Valentine’s Day has interesting roots. February 14th commemorates the anniversary of the death or burial of St. Valentine in A.D. 270, but the church placed the celebration on that date in order to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia which was celebrated on February 13 or 15. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, Roman priests would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been raised by a she-wolf. In this cave, the priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would cut the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood, then walk through the streets gently slapping women and crop fields with the bloody goat hide. Roman women welcomed being hit with the bloody strips because they believed that it would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, all the young women in the city would place their names in a large urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Thus, the romantic association with February 14.
Love, sex, and romance are wonderful things, but as we all know not all romantic encounters have happy endings. In fact, many spurned lovers end up in tragic situations such as murder or suicide, which is why so many ghost stories have their roots in love affairs gone bad. There are countless ghost stories that center around some type of romance gone wrong, but the following six spooky tales seem to have just the right balance of romance and haunted happenings to be included in this collection.
This first story is a dramatic retelling of a true ghost story that was submitted to my website in 2012. It tells of a ghostly encounter a young man had while exploring the ruins of an abandoned 19th-century castle in Belgium. The castle has since been demolished, and unfortunately I haven’t received any reports of unearthly screams, or of misty figures hovering above the rubble. But once you read what the young man saw that night, you’ll know why I was anxious to include his tale in this collection of Valentine’s Day ghost stories.
If I Was Just 150 Years Younger -- Celles, Belgium
Before I start, let me get one thing out of the way. Yes, I know I wasn’t supposed to be there. But, it’s just something I do; and I’ve been at it for years. I’m known as an urban explorer, someone who breaks into and explores abandoned buildings. This isn’t just a hobby, this is my passion.
I’ve traveled all over the world and explored the most amazing abandoned places you can imagine--hotels, mansions, army bases, missile-silos, you name it. Hey, did you know that there are not one, but two abandoned space shuttles that were just left to rot in a massive hanger in the Central Asian desert? Well, there are, and I saw them. I really did! And I actually sat in one. I was at an all-time high sitting in the cockpit of an actual space shuttle, and I took tons of pictures to put on my YouTube channel, Facebook, and Instagram pages.
Walking out of the hanger that day--careful not to get arrested in the process--I thought that I had seen it all. But nothing could be farther from the truth, because what I saw one night at an abandoned Belgium estate made everything that came before it pale in comparison.
Chateau Miranda was built in 1866, and was home to a French family until WWII when it was occupied by German forces. In the mid-1900s, the estate was turned into an orphanage and holiday camp for sick children, and the place was abandoned in the early 1990s due to the high cost of maintaining the place. Now, fast-forward to 2009 and enter yours truly. I was more than a little excited to get into the place. I mean, it is literally a castle, and I had heard that all four floors were accessible and in decent shape. The police kept a close eye on the place, so I decided to make this a night excursion. If I was careful, my flashlight wouldn’t be seen from outside. And even though I would be using a flash to take pictures, I made sure to bring black fabric to cover the windows of the rooms on the side facing the main road.
It was 1AM when I tossed my backpack and camera equipment through a broken window into what was once the estate’s dining room. I hoisted myself up, and somehow managed to land without breaking any bones. I was in! Even at night, the place was incredible. It was beautiful in the way that all abandoned places are. The scrolled woodwork around the doorways seemed to be in perfect condition, and the wallpaper that hung off the wall in curled strips made it look as if someone had gone mad and tore the place to shreds. Broken glass crackled under my feet as I made my way down the long hallway that led to the front entrance. I had seen pictures of the grand entryway, and I was anxious to see it for myself.
It was pitch black in this part of the house because there were no windows, and light from the distant street lamps only illuminated spots outside of each doorway. I was about half-way down the hallway when I saw movement up ahead and I stopped dead in my tracks. Now, it wasn’t unheard of to encounter other urban explorers in places like this, but you also have to be careful not to run into drug addicts or squatters who are sometimes very territorial--even though they were here illegally too.
The movement came from a room on the right side of the hallway. The light from the street lit the room up to the point where I could see the shadow of someone moving around in there. I considered turning off my flashlight, but didn’t want to scare the person. They were probably just here exploring the place just like me, and if they were living here, well, more power to them. After all, who deserves to live in a castle more than a homeless person, right?
