They’re Here! 5 Spooky Spots in the D.C. Area

Exorcist steps

Long way down: During filming, the Exorcist steps were padded with a half-inch of rubber. Today we’re left with concrete and a few scattered leaves, so don’t trip.

Ah, Halloween. Time to break out the masks, make-up and mini Mars bars. But you don’t have to go to a cheesy haunted house to get your chills this season. Indeed, there are several real-world locations in or around town that will have your hair standing on end. Some even scarier than the beltway at rush hour.

So, if you’re looking to do some fright-seeing this Halloween weekend, stop by one of these five, genuinely creepy locales.

Exorcist Steps
Location: At the corner of Prospect St. and 36th St., N.W.

You’d think that in the light of day and rooted in the banality of the real world, the Exorcist steps – the actual flight of stairs down which Father Karras took his climactic, headlong plunge to cap 1973’s horrifying “The Exorcist” – wouldn’t be all that scary. But at 97 individual steps and with a razor-sharp incline that seems to defy the best practices of modern construction, this worn staircase in Northwest is surprisingly spooky. Imagine trying to jog up and down this monstrosity. Talk about getting some “exorcise.” For added fun, check out the ominous house at 3600 Prospect St. – another filming location – and The Tombs, an appropriately named bar and favorite haunt of Georgetown undergrads that is located across the street.

Octagon House
Location: 1799 New York Ave., N.W.

While “octagon” may be a misnomer – the structure actually has six sides – the haunted history of the Octagon House appears to be a bit more legitimate. Well, as legit as 200-year-old ghost stories get, anyway. Built by Col. John Tayloe III in 1801, the house reportedly saw both of the Colonel’s daughters die on the premises fewer than 20 years after construction – one falling from the third floor landing, the other from the second – and stories indicate the pair still haunt the otherwise charming, anfractuous staircase that anchors the center of the house. The Octagon was recast as a museum in the early 1900s, and over the years visitors and employees have reported spectral apparitions along the stairs, unidentifiable screams, bizarre “cold spots” and intermittently ringing bells.

Gargoyles at the National Cathedral
Location: Wisconsin and Massachusetts Ave., N.W.

Though they may not be haunted, the 112 stone gargoyles that line the towers of the National Cathedral are certainly creepy. True, the Darth Vader grotesque (the result of a design-a-gargoyle contest in the ‘80s) tends to elicit more of a grin rather than a grimace, but there are hordes of genuinely fearsome beasties – dragons, harpies, minotaurs and one particularly mouthy lawyer. Gargoyle hunters should remember to bring binoculars, as many of the carvings are difficult to see from ground level with the unaided eye. Of course, you can always just check them out online.

“America’s Most Haunted City”
Location: Fredericksburg, Va.

Sitting smack-dab between D.C. and Richmond – respectively, the capitals of the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War – and serving as the locus of four separate battles during that conflict, Fredericksburg has seen its share of bloodshed. In fact, more than 100,000 soldiers lost their lives fighting in Fredericksburg. It’s little wonder that town promoters have labeled it as the nation’s most haunted city per capita. Today, guided ghost tours offer visitors a chance to experience historic, haunted Fredericksburg with candle-lit walks to the city’s most “spirited” spots, including various 19th-century buildings and more than a few graveyards. While in town, be sure to pay a visit to the Kenmore Plantation House, where the phantom of original owner Col. Fielding Lewis is said to linger.

Spook Hill
Location: Mountain Church Rd., Burkittsville, Md.

In the tiny town of Burkittsville, which is just a bit west of Frederick, you’ll find maybe the single strangest natural (or, is it supernatural?) phenomenon in the metro area. “Spook Hill,” as it is known, has baffled local residents for years with its apparently gravity-defying characteristics. Here’s how it works: Stop your car at the bottom of the gently sloping hill on Mountain Church Rd., put it in neutral and marvel as your vehicle rolls backwards up the hill. You can see a video of the effect here. Sure, your average surveyor will likely dismiss the phenomenon with a lot of highfalutin’, sciencey talk – some jibber-jabber about an optical illusion created by the obscured horizon – but I think we all know what’s going on in Burkittsville: It’s that dang Blair Witch again.

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