Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An urban legend

Most of us have heard the story of "The Hook".

A young couple are parked in a remote area to have some one-on-one fun. They have the radio on, and a special broadcast suddenly interrupts the romantic music. The announcer states that a homicidal maniac has escaped from a nearby psychiatric hospital, and that the police are searching for him.

The announcer makes the chilling statement that the killer is highly recognizable, due to the fact that he has a metal hook in place of one of his hands. (The legend conveniently overlooks the fact that, if he truly HAD a metal hook for a hand, the police would have confiscated it immediately. The man is, after all, homicidal.)

The female half of the couple, and they are usually high-school seniors or college students, panics and insists that her date drive her home. Her date is more blase about the whole thing, pointing out that the hospital is miles away, they're in a car while he's on foot, etc. The young woman continues to insist, and eventually, thoroughly irate, the young man turns on the engine and peels out of the area at top speed.

Neither of them speaks on the ride home; the young woman is too frightened, and the young man is too angry. When they arrive at her residence, the young man stalks over to her side of the car to open the door.

Hanging from the door handle, covered with blood, is a razor-sharp hook.

This is an old story, as shown from the details. The two people are listening to the radio, rather than an mp3 player, a CD player, a cassette player, or an 8-track tape. They are not having sex, just making out. And at the end, the hook is hanging from the door handle. This was, of course, possible several decades ago, when car door handles were shaped differently, rather like a refrigerator door handle.

It's also a morality tale. Don't go parking, or something may happen. Listen to those in authority. Don't hesitate to walk away (or, in this case, drive away) from danger. Stay away from isolated areas. Maybe, even, always have a full tank of gas.

Even given the obvious flaws in the story, and the fact that it could not have happened as told, it is an amazingly scary tale. It is not until they arrive home that the boyfriend discovers that the murderer was right outside the car, about to open the door.

Of course, it would have made more sense for the murderer to take on the boyfriend first, since it was his car and his girlfriend might not have been able to drive it - or to fight off the murderer if her boyfriend were murdered - but this is just one detail that isn't often considered. It's the fear factor; the fear of being in an isolated area after dark; the fear of the unknown; the fear that something really is after you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Haunted Hollywood


Stage 28 is said to be haunted by the ghost of none other than the original Phantom of the Opera, Lon Chaney. A man wearing a black cape has been seen many times, by workers on the stage and by visitors. He has been seen on the catwalks, and security guards have experienced the frightening phenomena of lights turning off and on, and doors opening and closing, late at night. Chaney died of throat cancer in 1930, just five years after creating his legendary Phantom on the silver screen. He has also been seen at a bus stop where, in his less-affluent days, he used to wait for the bus.


On November 15, 1927, director/producer Thomas H. Ince died suddenly and mysteriously after attending a birthday party (his own!) on board the Oneida, a private yacht owned by newspaperman William Randolph Hearst. What happened on the yacht may never be know; Ince's death was formally listed as natural causes, but  rumors soon started - and never subsided - that Ince, then still alive, had been carried off the yacht with a bullet wound in his head. The rumor mill cranked up, with stories swirling that Hearst, maniacally jealous of his much-younger mistress and sometime actress, Marion Davies, had deliberately invited Charlie Chaplin on the cruise in order to watch the two of them together. Catching them in a compromising position, Hearst attempted to shoot Chaplin, but missed and fatally wounded Ince. The producer's body was cremated, effectively preventing any further investigations as to the true cause of death. Ince's funeral took place on November 21. Hearst was not among those present.

In 1918, Ince had built film production studios that still stand (Culver Studios).  Perhaps because of his untimely death, the lot is still a very busy place when the living have gone home for the day. It's not only Ince's ghost who haunts the premises. A woman has been seen on the third floor on occasion, leaving coldness after her. Employees have seen other strange figures around the lot at night.

Thomas Ince has been seen in the administration building, walking upstairs to what, in his time, was his private screening room. In 1988, when renovations were performed, Ince made his disapproval known.

During the renovations, two men were working  in Stage 1-2-3 when they looked up at the catwalks to see a man wearing a strange hat watching them. He frowned at them, then walked through the wall, when the men spoke to him. Later, other workers saw a similar (or the same) figure on Stage 2-3-4. The ghost  informed them, “I don’t like what you’re doing to my studio”. He made the same exit as before.


