Ghosts of the Famous

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Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn's ghost
Her headless ghost has been seen at the Tower of London.

You know their names, now learn about their ghosts and haunted legacies

IF GHOSTS ARE the residual energy of once-living people, then there’s no reason why there wouldn't be ghosts of historically famous people as there would be of anyone else. Very often, their famous lives were filled with drama, tragedy, and great conflict, and sometimes ended the same way – possibly providing the recipe for hauntings that have endured through hundreds of years.

Here are some of those famous people and the ghostly stories, legends, and sightings associated with them.

Anny Boleyn became the second wife of Henry VIII in January 1533, a marriage that would result in the break between The Church of England and The Roman Catholic Church. It was a short-lived marriage, however, as the volatile king accused his queen of adultery, incest, and treason – none of which she was likely guilty. Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London, then executed by beheading on May 19, 1536.

Her ghost is one of the most famous in all of England. Several people have reported seeing the ghost of Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle (the Bolelyn residence), Blickling Hall (where she was born), Salle Church (where one legend says she was buried), Marwell Hall, and the Tower of London. The ghost often appears as Anne was in life – young and beautiful. But it has also been famously seen headless, with her lopped off head tucked under her arm.

One famous sighting took place at the Tower in 1864. Major General J.D. Dundas witnessed the event from the window of his quarters: he saw a white female figure floating toward a guard in the courtyard where Boleyn had been imprisoned. The guard charged at the ghostly figure with the bayonet on this rifle, but he saw it had no effect, he fainted. The guard was saved from court-martial for fainting on duty only because Major Dundas testified as to the encounter with the ghost.

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Al Capone

Al Capone's ghost
His banjo playing can still be heard at Alcatraz.

His name has become synonymous with gangster, having been one of the most ruthless American criminals of the 1920s. Despite all of his alleged criminal activity, which allegedly included bootlegging and murder, he was arrested and convicted only of tax evasion in 1931 and served his time in Alcatraz federal prison among other institutions. He was paroled in 1939 and died of a heart attack at his Florida home in January, 1947.

During his imprisonment at Alcatraz, San Francisco, Capone learned to play the banjo, and it is said that sad banjo playing can still occasionally be heard from the area of the prison showers.

Ironically, while at Alcatraz, Capone believed he was being haunted by the ghost of Myles O'Bannion, the leader of a rival Chicago gang who, it is believed, Capone had killed. Capone thought O'Bannion’s ghost followed him around the prison, seeking revenge.

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Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton

Burr-Hamilton duel
The Burr-Hamilton duel.

Their duel in July, 1804 is undoubtedly the most famous duel in American history. Hamilton was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, chief of staff to General Washington, and then Secretary of the Treasury. Aaron Burr, having lost the presidential election to Thomas Jefferson, became his vice-president, as was the custom in those days. Hamilton and Burr disliked each other intensely, which led to the duel in which Hamilton was killed.

There are a number of ghost reports connected to these two gentlemen:

  • The house in Greenwich Village, New York City, where Hamilton died, has been plagued by poltergeist activity.
  • When Burr’s daughter boarded a ship to meet her returning exiled father, the ship sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Some have claimed to see her ghost wandering along the shoreline.
  • When Burr resettled in New York at age 77, he married Eliza Jumel, a widow who, it was rumored, had murdered her previous husband, Stephen Jumel. It is said his ghost haunted the mansion where they lived.
  • Eliza herself might be a ghost. She died in the Jumel mansion in New York City at the age of 93, and the ghost of an old woman has been reported on the balcony of the stately house.

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Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee.

As one of the great generals of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee is considered a military tactical genius, having led Confederate forces to numerous victories against greater opposition. Yet the Union Army ultimately prevailed, and Lee reluctantly surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in April, 1865.

Having survived the war, Lee served as the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia until his death in 1870. Yet it is in his childhood home in Alexandria, Virginia where his ghost has been seen – in the form of a young boy that likes to play pranks: ringing the doorbell, moving household objects, and giggling in the hallways.

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Jesse James

Jesse James
One of the most notorious outlaws of the American west.

Jesse Woodson James to this day remains one of the most notorious outlaws of the American west. As the most famous member of the James-Younger gang, he along with his brother Frank, were responsible for numerous crimes. During the Civil War, Jesse and Frank were known to have committed brutal atrocities against Union soldiers, and after the war participated in bank and train robberies and murder, mostly in the state of Missouri. In 1882, Jesse was killed by Robert Ford, a member of his gang who hoped to collect the $10,000 bounty on Jesse’s head.

Jesse’s ghost has been sighted on the farm in Kearney, Missouri, where the James boys were raised. Amazingly, the James farmhouse still stands, and eerie lights have been seen moving inside the house and around the outside property at night. Gunshots and the sound of phantom horse hooves have also been heard.

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Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau
Her ghost wearing her turban has been seen moving about the tombstones.

She was known as The Queen of Voodoo, born a free woman of mixed race (Louisiana Creole and white) in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1794. By trade a hairdresser to the New Orleans elite, she was also a fervent practitioner of Voodoo, a mixture of Roman Catholic practices and African religious beliefs. According to one account, she used her magic to help free a young Creole of a murder charge, and received his father’s house as reward. She died in June, 1881 at the age of 98.

With her reputation related to magic and the occult, it's no surprise that Marie Laveau's ghost has been reported. She is buried in Saint Louis Cemetery, New Orleans, and her ghost wearing her turban has been seen moving about the tombstones, uttering voodoo curses. Some also believe that her spirit appears as a phantom cat with glowing red eyes that has been seen disappearing into her sealed mausoleum door. Marie Laveau is also said to haunt 1020 St. Anne St. in New Orleans, the house that now stands on the location where her clay and moss once stood.