Three hours outside of Las Vegas, the old mining town of Tonopah, Nevada, is home to a number of desert oddities, including the Mitzpah Hotel, the most haunted in the United States, which—if you were to ask anyone who’s seen or even heard of the movie It—is only the second-most fearsome overnight stay in town.
A mere one-minute drive down the road, the World Famous Clown Motel—an essentially unmissable landmark, given the candy-striped glowing neon sign and 19-foot clown cutouts that welcome visitors out front—may be worthy of the title of America’s creepiest motel.
Walk into the front office, and you’ll quickly understand why. It’s home to a collection of some 3,000 clown dolls, ceramics, posters, prints, and other sinister sundries ranging from the dubiously friendly to the downright terrifying and grotesque, the painted and porcelain to the oversized and stuffed, some well over a century old.
The Clown Motel’s origins date back to Tonopah’s incorporation in 1900, when a man named Jim Butler came across silver-rich ore in the area. Mining companies quickly moved in, and the town’s luck quickly ran out: Along with the Tonopah Plague (a bout of pneumonia that swept through the town between 1902 and 1905), a series of mine fires over the years landed dozens in the Tonopah Cemetery. One of these unlucky few was Clarence David, who passed away in 1942 and happened to be the owner of—you guessed it—a large collection of clowns.
About 43 years later in 1985, David’s children decided they would open a motel next to the cemetery where their father was buried and incorporate his antiques into the project. (As was the natural next step; any hotelier worth their salt knows that clowns are particularly comforting overnight hosts.)
To complement the eerie decor, the hotel’s current operators—brothers Vijay Mehar and Hame Anand—refurbished several rooms to include themes like The Exorcist, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. Each room is also purportedly haunted by various ghosts whose legends are just as upsetting as the clowns: In one tale, a guest allegedly shot himself after being driven mad by a specter who haunted him during his stay. There are also several stories of visitors who checked in and lived in the motel for years before passing away in their rooms. What’s more, there are all the spirits of 20th-century miners and plague victims that still linger in the graveyard just next door.
If you find that you’re too chicken to stay overnight (you wouldn’t be the first), worry not: The hotel’s namesake clown collection sits in the main office building, which is free to visit even if you don’t plan on checking in.
There’s also plenty to do in and around Tonopah, especially for connoisseurs of strange travel experiences. In addition to being one of the best places in the U.S. for stargazing, the town is a point of interest on Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway, a road trip route that’ll take you to several UFO-themed rest stops, the gathering place of believers and alleged abductees, and the town closest to Area 51.
If a good night’s sleep is what you’re after, we’d suggest checking out the museum and then hitting the Comfort Inn down the road. And if you do decide to book a night, be warned: As the property’s website mentions, the Clown Motel cannot be held liable for any emotional distress caused by “spiritual and/or unexplained phenomena and/or other unexplainable, unusual or paranormal activity” you may encounter.