Paramount is located next door to Hollywood Memorial Park, where many of its former stars are buried. Stages 29 - 32 are the closest to the cemetery; ghosts clad in the fashions of the '30s and '40s are seen there.  The most active are Stages 31 and 32, where footsteps are heard and equipment turns off and on with no visible cause.  
  Certain entrances to the lot are walk-in. One such is Lemon Grove, very close to Hollywood Memorial Park. The ghosts from the cemetery use this gate to gain access to the lot. Some of the ghosts are only heads thrust through the wall separating the studio from the cemetery. Some stroll right through the gate, such as the ghost of the legendary Rudolph Valentino. 

Guards don't care to work night shift at the Lemon Grove gate. Uninvited, unannounced visitors have formed a habit of entering after dark, leaving the guards confused. One guard refused to work night shift at the gate after following a strange man to a corner of the wall between the studio and the cemetery. The man promptly vanished through the wall. 

The Hart building, one of the oldest on the studio lot, is also said to be the most haunted. Windows and doors open and close; people feel the sensation of being tapped on the shoulder; lights turn on and off. A truly frightening occurrence is that experienced by an executive of a company based in the building. When washing his hands in the bathroom one day, he glanced at his reflection in the mirror and saw that his eyes were glowing red. He promptly ran to his office and asked his secretary to look at his eyes. She sat him in a chair, looked at his eyes, then screamed in horror and ran for the door. When the executive attempted to follow her, he felt hands on his shoulders, forcing him to remain in the chair.

He escaped, finally, and the company moved out of the building the same day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Old Slave House

************WARNING! This house is off-limits to the public. DO NOT attempt to enter it.******

Construction of the well-known Hickory Hill House began in 1833 on the orders of John Hart Crenshaw, an extremely wealthy man who made his fortune in the salt mines of Illinois. He was the owner of thousands of acres of land, three salt furnaces, and a sawmill.

Crenshaw's interest in earning ever more money would come at a terrible price to many citizens of Illinois. Though a free state in those days before the Civil War, three Illinois counties (Gallatin, Hardin, and the appropriately named Saline) allowed Southern slaves to be leased from their "owners" to work in the brutal environment of the salt mines. The work was almost impossible to endure, but with salt being the important commodity that it was, the owners needed labor - so they got it for free.

Crenshaw, unfortunately, was not the only mine owner who kidnapped runaway slaves and free blacks, forcing them to work in his mine. He also sold free blacks into slavery in the South - men, women, and children. Those who really were runaway slaves could also be turned in for a reward. As far as Crenshaw and his ilk were concerned, it was a win-win situation. It's said that Crenshaw hired several men to keep an eye out for escaped slaves, to help his human trade.
Hickory Hill is a three-story house with a view of the Saline River. The style is Classic Greek. The interior was decorated with original artwork from Europe. The first two floors of the house have fireplaces in each of the thirteen rooms.

Behind closed doors, however - upstairs and underground - the neighbors had no idea what the house contained. There may once have been a tunnel connecting the basement to the Saline River, a nighttime sending and receiving point for slaves. The back of the house had another passageway big enough to hold a wagon. Vehicles could thus enter the house itself, unloading slaves so that nobody outside could see what was happening.
The third floor of Hickory Hill contains the now-infamous attic, reached by a flight of stairs. Several tiny cells, with barely enough room for an adult to turn around, can still be seen today, though some have been removed. A corridor connecting the cells runs from one end of the attic to the other. The only ventilation was provided by windows at the ends of the attic; in summer, the heat was stifling. These windows also gave the room the only light it received. The slaves were chained in their cells. One man, with a very slightly larger cell, was kept in the attic for the sole purpose of fathering children - more slaves for the mines; more money from children sold to the South.

In 1842, matters began to turn sour for Crenshaw. He was brought up on charges of kidnapping a free black woman and her children. One of his sawmills burned down (arson?) and the value of his other holdings decreased. Many civil court actions were brought against him, while salt deposits were found in other states that were more profitable than his once-rich mines. In addition, Crenshaw was also attacked by a slave, who cut off one of his legs. Crenshaw survived the attack, but most of the slaves were sold afterward and operations came to an end.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Crenshaw sold Hickory Hill and moved to a new farm, closer to the oddly-named Equality. He died on December 4, 1871 and was buried in Hickory Hill Cemetery, near his former home.

