of characters, a spooky setting, an opening, a middle part and a dramatic ending. 

What is the shortest ghost story?

The shortest ghost story is just two sentences long. It was written by Frederic Brown in 1948. The story reads: “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door …” Just by reading these two sentences, we can imagine a scary situation. There are two key themes used here, the fear of loneliness and the surprise element at the end. Both these are important themes in ghost stories.

What makes a ghost story scary?

Ghost stories are typically scary as they focus on death and going into the unknown. But the key to a scary ghost story is fear. It is important to make the reader feel uneasy or frightened. Here are some key elements of a good ghost story:

  • An encounter with a ghost or spirit
  • A supernatural force that can be both good and evil
  • Sense of dread
  • The feeling of being watched or followed
  • Feeling helpless
  • Being lonely or lost

Just like all stories, a ghost story must include these basic elements of a story : Characters, Setting, Plot, Conflict and Resolution.

How do you finish a ghost story?

Most ghost stories end with the haunting being explained away as something natural. This explanation can be a spiritual one (the ghost was a real person who died), or it can be a psychological one (the ghost was a product of the protagonist’s mind). The ghost story can also end with no explanation at all. Some ghost stories don’t even bother to give an explanation for the haunting, but let the reader figure it out themselves.

Did you find this list of over 25 ghost story prompts useful? Let us know in the comments below! 

ghost story prompts

Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.

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Ghosts of Key West

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David L. Sloan

Ghosts of Key West Paperback – October 31, 2012

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  • Print length 103 pages
  • Language English
  • Publication date October 31, 2012
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 0.29 x 8.5 inches
  • ISBN-10 0967449804
  • ISBN-13 978-0967449807
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Phantom Press (October 31, 2012)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 103 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0967449804
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0967449807
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 6.6 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 0.29 x 8.5 inches
  • #188 in Ghosts & Hauntings
  • #529 in Unexplained Mysteries (Books)

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About the author

key ghost story

David L. Sloan

David L. Sloan IV is an American author, publisher, artist, and producer in Key West, Florida, best known for his books about the Florida Keys and his work in the paranormal field. He is often called "the next Hemingway," though this refers to his drinking and penchant for death more often than his writing.

Sloan launched his writing career in 1998. He founded Phantom Press, Inc the following year and authored dozens of books about Key West and the Florida Keys, including cookbooks, travel guides, and collections documenting Key West’s haunted history.

Sloan is known for his knowledge of island history and irreverent sense of humor. His columns and articles have been featured locally in The Key West Weekly and Key West Citizen and globally in National Geographic and other publications. David has been featured on The History Channel, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, and Food Network. He co-founded The Key Lime Festival and launched one of America's first ghost tours in Key West. Through his tours and events, Sloan actively raises money for local non-profits. He is named after his great, great, great grandfather whose Union regiment was in charge of Key West during the Civil War.

Sloan's books are easy reads and most people dig them. His unique perspective on the Keys has entertained millions. Check out a few of his books before you visit Key West, or take a ghost tour with Sloan ( next time you are in Key West. You won't be disappointed.

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Robert the Doll: A True Key West Ghost Story

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It all started when Robert Otto was 4 years old and living in a home in Key West that now serves as The Artist House Hotel. The year was 1904 and a young girl believed to be of Bahamian descent gives him a life-sized doll made of fabric stuffed with straw.

The story goes that Otto became enamored with the doll and named it after himself – Robert. Otto built the doll its own room in the attic complete with furniture, and toys, including the dolls, own teddy bear. As Otto grew, he started blaming Robert for any mishaps that Otto himself had committed. Eventually, the doll took the blame for everything that was negative in Otto’s life.

When Eugene returned to the house with his bride Anne he often escaped to the turret room where the light was better for painting. Ever present was his doll Robert.

Robert spent his days propped up against the southwest window of the turret room. School children walking by the house would look up and report seeing Robert move from one side of the window to the other. Other visitors to the house would describe how the doll’s facial expression changed according to the conversation in the room. Reports of Robert moving from one side of the room to another and the sound of giggling in the room were made.

Anne loathed the doll and after her husband’s death she demanded that the doll stay in the attic in a cedar chest. Many years after her death the doll was found and donated to the Key West Art and Historical society. Robert is now on display at the East Martello Museum, along with his teddy bear.

The world famous  is the most photographed house in Key West and the former home of Robert the Doll. The Artist House has been operating since 1978.

