When my friend, Angie sent the text asking if I’d like to go on a haunted adventure with her to Kentucky, I immediately agreed. I’ve never been on an official paranormal investigation, but I have had a few incidents throughout my five decades that made my skin crawl. Just as other adventure junkies react when seeing a huge roller coaster, I jumped on the chance to see ghosts.
First thing I did? I signed onto a ghost Facebook group, inquiring for guidance during my upcoming Waverly Hills Sanatorium visit. Being this is presumed as one of the most haunted places in the world, the group members came out of the woodwork. Many were jealous of my visit; some were fearful and advised me to get blessed with holy water and burn sage after the tour. Of those few who came forward with actual suggestions, I listened. I downloaded a recommended app, a mini spirit box program. Not understanding why or how the app functioned, I pushed a few buttons and listened to eerie echoing sounds. As I spoke, the app responded. It seemed to change my words into some sort of pig Latin … maybe it was ghost pig Latin? Laughing at the silliness (due to my naivety of its purpose), my husband gave me a questioning look of concern. “Why are you listening to that right before bedtime? You know it’ll give you nightmares.” He said, worry obvious in his voice.
“No, I’ll be fine, this is just a silly app meant to entertain people. Obviously, it’s just repeating what I’m saying, but changing it to sound scary.” I confidently replied, as if I really understood the app by pushing two buttons. But I heeded my husband’s warning, and turning it off (mostly so that we could continue watching the Netflix show I so rudely interrupted).
Bedtime came soon after our show ended. Still chuckling about my perceived absurdity of the silly new app, I climbed under the covers next to my already sleeping husband. Turning off the light, I proceeded to make myself comfy. Pillow fluffed, blankets smoothed, time to sleep. But sleep did not come. Instead, I imagined what my upcoming trip was going to entail. Ghosts would be flying around me, reaching out to grab my arms and legs. Then, the scary echoing sounds from the app re-entered my mind and suddenly, it wasn’t silly anymore. My eyes opened wide, and I focused on the shadows dancing on the ceiling that were cast from my husband’s c-pap machine light distorted by the ceiling fan. How on earth would I be able to manage walking through a known haunted building at night if I couldn’t even sleep in my own non-haunted bed? Eventually, my brain gave in to the tugging of fatigue.
Two nights of interrupted sleep led up to our girls’ haunted trip. If it wasn’t my overly active mind, it was my little bladder causing the sleep disturbances. I even imagined faces floating all around me during one mid-night pee break. My heightened excitement debated the possibility that spirits are always present, and if we learned how to tap into their particular frequency, we may be able to see them. But, did I really want to see them all the time? Especially, when I was sitting on the toilet in the middle of the night, alone in the dark? This possibility freaked me out and I began having second thoughts about our planned trip. But I didn’t dare disappoint my friend. Crushing her enthusiasm was the last thing I wanted to do, so I knew I would have to dig deep inside me for the strength to face my demons, pun intended. This trip was going to happen.
Departure day arrived along with a headache and sore throat. Hopeful my new failing-health symptoms were just allergy related, I loaded up on medication and set out for our adventure. If anything, I was determined this weekend would be a great bonding moment for my friend and me. No illness would interfere; this trip was going to happen.
The drive south initially was smooth and uneventful. Angie read aloud about the scary and bizarre ghosts of Waverly, Kentucky while I handled the driving. As we approached Cincinnati, traffic became an unexpected issue. Well, we expected some traffic, but it was Saturday late afternoon, so a parking lot was startling to encounter. Would we have enough time to make it for our tour that evening at 10 PM? Quickly calculating the 2 ½ hour drive, minus the 45 minutes we already accomplished, then adding time for a quick dinner and hotel check-in, I determined we had a full hour to spare. That was relieving for us both, but glancing ahead at the congested road, the possibility of more than an hour wait was unnerving. Angie opened her Waze app, hopeful of an alternative route around this mess. And there it was, just what we needed, a detour option. This tour was going to happen.