As I walked toward the room I called out in as cheerful a voice as I could, “Hello! Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m just taking a look around the place.” I stopped and listened. There was no reply. The shadow continued to move, and it looked like whoever was in there was pacing back and forth. But there was something wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right. “Hello?” I called. “Sorry to disturb you. Just taking a look around.” Silence. The room was about 10 steps away, and the shadow kept moving as if the person hadn’t heard me, which was weird. I took a few more steps, then stopped and listened. Then I realized what was wrong. There was definitely someone in that room pacing back-and-forth, but there was no sound. I should be hearing the sound of feet crushing broken glass and fallen plaster, but there was no sound at all. Even if the person had cleaned the place up, I should at least hear their footsteps.
I turned off my flashlight, then crept toward the open doorway. I slowly put my head around the corner and peered into the room. Like the rest of the house, the room was in shambles. But strangely, there was still furniture in it. Against the wall just to the left of the doorway was a mirrored dressing table with a cushioned chair; the type that a woman would sit at to put on her makeup. On this sat an oil-lamp that burned with a soft yellow glow. Against the far wall was a dresser, but all of the drawers were pulled out, and most were broken. The floor was bare, and the wood was warped from decades of rain coming in through the open window. I put my head in a bit farther, and against the far wall I could see a four-poster bed, the mattress of which was swollen and bursting with cotton and feather stuffing. And then I saw her.
Coming out from a small room to the right of the bed was a woman. I could see her very clearly, even though the room was poorly lit; and the way she looked literally took my breath away. She was a young woman, about 25 years old, and she was totally naked. She had long, dark brown hair that she was brushing as she walked. Her skin was milky white, and her bare feet were totally unaffected by the broken glass that littered the floor. Her back was to me as she walked up to the dresser and put the brush down on top. She then put her hands into one of the open drawers, and took something out of it. She turned in my direction, and I could see that there was nothing in her hands, but she was holding them apart from one another as if she was holding up and admiring a dress. She was absolutely beautiful, and her body was perfect and seemed to glow from within. As she held up the non-existent garment in front of her, a slight smile played across her lips. She held the invisible dress up to her naked body and walked over to the dresser, then turned this way and that in front of the mirror, as if admiring herself. She smiled at her reflection, as if she was pleased at what she saw.
Suddenly, she turned back toward the bed, a look of alarm on her face. She ran toward the small room next to the bed, then as she was about to enter it, she held her hands up in front of her face, and her mouth opened in a scream of terror. I could hear no sound, but somehow I could actually feel her scream in the air. The woman fell backward, and her head struck the corner of the bed. Her body went slack, and then became still.
All this time I was literally frozen in place. I was unable to move a muscle even if I wanted to, as if I was being forced to witness this grizzly scene. Then, I watched in amazement as the woman’s body slowly faded away into something like a soft pale mist, and then it was gone.
The trance-like state I had been in was broken, and I turned and ran back down the hall to the dining room as fast as I could. I threw my backpack and camera gear out the window, then climbed onto the window sill and jumped out. I tore ass across the field toward the fence that surrounded the estate, and just as I was about to climb it to get to my car, I turned and looked back at the castle. The room that I had seen the woman in was totally dark, but I could just make out a very pale, white shape moving back-and-forth in front of the open window.
Emily’s Bridge - Stowe, Vermont
Covered bridges are an iconic American image. At one time, there were as many as 12,000 in the US, but over the years their numbers have diminished considerably, so today fewer than 1,000 remain. Old timers used to call covered bridges “kissing bridges” because of the countless couples who have undoubtedly taken advantage of the privacy that they provide. So it’s no wonder that so many romance novels use covered bridges as their backdrop. But even when romance is involved, some covered bridges have a more sinister reputation.
In Stowe, Vermont is a single-lane, 48 foot long covered bridge called the Gold Brook bridge. Built in 1844 by John W. Smith, the 17 foot wide bridge is made entirely of wood, and the exterior is covered in vertical board siding extending most of the way up to the eaves. A narrow space was left along the top to allow light and air into the bridge’s interior. The bridge’s decking is still made of wooden planks, and the structure is topped by a gabled tin roof.
