Knowing that ghostly haunts are unique to every city, I want to tell you how I got into the spirit of the Halloween season in Louisville, Kentucky. I had some real travel time scares with the help of the locals! You can even be creeped out at a number of these places throughout the year.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
While tuberculosis isn’t something to take lightly, its history in Louisville is something that the locals use to scare thousands during the Halloween season. Some friends and I ventured to the historical Waverly Hills Sanatorium Haunted House because of its frightening history.
The property was set up originally as a sanatorium during the summer of 1910, but it could only hold 40 to 50 patients. As TB became more serious, something needed
to be done to accommodate the growing numbers, so a large collegiate gothic style sanatorium opened in October of 1926 and served tuberculosis patients until 1961. People from all over America came
here to get cured in a peaceful setting, living on a high hill surrounded by lots of trees and fresh air. Over 500 beds were available. Still, thousands of people died, but their bodies were less openly done away with via a “Body
Chute”, a rail tram system that implemented a 500-foot tunnel, used to lower the dead TB patients to train cars which were located at the bottom of the hill.
The dedicated medical staff had to endure living there, too, for they couldn’t go back into the general public, lest they risk spreading the disease. Because of all the tragedy there, you can see
why this is considered one of the most haunted places in America, and why it made for a great haunted house experience!
It was a mild Saturday night as we drove through a long and creepy hollow to get to the property, about 25 minutes south of downtown Louisville. We parked in front of the massive and ominous
looking building. There was little light to guide us, though the bustle of cars and people could be heard. We followed the crowd around back to get tickets ($20.00 each), then we had to wait about 45 minutes to get in. The
line stretched hundreds of feet. During our wait, we were entertained by actual fire eaters. A musical troupe re-enacted Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Some thrash metal also blared out into the night. As I stared at the massive façade of Waverly Hills Sanatorium, it seemed to resonate in proud splendor to the music.
Finally, my two friends and I were admitted (along with five others). We were warned by the door nurse that if we had heart problems, we shouldn’t go through. Then the horror began. I told myself this was all fake, but I must
admit that when blood-stained TB patients are jumping out at you, screaming at you, and chasing you, it gets rather scary because they really do get in your face. We walked through many dark
corridors only to confront sudden and very loud bangs, blinding strobe lighting, with the noise never ending and screeching. I had to keep touching the back of one of my
friends to find my way around the creepy madness. So creepy, that the other five strangers in our group wouldn’t even take the lead, for the leader (one of my friends) was
the one who got the brunt of the horrors. Being third in line helped me prepare and react better.
The horror ended 25 minutes later, but not without one of the last people in our group shouting into the still night because one of the pretend TB patients was chasing her with a chainsaw
into the parking lot for about 50 feet!
For the really brave, stayovers and actual tours of the sanatorium are available throughout the year in case you want to experience
some real hauntings! See the website for details.
The Dead Come Alive
I learned more about the city through its haunted history. I’ve seen on TV where people taking city ghost tours have purportedly had horror-ridden
encounters during the excursions. What ghastly surprises would I encounter?
My ghostly tour began at The Brown Hotel on Fourth Street via Louisville Ghost Walks, where the famous
Louisville Hot Brown was invented in 1926- a succulent “heart attack special” dish full of cheese, Mornay sauce, turkey, and bacon that make heart doctors cringe in terror. The hotel is one of the most haunted places in Louisville
because of the former owner, James Graham Brown, who still oversees the place “in spirit”, according to our tour guide Robert, who calls himself “Mr. Ghost Walker”.
Our “Ghost Walker” was rather animated as he told us of some of the appearances of the Brown ghost, including sightings by guests of a grayish figure leaning over the third floor under an arch where the smell
of a cigar resonates and a chess board with its pieces have been disturbed by some invisible force.
Robert’s several block area tour of downtown Louisville made the past come alive over the course of 90 minutes for only $10.00 per adult (prices will be $15.00 in 2009). He had detailed
stories of many of the city’s buildings and people. One of my favorite accounts included the tale of a “bag lady” who haunts the mirrors of another downtown Louisville hotel
called the Seelbach Hilton, the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s the Great Gatsby (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations). As we stood in front, it seemed as if the ghosts of the past were making an appearance at the Gatsby-era
costume party. Some of the guests even stopped and listened in amazement as “Mr. Ghost Walker” boldly proclaimed why their sleeping quarters were creepy.
Robert conducts tours every Friday night and by appointment, beginning the first Friday in May, lasting through late October or November (weather permitting).
We crossed the Ohio River into Jeffersonville, Indiana, on a mild but eerily sticky night. We found a place that offers lots of chills for $25.00, via three different horror venues. A converted aluminum siding factory houses Industrial Nightmare, Dementions and Pitch Black, all part of the Haunted Network. After we paid, we found
ourselves in total darkness for a number of turns before we reached the first entrance – Industrial Nightmare. This attraction took us through an
old factory full of make believe toxic waste and ghouls. I won’t forget being squirted with what appeared to be green spray, as well as the sensation of trudging through green
sludge over the course of 25 minutes.
Next, we were led through a small maze to Dementions – total insanity and my favorite scare! If you like seeing how Christmas can be perverted into zany horror and you enjoy being constantly chased by chainsaw wielding spooks through a long maze, this
is for you! We knew it was make believe, but it still scared all of us, so badly, that one of the trio refused to go through the last horror experience.
In Pitch Black, my other friend and I had to navigate in total darkness, holding hands through what seemed to be a never-ending maze while being
screamed at, trash talked, and bumping our arms and knees all the time trying to navigate out. Toward the end, we got some light all right, yet so blinding and full of chases, it was as bad as
being in darkness, but after half an hour, we finally made it back to reality, though really worn out!
One thing really reinforced for me in the Louisville area is that in life, it’s easier to go through the scary times (real and imagined) when you have others to share it with!
Roy A. Barnes haunts and writes from the windy plains of southeastern Wyoming when he’s not traveling.
Besides travel articles, his writings have appeared in such recent books as Freckles to Wrinkles, Voices of Autism and Holiday Writes.
Read more of Roy A. Barnes’ articles here.