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Join your gravedigger guide aboard the Trolley of the Doomed for a journey through Key West's darker side! Take an evening trolley ride down the... Read More

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How to write a Victorian Christmas Ghost Story

Christmas Carol - Ghost Story

How to write a Victorian Christmas Ghost Story!

To modern readers, ghost stories seem reserved for Halloween festivities, or for any random time in the year with no connection with any particular tradition. However, for the Victorians, cold and long winter Christmas nights were the perfect conditions to tell ghost stories around the fire.

Victorian Tradition of Ghost Stories at Christmas Time

The tradition of gathering together to share ghost stories was popular in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s with British travel writer Jerome K. Jerome writing that “nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres” in the introduction to his 1891 anthology of Christmas ghost stories ‘ Told After Supper’.

Although Charles Dickens’ ‘ A Christmas Carol’ is the most well-known novella within this tradition, he was not the only author crafting spooky tales , with Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem ‘The Raven’ being set in the bleak month of December and Henry James 1898 story ‘ The Turn of the Screw’ cementing his place within this scary Christmas tradition in the US.

Key Ingredients to a Victorian Ghost Story

If like the Victorian writers and readers, you have an appetite to create your own Victorian Christmas Ghost Story, this article will channel your creativity to combine this Victorian tradition with your own imagination.

Ghost Story

In Charles Dicken’s novella ‘ A Christmas Carol’ he includes 4 ghosts; the ghost of Jacob Marley is the first spirit to appear and not only reveals that he will be visited by three more ghosts, but he becomes a figure that foreshadows Scrooge’s own fate if he doesn’t change his ways. Similarly, each of the three ghosts that visit Scrooge, the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present and the ghost of Christmas yet to come, all have aesthetic characteristics that mirror the message that they teach Scrooge.

Whether it is the large, jolly Ghost of Christmas present teaching Scrooge about the warmth, kindness and comfort that surrounds Christmas or the unnerving Ghost of Christmas yet to come which seeks to terrify Scrooge into changing his cold, callous ways.

Ultimately Dickens wanted to teach his audience not only about the merriness of the Christmas season, but about the charity and kindness of Christmas and that everyone has the capacity for redemption and forgiveness.

When writing your own Victorian inspired Christmas ghost story, think about what element of Christmas or the festive season are you drawing your reader’s attention to and how is this going to be reflected in your ghost.

The Setting

Ghost Stories

The connection between wintery weather and ghosts for Victorian writers was a key trope as it demonstrates the relationship between phantoms and weather and their ability to infect a sense of claustrophobia upon the human mind. Not only is the weather is a key element to incorporate into your Victorian Christmas ghost story, but the setting of which your plot unfolds.

A popular setting for Victorian writers was haunted houses. Although this is now a staple at Halloween, haunted houses were the ideal setting for Victorian writers; Sheridan Le Fanu embodies this setting in his tale ‘An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street’ as a couple of friends spend the night in an old mansion where a ghost visits to provide insight into one man’s past.

Although the backdrop of a haunted house for a ghost story has saturated the horror genre, the challenge lies in re-inventing this trope whilst staying within the remits of a traditional Victorian Christmas ghost story. Take inspiration from Charlotte Riddell who used the setting of a haunted house in her 1882 novel ‘The Open Door’ ; although she used a traditional trope, she was able to produce a fresh and engaging tale as her story details a haunted house with a mysterious door that won’t stay shut, revealing a dark truth. Challenge your writing abilities to stay within the scope of the traditional Victorian Christmas ghost story setting of a wintery scene and a haunted house, but see if you are able to invent something unique and spine-chilling for your tale.

set the monsters loose

However, many also had a warm and happy ending which focussed on portraying a message of Christmas from the author to the readers. This leaves you with two options; to focus on the Victorians’ fascination with death or to indulge and experiment with their increasing love and excitement for Christmas by writing a warm and endearing end to your Christmas tale.

The choice as to whether you follow Dicken’s and create an ending filled with Christmas merriment, or to shock and terrify your readers like Henry James in his novel ‘ The Turn of the Screw’ is only limited by the scope of your imagination.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more about ghost stories from The Writer’s Initiative, check out this article about M.R. James and his ghost stories , or read this article giving a concise history of famous ghosts in literature .

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[…] Charles Dickens and M.R. James are two notable writers from the Victorian/Edwardian period that delighted audiences with a good scare and a entertaining yarn. […]

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