These days, hardly anyone knows the bridge by its original name. Walk into any tourist spot in the area and you’ll find the bridge featured on postcards, cedar boxes, keychains, and other souvenirs with the name “Emily’s Bridge” written in quaint lettering. But the picturesque scenes these trinkets depict don’t even hint at the ghost story that gives Emily’s bridge its name.
Legend has it that in the 1850’s, a teenaged girl named Emily and her lover set a date to meet on the bridge. The young man was from a rich family, and Emily’s family was poor. His parents had refused the wedding, so the young couple decided to elope. They thought that the covered bridge would be a perfect, romantic meeting place to begin their journey through life together.
Emily arrived at the bridge at midnight and waited for her lover to arrive. Rain was falling that night, and one can imagine her listening to the soft sound of the rain on the tin roof, and of the brook flowing gently below, excited by the prospect of finally marrying the one she loved. But as the hours slowly passed, it was clear that her lover had changed his mind. Infuriated that her lover had stood her up, and distraught at the thought of living her life without him, Emily hung herself from the rafters using the rope she had used to tie together her sack of belongings.
Emily’s ghost isn’t your typical sweet, sorrowful spirit. Emily was so enraged at her jilted lover that to this day she takes her wrath out on those who pass through the bridge’s dark interior. Many have reported that deep, claw-like gouges appear on the sides of their car after parking on the bridge or driving through it. If you walk through the bridge, you might feel as if someone is touching you lightly on your arms and face. Or, you could end up with claw marks across your back, as some have reported. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a misty white apparition floating high up near the bridge’s rafters.
Some have reported hearing the sound of footsteps and strange voices coming from the bridge's interior, as well as the scream of a young woman. Other strange sounds include loud banging on cars, as if someone is hitting them from the outside, and a strange dragging sound on the roof of the car as you drive through. What could that sound be? Emily’s dangling feet dragging across the roof as she hangs from the rafters, of course.
So, if you value your car’s paint job, by all means avoid crossing Emily’s bridge, especially between the hours of midnight and 3AM when her spirit is said to be most active.
The Haunted Texas Governor's Mansion -- Austin, Texas
In 1853 the Texas legislature earmarked over $15,000 for the construction of the governor’s mansion in Austin. That was quite a bit of money in those days. How much? $15,000 in the 1850’s is equivalent to $500,000 today. Construction on the mansion began in 1853, and it was completed in 1856.
Today, the white Greek Revival style house is the fourth oldest executive residence in the United States, and the oldest located west of the Mississippi. Visitors can take a guided tour of the mansion, and if they’re lucky, they just might see or hear one of the ghosts said to haunt the place.
One story revolves around a young woman who worked as the governor’s maid. Although we don’t have a time-frame for the story, we do know that the woman became pregnant by someone in the mansion, and that she was fired from her job when her employer found out. Details are also fuzzy around whether she committed suicide, or if she just died of natural causes; but many people have reported seeing a woman outside the house looking longingly at the mansion as if yearning to be forgiven for her past indiscretion. Or, her spirit may be stuck in the past, waiting for her lover to come to the window and tell her that he will take care of her and their child.
The most widely reported and best known story attached to the mansion involved Governor Pendleton Murrah, the tenth governor of Texas who served his term in office during the Civil War. Murrah’s political career ended in controversy when he drafted Texas militia troops into the Confederate army. Murrah never finished his term in office. He fled to Mexico with other Confederate leaders when he heard that the Union troops were on their way to Texas.
Although the exact details of the story seem to have faded over the years, there was a nineteen-year old man associated with the Murrah family who lived at the mansion. He fell in love with a young woman, possibly his cousin, but was rejected by her. While much of the story is vague, one thing is certain. The young man committed suicide in a small guest room on the north side of the mansion. Most accounts say that he shot himself in the head, but regardless of how he died, it is a fact that the room was bathed in blood. The haunting of the guest room began hours after the young man’s suicide. The staff refused to clean the room of the blood because they said that they heard moaning and wailing coming from the room immediately after he killed himself. The disturbances in the room continued, and expanded to include strange banging sounds, mysterious cold spots, and the rattling of the room’s doorknob.