We both ‘mooed’ when crossing the river into Kentucky. This ‘mooing’ ritual of Angie’s started years prior, in an attempt to make the transition from one state to another more exciting. It is something we always do, without thinking. Even when we’re not together, I will text her, “mooo” the moment I leave Ohio. So, our unison, “mooo,” breaking the silence as we drove off the bridge into Kentucky made us giggle. Our giggles turned into laughter from the stress relief of breaking away from the traffic jam. We were confident, this tour was going to happen.
Two more slight traffic delays interrupted the flow of our trip, but didn’t lessen our ghostly excitement. The closer we got to our destination, the higher our emotion. Spotting an Amazon Prime truck on the side of the road among a crumpled guard rail made Angie laugh. Not at the misery of the wreck, but because there were blue-clothed Amish-looking people nearby, analyzing the damage to their property line. “Oh my gosh, they are so cute!” Angie exclaimed, appreciating the scene of country meeting city. The two contrasting lives tangled into one incident was a strange and intriguing view. We passed by the flashing police lights with new interest in our eyes. And for the next 10 minutes, the bearded folk and Amazon smile were the topic of our conversation. Soon afterwards, our trip excitement resurfaced in our minds and our chatter about ghosts increased. This tour is going to happen.
Finally, we arrived at the Breckenridge hotel (after missing our exit and driving another 6 minutes out of our way). The clock was ticking, but we still had time to put our bags in the room before the remaining 30-minute drive to the sanatorium. “As long as we leave by 9 PM, we’ll make it well before the required 15-minute early tour check-in.” I announced.
“Good, because I have to pee.” With Angie’s admission, I realized a bathroom break was exactly what I needed too. So, I joined her in the hotel lobby, ready to hastily make our way to the room as soon as we were checked in. The moment the key cards were in hand, we raced to the elevator, then down the hall to our room. Unfortunately, neither of the two cards worked at unlocking our door. Was this a warning sign? Were the stars trying to tell us maybe we shouldn’t go on our tour? Exchanging worrisome glances, we both considered all the delays the day had held and wonder fueled our fears. No, I refused to believe that touring an old hospital could elicit such a warning. This tour was going to happen. We returned to the lobby, used their public restroom, exchanged our key cards, then opted for heading to the sanatorium instead of dropping our bags in the room.
Fortunately, with GPS, we found our way in the dark to the nearly hidden entrance, heading to Waverly Hills Sanatorium. The long creepy driveway climbing up the secluded path gave a spooky start to our tour. Approaching the open gates near the top, we spotted a moving flashlight indicating a worker, who flagged us down. After confirming our name was indeed on the registration for tonight’s tour, we were instructed to dim our headlights (to prevent contaminating the current tour groups experience inside the hospital), then permitted entrance. Passing through the large iron gate, we drove in near darkness towards the next flashing red light up ahead. Somehow, we parked our car among all the others without hitting anything under just the moonlight. This tour was happening.
We had an extra 10 minutes before the required check-in, yes! Glancing towards the ominous old building, I searched the windows for any signs of paranormal activity. Angie spotted a large winged-gargoyle concrete statue next to the side of the building and immediately disappeared in that direction. Not wanting to leave my friend alone, I stopped my visual search and joined her at the photo opportunity calling our names. The parking attendant nearby was guiding another car into the lot, so I asked her to snap our picture. After completing her job, she pleasantly obliged our request. Both Angie and I thought it would be cool to reenact the stance of the gargoyle, so we bent our legs and hunched over in our most fierce gargoyle impression. Unfortunately, later, upon closer viewing of the photo, we discovered our awesome gargoyle stance gave the appearance we were both trying to take a crap next to the statue. Complete photo fail. But this tour was going to happen, so we made our way into the small gift shop building around back of the hospital to gather for our tour start.