In 1906, Hickory Hill - already well-known as a haunted house - was bought by the Sisk family. The locals called it the “Old Slave House”. In the 1920s, visitors began to drop by. They arrived at all hours of the day and night, asking for a tour of the house; the locals had the tendency to share their rumors about the house with visitors, who then headed out to experience the local haunting. In 1930, the owners began to charge admission to the house; 5 cents for children, 10 for adults.

The visitors reported strange occurrences. They heard strange noises, especially in the attic, such as cries, whimpers, and chains rattling . Many people who visited the slave quarters claimed that they had uncomfortable feelings, such as extreme fear and sadness, and the feeling that someone was watching them. Physical sensations were also experienced, such as chills, being touched, and feeling someone brushing by them.

Not surprisingly, once these stories spread, the number of visitors increased. Rumor had it that no one could spend a whole night in the badly haunted attic. Those who tried, ran full-speed out of the attic and the house well before the night ended. Then-owner George Sisk ended the practice when a fire started one night from a lantern that was knocked over.
In 1978, however, Sisk granted permission for a Harrisburg reporter, David Rodgers, to spend the night in the attic. Rodgers was doing a Halloween show for a local TV station - and, somehow, made it through the night in the attic, alone. (On a previous occasion, some Vietnam veterans had attempted to stay there overnight, but ran in terror from the apparitions.) Rodgers heard many unidentifiable noises; later, when listening to the tape he recorded, he heard voices that had not been audible to him during the night.

Once again, this house is private property. Absolutely no trespassing is allowed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sao Paulo

Another tale from south of the Equator...

The city council building (an ugly, modern structure) in Sao Paulo is said to be haunted. The meeting rooms have seen the manifestations of women in wedding gowns, who have appeared in broad daylight. Strange sounds have been heard in the hallways; people have entered the elevator and vanished; doors have locked by themselves.

One of the councilmen was mysteriously locked into his office, unable to open the door. He heard voices speaking a language he didn't understand.

The story is, the building site is a place where slaves were once tortured. But what of the women in the wedding gowns?

Monday, July 19, 2010

A highway ghost

Residents of Reheboth, near Route 44, tend to get very nervous at the mention of a redheaded ghost along the highway.

Nobody knows the name of the ghost, what may have happened to him, or why he still haunts this stretch of road. Numerous sightings have been reported by thoroughly terrified drivers.

This ghost is one of many "vanishing hitchhikers" who have been reported in cultures worldwide. When a driver stops, he enters the car, only to vanish somewhere down the road. A haunting laugh is then heard, sometimes coming from the radio. Sometimes, he doesn't wait for the driver to stop; he simply appears in the moving car, frightening the driver half to death. He also makes himself seen in the middle of the road, where many a driver has been convinced that they have run over him. When the unlucky driver gets out of the car and checks, however, he is nowhere to be seen. A young woman had a memorable experience when - or so she thought - she ran right into him, standing in the middle of the highway. She stopped to help, only to find an empty road, and to hear mocking laughter from the nearby woods. She drove on, only to have the same incident occur again. This time, rather than leaving her car, she rolled down the window to examine the highway. The laugh occurred again, this time right outside her car.

She left at high speed.

A few years later (both incidents occurred in the early 1980s) a young couple broke down on Route 44. The woman stayed in the car while her boyfriend went in search of a pay phone. The man spotted a redheaded man sitting by the side of the road, and asked where the nearest phone was. The stranger didn't reply with words, only with a laugh. The man took a closer look at the stranger, and noticed that his eyes were cloudy and lacking pupils. The man hurried back to his car, checking nervously over his shoulder. The stranger had vanished, but the laughter continued, all the way back to the car. When he finally arrived, his girlfriend was hysterical. She explained that she had turned on the radio, but a voice had come through the broadcast program, calling her by name. Laughter followed, along with personal taunts, until her boyfriend arrived.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Asheville, haunted city

It seems that the good (and not so good) people of Asheville, North Carolina, enjoy their city so much, they never want to leave.