The activity must have been pretty frightening because the governor who took over for Murrah, Andrew J. Hamilton, walled up the door to the room sometime around 1865. But even after the room was sealed, the mansion’s staff continued to report a feeling of dread whenever they worked in the mansion’s north wing.
The room was finally unsealed when the mansion was renovated in the 20th century. Since that time, many have reported hearing strange, unexplained noises coming from the room. The haunting is most active on Sundays, the day that the young man committed suicide.
Three’s A Crowd - St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine, Florida is home to the oldest masonry fort in the United States, The Castillo de San Marcos. The fort was ordered by the governor after a raid by an English privateer destroyed much of St. Augustine, including the existing wooden fort. Construction began in 1672, and the fort was finished in 1695. Today, the site is known to paranormal enthusiasts as one of the most haunted places in Florida. One ghost story associated with the fort revolves around an adulterous affair that ended in murder.
In 1784, Colonel Garcia Marti was assigned duty at Castillo de San Marcos, and he brought his young wife Dolores to live there with him. Soon after settling into the routines of life at the fort, Dolores began to get bored. Her husband was busy with his work, and he ignored her romantically, so Dolores sought affection elsewhere and began having an affair with her husband’s assistant, Captain Manuel Abela. Late at night, when her husband was asleep, Dolores would sneak away to meet her lover, then she would steal back into her room hours later unnoticed.
The two lovers were successful at not getting caught until one day the colonel noticed the smell of Dolores’ perfume on his assistant. He became enraged, but didn’t say a word to his wife or his assistant. He came up with a plan to get his revenge. A few days later, Dolores and Manuel Abela both went missing. When asked where his wife was, Garcia said that she had returned to Spain. He also said that Manuel was suddenly called to a special assignment in Cuba, and that he had left in the middle of the night because of its urgency.
A half-century later, a hidden dungeon was discovered behind a brick wall. In it, the remains of a man and a woman were found chained to the wall. The colonel had walled up his wife and her lover, and had gotten away murder. But apparently, his wife’s ghost lives on to this day. Tourists have reported sighting the apparition of a woman dressed in a white dress who many believe is Dolore’s ghost. Tourists also often comment on smelling the odor of strong perfume in the dungeon where the two lovers had been walled in alive.
If Dolores does haunt the fort, she’s in good company. Many spirits are said to roam the facility. The disembodied head of a Native America has been seen floating above the cannon deck, visitors have been pushed by unseen hands in the cannon room, and a ghostly soldier carrying a lantern has been sighted on the cannon deck. There have also been reports of the sound of marching boots in the soldier’s quarters, and a visitor took a photo at the execution wall that seems to show the spirit of a pirate who was put to death there.
In 2018, the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures team ran an overnight investigation at the fort and got a lot of very convincing evidence to support the ghostly sightings.
The Haunting of the Octoroon Mistress - New Orleans, Louisiana
The following story was first posted in my “Naked Ghosts” newsletter, but since it deals with a love affair that went terribly wrong, I’m reprinting it here.
New Orleans has more than its share of ghosts. It is, perhaps, one of the most haunted areas of the United States, and it too has a naked ghost story known as the ‘Haunting of the Octoroon Mistress’.
In the 1800s, people of mixed race were discriminated against, and those who were ⅛ African American and ⅞ White were labeled “Octoroon”. Julie was a beautiful woman with black hair and dark eyes. She met a rich, handsome Frenchman and fell in love with him. To the Frenchman, Julie was just his mistress, a secret lover. But Julie wanted to marry the Frenchman in spite of her mixed race background and the difference in their social status.
After months of Julie begging the Frenchman to marry her, he came up with a test that he said would prove that she really loved him. He had invited some friends over to his house, and he would be playing cards with them in the downstairs parlor. He told Julie to strip off all of her clothing and to wait for him on the rooftop until he was done with the game. It was a bizarre request, and the Frenchman thought that Julie would never take him seriously, but she did. Julie undressed in her room, then climbed naked onto the rooftop to wait for her lover to return. It was December, and the night was cold and damp. The Frenchman finished his card game, then went to bed and waited for Julie to come to him as she always had. He didn’t think that she had taken him seriously, but when he realized that she was nowhere to be found he ran to the roof to look for her. There he found her naked, frozen body huddled in a corner waiting for him.