There were approximately 40 people mingling around inside, smiling in anticipation of what was to come. Many purchased sweatshirts and t-shirts adorned with Waverly’s name, all in black. My sore throat cried out for help, so I bought a water for a buck.
Finally, a tour guide came through the door, announcing his presence. He gave us the rules, in his own free-style jokingly manner. Basically, we were told to act like responsible adults and not be jerks. No ‘booing’, no touching others, no video recording, no audio recording, and no tarnishing anyone else’s experience with our idiotic behavior. He told us if we wanted that kind of tour, then we needed to come back in October for their haunted house. But tonight, with camera flashes off and our cell phones dimmed to the darkest setting, we started our path into the world of the paranormal. Splitting off into two groups, Angie and I joined the pack on the right with the female guide. Our first stop … the body chute.
Following our guide like baby ducklings, we all squeezed together inside the long dark tunnel attached to the old hospital. A second guide, called the ‘caboose’, followed closely behind the pack, ensuring no one strayed from the group. This was it; our tour was happening!
The body chute was the transportation tunnel used to move the dead inconspicuously from the upper levels of the hospital out to the train tracks. The staff didn’t want current living patients to see the bodies being lugged away, worried it would negatively impact their morale. So, the chute seemed most practical. Standing on the steps next to the ramp where the bodies were placed sent a shiver down my spine. Just how many souls entered this tunnel? Or the better question, how many souls never left?
We were each granted a photo op in the tunnel, flash off, as instructed. When my turn came, I raised my nice Nikkon 35 mm camera, acting like the professional that I am not and pressed the silver button to snap my photo. But nothing happened, no picture was captured. Why wouldn’t my camera work? Frantically pushing the button multiple times with no success, I finally gave up and reached for my phone. Pointing it into the darkness, I snapped. What looked back at me was all black. I shot a picture of nothingness. Or did I?
We left the tunnel, making our way towards the building. Before entering, our guide informed us that the first floor is ‘under construction’ for their upcoming haunted house. She said, “please be aware there are a few props and drawings on the wall that are not authentic to the building.” We proceeded inside, making a quick route, past the fake stuff, heading towards the morgue. Gathering in the small room, we learned about the morgue and saw a couple autopsy tables. For the number of deaths in this hospital, the tiny morgue became cramped quite quickly. So, an elevator was installed to haul away the bodies directly from the room. As the guide continued to point out various parts of the place, I saw a dark shadow move out of the corner of my eye. The instant I turned my head towards the object, it was gone.
The group was then ushered towards the stairwell and we ascended to the next floor. After exiting the stairs, we turned off our flashlights. Using only the moonlight, we filtered into a large room on floor two. Our tour guide lit her flashlight on the lowest setting while she gave a little history of the building.
Learning about the tuberculosis epidemic and how tragic life was during those years without an effective treatment, I found a new respect for the old hospital I now occupied. How many others had stepped foot in this exact spot? How many came here, hopeful to receive the ‘best care’ of the time, only to die a horrific death? As my mind pondered these questions, the tour guide’s voice filtered through my ears. She was telling about a photo a previous tour attendee captured in this very room, then proceeded to share with the group. The washed out, nearly transparent image sprung from her phone of two young children facing one another, holding hands. Wow, someone captured a picture of real live ghosts. The thought made me nearly chuckle … as if ghosts were actually alive.
We left the second floor, ascending the stairwell again. This was the only place we were allowed to use our flashlights, but with the light beam only facing downward towards our feet to prevent possible injury on the steps. The third floor smelled musty and old. Well, not the entire floor, only one area held the scent as we passed through.