The ghost of City Hall is a man who - surprise! - committed suicide
after the Crash of '29. He waits in line at the snack bar, then disappears suddenly. He may also be the entity that ransacks offices at night, leaving a mess for the employees when they arrive at work.

Richmond Hill Inn, a bed and breakfast, was built in 1889. The ghost (perhaps that of the builder, Richmond Pearson) was a man wearing a suit from a bygone era, wandering the hallways during the night, as reported by guests. Zelda Fitzgerald, who died in a fire at Asheville's Highland Hospital, was also seen - in the F. Scott Fitzgerald room. On a hair-raising note, the house burned down in 2009; the cause was arson.

On May 29th, 1835, two men, James Sneed and James Henry, were hanged for the crime of stealing a horse. They maintained their innocence to the end. What was a field in 1835, is now an area close to the modern-day intersection of Merrimon and Broadway Avenues. The two men were buried not far from the old gallows. Even today, strange sounds are heard in the vicinity, such as a trap door opening, and the sounds of horses trotting along.

Highland Park was once the site of Highland Hospital, a psychiatric institution and Zelda Fitzgerald's last home. She was one of the nine people who died in the fire that burned it to the ground in 1948. Screams are heard, and the ghosts of those who died in the fire have been seen walking near the area.

Two women were beaten to death on Waneta Street in the 1920s, in a still-unsolved murder case. The ghost of the murderer has been seen walking along the street with an object that appears to be a pipe or a stick.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Ghosts of Ashtabula

On December 29, 1876, the town of Ashtabula, Ohio, became the site of the worst rail disaster in U.S. history up to that time. A blizzard (with winds topping 50 mph) had left more than 20 inches of snow. The No. 5 train, known as the Pacific Express, was two hours late arriving in Ashtabula, due to the inclement weather; the station was filled with passengers.

The train, despite the delay, was moving right along at a whopping ten miles per hour. The train included two locomotives, two baggage, passenger, and express cars, three sleeping cars, and a smoking car. No one can be sure exactly how many passengers were traveling the No. 5 that day, but the estimate is that there were at least 147 people, passengers and crew, on board.

Daniel McGuire was the engineer of the first locomotive. As the train approached Ashtabula, it had to cross the bridge over Ashtabula Creek. McGuire increased the speed, in order to push through the piles of snow on the tracks, not to mention fighting the high wind. As the first locomotive came to the other side of the bridge, however, McGuire had an odd feeling that the train was somehow heading up an incline. When he looked behind him, he saw the second engine and eleven more cars falling into the creek - a distance of more than eighty feet - along with much of the railway bridge. McGuire steamed ahead, breaking the coupling with the second locomotive and driving to a safe point.

The Ashtabula train station was only about a fifth of a mile past the bridge. Telegraph operator William Alsell, a telegraph operator, was the first person at the station to find out what had happened to the train. He had heard the whistle as the train came near the bridge, and walked toward it, in the hope that it was a passenger train and that he might ride through town on it. When he saw that it was indeed the No. 5, he turned back toward the station to get his belongings. It was then that he heard the crash; he swiveled back to see the cars fall into the void. He ran to the bridge - but the bridge was gone.

A young woman named Marian Shepherd survived the crash. At the time it occurred, she was in her berth in one of the sleeper cars. She heard an odd sound, as if the train were now traveling along the ties, rather than the rails. Then she heard glass shattering. Later, she remembered someone else in her car screaming “We are going down!” She then felt the car falling; the sleeper car hit the creek only a few seconds later.

In the darkness, Shepherd worked to find her way out of the berth. She didn't know it, but the cars were upright when they landed; this meant that the lowest cars were in the creek itself, where drowning was a distinct danger. The top car, however, had landed with the heater burning; it was only a few minutes before this car caught fire. It took very little time, then, for the cars and the locomotive to burn.

