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Haunted tours and spooky sites around Washington DC

Julie Johnson is a freelance writer and mom living in northern Virginia, and was the Washington, DC expert for GeoParent.

Ghosts and goblins, out and about

The tradition of Halloween is derived from the ancient celebration of All Hallows Eve, preceding All Souls Day. Participants donned masks and costumes and paraded through the streets of their villages, warding off evil spirits along the way. Over time, the ritual metamorphosed into one emphasizing enjoyment rather than religious rites. To celebrate the modern interpretation of the holiday, here are some fun ways to prepare for Halloween!

Tombstone at cemetery

Looking for a hauntingly good time? Here are a few tours and spooky sites in the Washington DC area that are not for the faint of heart. Check their sites or call for current dates, times and prices... if you dare!

Leesburg Ghost Tours

Not to be confused with the Leesburg Hauntings, these Ghost Tours run every Friday and Saturday from May through November, with special tours available on holidays and Halloween.

The tour runs approximately two hours and is 3/4 of a mile on foot. Operated by the Virginia Scientific Research Association (founded by Joseph Holbert in 1992 in the hope of disproving the bumps that happen in the night), the tour starts in front of their offices in the Historic District. No reservations are necessary unless you are bringing a large group (more than 15). Guides will discuss the scientific existence of paranormal phenomena. Be aware that this discussion may be frightening -- or even boring -- for young children.

Address: 19 S. King Street, Leesburg, VA 20175

Phone: 571.242.6824

Website: vsra.yolasite.com

Alexandria Ghosts & Graveyards Tour

This evening tour is led by a costumed guide, and navigating the 200-year-old cobblestone alleys and brick-lined streets is made all the more authentic by the guide's lantern lighting the path. Much like Leesburg, Alexandria is rich in history and period architecture. Guides point out haunted sites such as the insomniac's worst nightmare -- a home filled with such terror that shut-eye is impossible. And as no haunted tour would be complete without a stop at a cemetery, this walk offers up its share of cemetery folklore. Recommended for ages 9 and up, and reservations are suggested.

Address: Tours depart from the Ramsay House Visitors Center, 221 King Street in Alexandria (two blocks from the Potomac River)

Phone: 703.519.1749

Website: www.alexcolonialtours.com

Bladensburg Dueling Grounds & Creek Area

At Bladensburg/Colmar Manor off Bladensburg Road in Maryland, visitors might be greeted by the specter of a war-beaten soldier. The area of the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds hosted many duels in the 18th and 19th centuries. One can also visit the Fort Lincoln Cemetery for an added dose of the creeps.

Mary Surratt House & Tavern

The ghost of a co-conspirator in Abraham Lincoln's assassination, Mary Surratt, is said to haunt her former home. Claiming innocence to her execution (and having the dishonor of being the first woman to be executed by the United States government), visitors are said to be able to hear her cries and footsteps.

Address: 9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton MD 20735

Phone: 301.868.1121

Website: www.surratt.org

Ellicott City Ghost Tours

The historical Ellicott City offers its own bevy of ghosts and folklore, and you can take a tour to meander down its streets in search of its most famous ghosts. Advance tickets are strongly recommended -- and be sure to arrive 15 minutes early, as tours leave promptly.

Address:  8267 Main Street, Ellicott City MD 21043 (in the historic district)

Phone: 800.288.8747

Website: www.howardcountymd.gov

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