Returning to the stairwell again, we made our way up to the top floor, skipping floor 4. None of us questioned the reasoning, we just followed like good little soldiers. Floor 5 was the first time we were allowed to use the flash on our cameras. This was good news for me, since I had yet been able to consistently capture anything with mine. It would snap in one area, but not in another, quite mystifying. Since we were on the top floor with a huge section of the building being open to the roof, the flashes weren’t feared to distort anything important. So, getting false shadows in pictures wasn’t as great a threat. I snapped away, enjoying the freedom to roam around as I wished. Being in a tight group offered comfort, but it hindered flexibility to explore. So, floor five was a nice change of pace during our tour. The moment I entered room 502, the hairs on my arms stood on end. Something felt off. Glancing around, but saw nothing to cause the alert. A sudden movement on my left caught my attention, and I turned quickly in that direction. Only an empty wall stared back at me.
Finally, our guide gathered us together for the last section of the tour. We were divided into two smaller groups and departed on our journey towards floor 4. The ‘cabbose’ became our new guide, and he said, “we’re saving the best for last.” As we reached the 4th floor, he took us near the entrance of a long hall. There, he stopped the pack and instructed us to just look down the corridor. Five or six open doorways lined each side of the hallway with two open doors at the far end. The ambient light from the moon filtered through the windows of each room, lighting up the doorways. The door on the left at the end of the hall nearly glowed in the shape of a strong white rectangle as my vision stared into it, waiting, unsure of what to expect. Suddenly, a dark shadowy figure appeared to lean away from the wall and look into our direction, partially blocking the bright white door opening. I blinked, thinking my eyes were playing tricks on me. But the tour guide quietly announced, “did you see it, there, on the left, the dark shadow?” My heart skipped a beat, I did see it! Again, another shadow moved, this time on the right. The left shadow continued to dart in and out of the door while the one on the right moved slower. Closer, around the third door away from us, a smaller dark shadow peeked out. What was happening? I almost couldn’t believe my eyes, witnessing this paranormal activity. As if this wasn’t enough excitement, our guide asked for a brave volunteer. Had he said ‘volunteer’, I might have been willing, but he threw in the word ‘brave’, so … nope. My friend, Angie offered herself. What?! Glancing at her like she was crazy (which she couldn’t possibly see in the dark anyway), she stepped forward. The guide instructed her to walk slowly down the hallway, then stop where he indicated. As she began her journey towards the shadow people, he then said loudly in their direction, “I’m sending a friend down to visit, she is harmless.” Angie made it to the end of the hall only a couple of feet away from the two empty doorways. I could see her outline in the darkness, she remained still. Then, the dark shadow on the left drifted forward, towards my friend. His mass blocked the doorway, completely closing off any light seeping through the previously glowing white rectangle. The dark shadow started moving, appearing to encircle Angie. Tears formed in my eyes at the sight, then fear overcame me, and I begged the tour guide to bring back my friend. He obliged, but first ensuring Angie was fine. She turned around and walked calmly back to the group. About midway through, she admitted to feeling a cool pocket of air. The moment Angie returned to the group, another volunteer was sent. He too felt the cool air, midway down the hall. Several brave volunteers were sent before our time was up. But none had the activity present like when Angie was sent.
Excitement filled the air and we left the haunted building with fully heightened senses. Even though it was past midnight, which is a couple of hours past my normal bedtime, I felt tireless and energetic. During our drive back to the hotel, Angie and I compared our experiences. She said she thought she saw something when at the end of the hall, but she was a little unsure, because it wasn’t what she expected. Inquiring what she expected, she proceeded to explain she was looking for white shadows floating around, like a typical described ghostly apparition. But she admitted to not seeing anything of the sort, only darkness. That’s when I nearly became unhinged. “Yes, yes, they were black! The shadows were dark and moved quickly. They totally circled you at one point.” Angie was shocked as I described what I saw. She then confirmed seeing the doorway vanish at one point, no longer being able to see the moonlight coming through, sharing what I witnessed. But at the time, she was confused as to what had just happened. Our excited conversation continued the whole journey back to the hotel, then another half an hour longer after inside our room. Sometime near 2 AM, I finally calmed my mind and accepted sleep to take my thoughts. We did it, our tour happened!