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Haunted Hawaii: Spooktacular stories of some scary island places

by Dava Della, Science & Environment associate editor


Storytelling is a common cultural practice in Hawai‘i, where many stories involve supernatural beliefs and ghostly encounters. If we are to believe all the stories that this island is the most haunted spot in the world, then seemingly innocent places such as the Pali Highway are downright scary. What lurks around your local cemeteries or, perhaps, your neighborhood movie theater? Do statues really come to life?

Pork over the Pali
Attempting to take pork over the Pali Highway is dangerous, as most island visitors learn. Despite repeated warnings that your car will break down or someone will get hurt in an accident, brave (and foolish) souls continue to challenge the gods – or in this case, the goddess, Pele, Hawai‘i’s volcano deity.

In 1986, four Hickam airmen new to the islands decided to test the Pali with a pack of bacon. They drove out to the Pali Lookout at midnight and walked down the Old Pali Road. About 30 minutes later, they came across a gulch and began to climb up from the side. One of the men climbed up to about 150 ft. before he slid and got stuck on a muddy and slippery cliff. As he struggled to hold onto a couple of weeds and rocks, his friends made the frantic call for help to the Honolulu Fire Department. When the helicopter rescue crews arrived to help save the man, the pilot, Capt. Charles Thomas, noted that, a ti leaf plant (dubbed the “Hawaiian good luck plant” because it wards off evil spirits) kept the man from falling.

According to legend, the man slipped because he and his friends brought pork up to the lookout. Food, especially pork, attracts hungry and agitated spirits. Folklorist and author Martha Beckwith (Hawaiian Mythology) says tying a fresh green ti leaf, bamboo, or lele banana leaf around the food container protects one from angry spirits. This is known as placing a law upon the food.

According to Hawaiian legends, taking pork over the Pali is linked to the turbulent relationship between Pele, the goddess of fire, and Kamapua‘a, a human demi-god – half-man, half-pig. The two agreed not to visit each other, but taking pork over the Pali means taking a form of Kamapua‘a from his domain (the wet side of the island) into Pele’s domain (the dry side of the island). Those who ignore Pele’s warnings risk her stopping the car from bringing Kamapua‘a’s body over the Pali.

Morgan’s Corner
Another supernatural place most visitors hear about is Morgan’s Corner on the windward side of the Old Pali Road (Improvements to the Old Pali Road in 1881 led to the construction of the modern Pali Highway, thus making it hard to verify the actual site of Morgan’s Corner). Said to be situated on a hairpin turn, Morgan’s Corner is known for the huge tree that looms large in urban legends of hangings and bloodied hands scraping on the roofs of cars whose drivers dared to park under it.

Many years ago, a young, local couple drove to this place one night and parked under the tree. When the car wouldn’t start, the man went out for help while his girlfriend waited inside the car. As she waited for hours in the dark for him to return, she heard dripping and scratching sounds coming from the roof of the car. Afraid to go see what it was, she forced herself to close her eyes and fall asleep. She later awoke to the sound of police officers knocking on the car windows, asking her to step out. When she did, she saw her boyfriend tied upside down on the tree. The dripping sounds she had heard through the night had come from the blood of her boyfriend’s severed throat. The scratching sounds had come from his fingernails dragging along the roof.

The State Capitol
Locals and island visitors alike have reported sightings of Queen Lili‘uokalani, the last monarch of the Hawaiian Islands (1891-1893), around the Capitol Building. One supernatural encounter with the queen was reported in March 1982. A legislative aide had worked into the wee morning hours. Around 2 a.m., she called her husband to pick her up. Having no babysitter, he brought their 10-year-old daughter. They waited for her in the basement parking lot where the daughter, playing with a ball, allegedly encountered a Hawaiian woman fitting the description of the queen: tall and beautiful with plumeria lei draped on each arm. The woman was barefoot, in a black dress with her hair up. By the time the little girl told her parents about the woman with whom she had played, the woman had mysteriously vanished. A few weeks later, when mother and daughter went to the State Capitol Building for the unveiling of the then new Queen Lili‘uokalani statue, the girl identified the queen as the woman she had played with in the Capitol basement.

Queen Lili‘uokalani’s spirit is said to be accompanied by the strong smell of cigar smoke (the queen was indeed a smoker in her time). However, thick and heavy clouds of cigar smoke sometimes seen in the hallway of the basement of the State Capitol Building, a non smoking area, are also attributed to the presence of the late John Burns, Hawai‘i’s second governor, who used to take cigar breaks on the mauka-Waikiki corner of the fifth floor.

Mililani Cemetery
Many years ago, a Dole Cannery employee experienced an unusual roadside encounter while working the graveyard shift delivering pineapples to the Iwilei Cannery. As he passed by the road near the Mililani Cemetery around 3 a.m., he saw in his headlights a man dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt, white pants, and white shoes. It wasn’t unusual to see people walking in this area at that time of night, since there was a Navy camp nearby. The driver decided to pull over to the side of the road to offer the man some help. As he got a closer look, he noticed that the man’s costume had changed – he was now wearing a black long-sleeved shirt, black pants, and black shoes. The driver panicked, stepped on the gas pedal, and never dared to look back. Also, the Mililani Cemetery displays a statue of a man on a horse. The statue is said to come after anyone who drives around it backwards.

Manoa Chinese Cemetery
A portion of this cemetery is set aside for unidentified babies whose headstones separately read “one month”, “two years”, “three days”, and so on. Some of these children were placed in this section more than 100 years ago when immigrants came to Hawai‘i to work in the sugar industry. Infant mortality rates peaked during this period. The parents of these infants left no one to take care of their children’s graves when they died or moved elsewhere in search of better opportunities. The graves are old, cracked, and rarely honored with food or flowers, even during Ching Ming, or “Grave-Sweeping Day,” a ceremony observed on April 5 when relatives clean headstones, replace wilted flowers, and light firecrackers to pay their respects to the deceased. According to Chinese tradition, the children placed in this particular section remain together so they can play and find comfort in one another in the afterlife.

In the past, nearby residents have reported hearing strange noises coming from the graveyard at night. Neighbors believe what sounded like cats were the little babies screaming and crying for attention, since no one came to take care of their graves. In the mid-1970s, a Hawaiian couple moved into a house near the baby section. One of their bedroom windows opened directly above the babies’ graves. After hearing stories from the neighbors about the strange noises during the night, the couple placed a piece of candy on each tomb, trimmed the grass around each headstone, and said a little Hawaiian prayer for the infant spirits. No screams or cries in the night were ever heard again.

Black Point “crybabies”
Another story of crying babies involves an event that happened at Black Point, a cliff overlooking the ocean just east of Diamond Head. A hospital was once located on this site, before the cliff gave way and fell into the ocean many years ago. It is reported that at night, one can hear the cries of the babies who died in the nursery when the hospital fell off the cliff.

The Dole Cannery Signature
Theaters Screen number 14 at Signature Theatres at the Dole Cannery is rumored to be the regular hangout for the ghost of a man in his late 50s. He would watch people in the audience from a top corner seat of the theater. This place is also rumored to be the site of a deadly bus crash that killed a group of schoolchildren in the 1980s. Children can be heard screaming and crying in the bathroom next to the theater. The theater is said to be built on an ancient Hawaiian heiau, or a place of worship or human sacrifice.ages of ancient Hawaiian gods, stare at them as they walked by. Some of these stories are retold in Glen Grant’s Obake Files: Ghostly Encounters in Supernatural Hawai‘i.

Do you have a favorite story of a scary Hawaiian place? Send it to



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