Archive | July, 2011

A (Road) Trip Home to Lexington, Kentucky

29 Jul

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip,

We started this road trip because we’ve lived in Kentucky our whole lives and have barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. The same holds true for the city we grew up in. Cameron and I were born and raised in Lexington and while we personally consider ourselves experts on the town, that is probably not in the least bit true.

So this weekend we’re going to explore some of the more historical points of our home town. We won’t hit every spot, but we’re hoping to traipse around the old neighborhoods of downtown and discover where some of the earliest Lexington settlers called home.

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip,

Until then, here are a few cool facts about Lexington to satisfy your growing appetite for our road trip recaps:

• Lexington was founded in June 1775 in what was then Virginia, 17 years before Kentucky became a state in 1792.

• The first American performance of a Beethoven symphony was in Lexington in 1817.

• The brass plate embedded in the sidewalk at the corner of Limestone and Main Street in downtown Lexington is a memorial marker honoring Smiley Pete. The animal was known as the town dog in Lexington. He died in 1957.

• The Jif plant in Lexington is the largest peanut butter producing facility in the world. And on warm summer days, you can smell the roasting peanuts several miles away from the factory.

• The great Man o’ War racehorse — who was born on Lexington’s Nursery Stud farm on March 29, 1917 — won all of his horse races except one, which he lost to a horse named Upset.

And don’t forget to keep up with our adventures both on and off the road by following us on Twitter! You can send us suggestions of places you’d like us to visit or offer us some good road tripping advice that you’ve learned on your own trips this summer.

If you’re still traveling, plan a trip to Lexington. Whether you’re interested in beautiful Thoroughbred horse farms (with barns bigger and more luxurious than your homes, no joke), history (you can visit the homes of Henry Clay, Mary Todd Lincoln, John Wesley Hunt, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis who attended Lexington’s Transylvania University), or outdoor adventures (visit the University of Kentucky’s Arboretum or McConnell Springs), there’s alway something going on in Lexington. Even when it isn’t UK basketball season.

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip

This Weekend:

If you’re in Lexington this weekend, Gallery B is hosting a Paint-Out downtown on Saturday, July 30th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Artists will be set up throughout the downtown area painting Lexington cityscapes. A reception will follow that night.  To learn more, visit Lexington’s Gallery B website.

It’s OK to be Scared of Kentucky’s Waverly Hills Sanatorium … You’ll Still Have Fun

7 Jul

Waverly Hills Sanatorium stands tall and intimidating on top of one of the highest hills overlooking Jefferson County, Kentucky. It is a massive building — 180,000 square feet — and foreboding in it’s darkness and mystery. Think of all of the ghostly adjectives you can and Waverly is all of them — creepy, eerie, spooky, bone-chilling, hair-raising … we could go on, but you get the point.

When Cameron and I decided to embark on this road trip, we did so fully prepared to be spooked. A tuberculosis hospital where thousands died — some estimates say as many as 64,000 died there before the antibiotic streptomycin was discovered in 1943 — and that has been deemed one of the “scariest places on earth” couldn’t possibly be anything other than frightening.

And while the tour proved to be scary in its own right, it was also an extremely informative, interesting and fun experience.

I’m going to pause here to interject this public service announcement: If you get spooked easily, hate horror films and scary movies, or don’t believe in ghosts … this experience MIGHT not be for you. I say ‘might’ because Cameron is guilty of all of the above … and she had a blast. She nearly clawed the skin off of my right arm, but she had a blast. A lot of people died in Waverly Hills — that isn’t speculation or folk lore or a ghost story. It is fact. Many tens of thousands of people suffering from tuberculosis in the 1920s and 30s died there. And whether or not you believe in the paranormal, it’s hard to think that anywhere in the world has ghosts if this place doesn’t. So if this freaks you out, skip this road trip. But if you can go into this experience with an open mind, open eyes and open ears, and listen to what your guide has to tell you, listen to the history and then to the ghost stories, I guarantee that you’ll be just the right amount of scared, and more intrigued than you may have expected.