The octoroon mistress is said to haunt the house to this day. Some say that on cold, damp December evenings you can see her naked figure pacing back and forth on the rooftop, trying to keep warm, and waiting for her lover to return.
The Copper Queen Hotel - Bisbee, Arizona
In 1898 the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company built their own hotel in the heart of Bisbee for investors to stay in while conducting business. The seventy-two room hotel opened in 1902 and was considered rather lavish for its time. Heat was pumped through a tunnel from a large boiler in the basement of a building across the street. Tiffany stained glass was used in the sky light of the Palm Room. The room was constructed to serve as an air well to provide cool air to the rooms during the summer. The hotel had its own restaurant, known as the Copper Queen Cafe, as well as a saloon. Today, the hotel holds the distinction of being Arizona’s oldest continually operated hotel.
But there’s one more thing the hotel is known for--its ghosts. According to eyewitness accounts, there are a number of ghosts who haunt the hotel. One is known simply as Billy. He is thought to be the spirit of an adolescent boy who drowned in the San Pedro River. Although Billy has rarely been seen by guests, he is blamed for stealing and moving personal items in the hotel rooms. Others have heard the laughter and crying of a little boy.
On April 11, 2000, a hostess at the hotel caught a glimpse of another ghostly boy. She said that she was standing outside in front of the hotel acting as a hostess when she happened to look into the hotel towards the staircase. She was surprised to see a little boy around four-years old dressed in blue shorts and a white t-shirt climbing up over the railing. He had dark hair and light colored skin. Suddenly, the boy fell over the high railing and the woman ran to check to see if he was hurt. But when she got to the spot where he had fallen, there was no one there.
Other ghosts have been reported at the Copper Queen hotel, but the most famous is that of a woman in her 30’s, Julia Lowell, a prostitute who used the hotel for her clients. In the 1920’s-30’s, prostitution was legal in the state, and Julia used room 315 to entertain her gentlemen guests. The story goes that Julia had a frequent client who she fell in love with, but when she told him of her feelings he immediately stopped seeing her. The man was married, and he told her that he wasn’t about to leave his wife for a prostitute. She was so distraught that she killed herself in the hotel.
The presence of Julia’s ghost has been felt on many occasions. Male guests have heard a female voice whispering in their ears. Perfume is often smelled in room 315, and some men have felt a soft touch on their arms and faces as they try to sleep in that room. Some men have reported their blankets being pulled back in the middle of the night exposing their feet, then feeling as if two warm hands are rubbing their feet. Other men have reported feeling as if someone is lying in bed with them and tugging at the covers.
Male guests have reported seeing Julia dancing provocatively at the foot of a staircase. On February 2, 2000, a male guest woke up at 4 AM and saw Julia’s ghostly figure sitting on top of a TV cabinet. Her legs were crossed, and she was wearing a black dress. She took a few sips from a bottle that she was holding, smiled and laughed. She was breathing heavily and said to the man, ‘You missed my dance’ before vanishing.
There are poems about love, and poems about death, but there are very few poems about ghosts. The following is one I wrote with the ghost of the young man from the governor’s mansion in mind, though it’s not specifically about him. It could be about a couple who drifted so far apart that the narrator feels that he’s invisible in their relationship. But just between you and me--it’s really about a ghost!
At Day’s End
A ticking clock
my love, my love, the beating of your heart
you turn in bed
your dreaming eyes are closed, two hidden stars
Soft falling rain
your gentle hands so still, I watch you sleep
The sun is gone
a sight so rare these days, my shades are drawn
I lost my head,
or else, I woke to find that it was gone
(the walls were red
I think the stains were mine, I half recall
my breaking heart,
a roaring sound, then all was still as black)
But here I am
I hoped I wouldn’t see another day
I reach to touch you
but my hand goes through your naked form
You lock the door,
you never stop or give another thought
It’s just as if
I never happened in your life, and now
I’m forced to watch
another day go by here by myself
as you go gliding
mist-like through the rooms, I’m here, I’m not
Can this be
the price I have to pay? It’s getting dark
I’ll wait until
you come back home from work, and then I’ll try
again to make
you see that I am right in front of you,
my love, I’ll try
again to make you see, that I am right
in front of you
my love, my love, I’m right in front of you