Patients were wheeled out of their rooms into an open-air solarium to receive their daily heliotreatment. Photo courtesy of Waverly Hills Sanatorium.

What the solarium outside of patients’ rooms looks like today.

After a mere 2 hours in Waverly Hills, I could talk about it for days — the history of the hospital built on a hill, the patients that went through its doors, the ghosts that still wander the halls — and this post could get really long. So in an effort to keep things (kind of) short, I’m going to list the top 5 things you should know about Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Everything else … well, you’ll just have to take the tour for yourself.

The top 5 things you should know about Waverly Hills Sanatorium

1. A little bit of history. A wooden, two-story hospital was originally constructed in 1910, but with tuberculousis rampant in the area, the building wasn’t big enough to house all of the patients. So a new building was constructed in 1924 with five floors designed to house 500 patients — though in the height of the epidemic it is believed there were more than 1,000 occupied beds at Waverly Hills — and the new sanatorium opened in 1926. Waverly was its own community — it had its own post office, dentist and barber shop — and because they weren’t sure how TB was contracted, once you came to Waverly as a patient or as staff,  you weren’t permitted to leave until a cure was found. By the 1950s, tuberculosis was nearly eradicated thanks to the antibiotic and the hospital was closed in 1961. It reopened a year later as the Woodhaven Geriatrics Sanitarium but was closed by the state in 1980 after rumors of patient abuse. It was purchased in 2001 by Charlie and Tina Mattingly who have opened it up for tours. You can learn more about the history here.

2. The body chute wasn’t originally intended to be for bodies at all. When the building was constructed, architects didn’t plan for how to heat such a massive space. Doctors didn’t want furnaces or broilers on top of the hill because they interfered with the patients’ heliotherapy which was basically fresh air and sunlight. So this tunnel was built to move heat and later supplies from the bottom of the hill up to Waverly. But when the TB epidemic reached its height and death counts were high, the tunnel was used to move bodies out of the sanatorium so that the surviving patients wouldn’t see hearses pulling up on the hill and wouldn’t know how many people were dying.

3. Room 502 was actually a washroom. This room is one of the most famous at Waverly Hills because it is rumored to be one of the most haunted areas. It was a washroom where nurses could shower and dress between shifts. A young nurse committed suicide outside of this room after she realized she was pregnant — and unmarried — and had contracted tuberculosis. Years later, it is said another nurse killed herself by jumping from the room’s window. Our guide told us that it is common for women to become very nauseous or dizzy when they go inside this room, especially if they are pregnant.

4. If you’re looking for ghosts, visit the 4th floor. Despite the sickness and death, we’re told Waverly Hills was a hopeful place. The sick spent lots of time together, kids played games on a rooftop swing set. They made the best out of a difficult time. Because of this atmosphere, many of the ghost stories you  hear from Waverly are fun and light-hearted ones: kids playing with rubber balls and plastic trucks that people leave for them, a man playing catch with his dog in the hallway. But on the 4th floor, scarier things have happened. People getting locked into rooms even though there are no locks on the doors. An ice cold feeling of dread filling your body for no reason. Shadow people, lights coming from rooms with no electricity, door slamming shut when no one is around them. Even our tour guide said he didn’t much like the 4th floor. So if you’re looking for ghosts on your trip, try starting there.

5. There was little reason for autopsies at Waverly. The morgue had only 3 body coolers because very few bodies were kept for any length of time. Very little was known about TB and because it was labeled “The White Plague,” many people immediately thought of the Black Plague and were afraid to touch the bodies of those who’d died of the disease. In actuality, a person can’t contract TB from a dead body, but none of this was known at the time. The bodies moved through the morgue and out of the body chute quickly where they were claimed by family members or — because many were superstitious about the disease and thought the spirit of the illness would “jump” to them if they were around their deceased loved ones — many bodies were placed in a mass grave on the property. Waverly did perform some autopsies because at the time a hospital was required by law to conduct an autopsy on 17% of the dead. An autopsy table, the body coolers and several beds still hold residence in Waverly’s morgue.

Our take

Check out what we had to say right after walking out of Waverly Hills:



Normally I’d offer you the address (4400 Paralee Lane, Louisville, KY 40272) and wish you well. But we found the directions to Waverly’s front doors are nearly impossible to follow whether by Google Maps, your trusty GPS, or vague landmarks from a local gas station attendant. What they should tell you is: “Turn right at the golf course, go left at the fork and then follow the narrow, dark, winding road up, up, up until you break over the top of the hill.” Because from there, you can’t miss the old tuberculosis hospital towering over top of you.

Here’s our best advice: get directions to Bobby Nichols Golf Course (4301 East Pages Lane, Louisville, KY 40272). When you turn into the golf course, follow the road around a couple of greens and when it forks, go left. Follow that road (it’s sort of scary, see our description above) through the iron gates and you can’t miss Waverly Hills in front of you.

What it’s going to cost you

The 2-hour guided tour that we took is $22 and worth every penny. We walked through all five floors of the hospital with an extremely knowledgeable guide and got a lot of history of the building, its former patients, and its ghosts. We actually spent about 90 minutes inside of the hospital and body chute; the first half hour was devoted to a video about the sanatorium and a few clips from ghost hunting shows it has been featured on.

The cost of tours goes up from there. The 4-hour (half-night) paranormal investigation is $50 and goes from midnight to 4 a.m. The 8-hour (full-night) tour and paranormal investigation is $100 and goes until 8 a.m. No one under 18 is allowed on these investigations.

These tours are available March through August on Friday and Saturday evenings. Reservations are required. Waverly Hills also offers a few day time historical tours and private all-night tours. For more information about all tours available, visit the Waverly Hills website. 

Are you Afraid of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium?

1 Jul

Let me preface this by saying we are both scaredy-cats, Cameron probably more so than Blair. Either way, you won’t find either of us first in line at the latest Wes Craven or Saw 5,324 (gosh, how many of those are out now?). So maybe we’re crazy, but we’re also really excited to go on a ghost-hunt this weekend!

We’ll be on one of the many tours offered by the Waverly Hills Historical Society (and probably clinging to each other for courage and moral support). Waverly Hills first opened its doors as a tuberculosis hospital in 1910 and expanded to its full size during the 1920s tuberculosis epidemic in Louisville. As advances in antibiotics reduced the staggering numbers of TB patients, Waverly was turned into a geriatrics center until it was closed down by the state in 1980.

Those of you who DVR Ghost Hunters or any other paranormal TV shows/specials are probably already well aware of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, and it has consistently ranked among the Top Most Haunted places in the country.

Waverly Hills is considered haunted for 2 main reasons:

1. The usual myths, stories, and urban legends that seem to come along with old, creepy-looking buildings, including the legend of Room 502 which was explored on a popular episode of Ghost Hunters. Room 502 was allegedly the scene of a nurse’s suicide in the 1930s after she realized she was pregnant…and unmarried (gasp!) Unfortunately for the nurse, the sexual revolution didn’t occur until the 1960s.

2. The Body Chute aka The Death Tunnel (dunh! dunh! DUNH!) Originally built to carry supplies and utilities into the hospital without dragging them up the hill, the tunnel was re-appropriated as a route to move deceased tuberculosis patients out of the hospital without upsetting the still-living patients.  Oh, by the way, did I mention that electricity was never installed, so the tunnel is COMPLETELY DARK aside from what light filters in through air vents every 100 feet?

So wish us luck and endless battery-life in our flashlights and we’ll try to bring back some photos of creepy apparitions and unexplained lights…if we don’t bring anything back, you’ll know we chickened out.

Don't you wish this show was still on?


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