Many of the survivors worked with a rescue crew from Ashtabula, removing the others from the cars. Eventually, they were forced back by the heat of the fire; they didn't realize that many of those rescued had been slowly submerged in the creek - the frozen creek that had been melted by the fire. Many of those still trapped in the lower cars drowned when the water flooded into what was left of the No. 5 train. Daniel McGuire remembered a woman who was trapped, with the fire making its way quickly toward her. In her desperation, she begged the rescue crew to amputate her legs so that she could be pulled out of the train. Nobody could reach her, and McGuire watched her burn to death. Engineer Peter Levenbroe, McGuire’s friend, who was in the second locomotive, was among the victims, having been crushed in the locomotive as it fell into the creek. He was still alive when found, but he died en route to the hospital.

William Alsell was among the rescuers that night. Not only did he smash windows to reach the victims, he worked frantically to keep them safe from the fire and the water. Thieves, unfortunately, had also joined the able-bodied crew, and were busy robbing the wounded and dead.

The site of the tragedy wasn't clean for more than a week. The railroad sent more than a hundred and fifty men to investigate, the bodies were never identified in total. Some of the bodies could only be identified by jewelry - jewelry that had been overlooked by the eager thieves. A funeral was held at two churches the following year, on January 19. Afterwards, the unclaimed bodies were buried in Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

At an inquest to determine responsibility for the accident, the jury came to the decision that the railroad was solely to blame; that the bridge contained many defects; that the company had never given the bridge a complete inspection. The jury found that the company had used the wrong heaters, rather than the type that would have been extinguished when the train derailed. The jury also pointed the finger at the fire department, since it concentrated more on rescuing the victims than on putting out the fire. (Rumors still abound about the fire department's lack of action; it is thought that the members of the department simply had no idea how to put out a fire such as this, and decided to try to save as many people as they could.)

Railroad man and millionaire Amasa B. Stone, Jr., was the designer and builder of the bridge. For the rest of his life, he rejected responsibility for the tragedy; he claimed that an act of God had been the cause.

Charles Collins, who inspected the bridge only ten days prior to the accident, was very different in his reaction. It was said that he "wept like a baby" when he saw the site of the accident. It was said that he had been made to give a positive report on the state of the bridge. (Had Collins taken a closer look on that last inspection, he would have seen that some of the sections were badly out of alignment, and he would have known that the bridge was in imminent danger of causing the sort of tragedy that did, indeed, occur.) The luckless Collins shouldered much of the blame. A few hours after testifying on the disaster, he went into his bedroom, put a pistol to his head, and pulled the trigger.

Though Amasa Stone staunchly denied any and all responsibility for the wreck, pointing fingers everywhere but at himself and hanging Collins out to dry, his end was no better. He was viewed as a murderer by the public, and his health began to deteriorate. In 1883, he locked himself in his bathroom and shot himself through the heart.

What about the ghosts?

They have been seen and heard - but not in the creek bed, as one might think. It is the Chestnut Grove Cemetery, the final resting place for those unclaimed dead, where apparitions have been seen. They wear 19th-century clothing; some carry carpetbags. Screams can be heard occasionally.

Not far from the mass grave of the unknown victims, Charles Collins is buried in a mausoleum. His ghost, too, has been encountered in the cemetery, near his burial place. As in life, unable to forgive himself for the tragedy, he is still suffering today. Often, he appears with his face in his hands, sobbing. "I'm so very sorry," he weeps, just before disappearing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ruth Chatterton

Most people wouldn't know the name these days. Ruth Chatterton was a stage and screen actress (among other films, she made the classic Dodsworth with Walter Huston and a young David Niven in 1933). She was also fond of flying; she flew the Atlantic solo many times, and was acquainted with the ill-fated Amelia Earhart.

Chatterton also wrote a fascinating story called "Ladies' Man", reprinted in an Alfred Hitchcock compilation titled Stories for Late at Night. The story - and a very well-written one, too - details her experiences at her good friend Noel Coward's country home, Goldenhurst.

It seems that, due to the house being filled with guests, Ruth was allocated a bedroom on the ground floor, next to Mrs. Coward's sitting room. There were no other guests near her; all the other bedrooms were on the upper floor. Late that night, a voice called out, "Ruth!" Chatterton instinctively called out, "Come in!"

The door swung open... and she saw only the blackness of the hall beyond. She heard, though, the sound of footsteps pacing through the room. In sheer terror, Chatterton closed her eyes, only opening them hours later, after sunrise, having fallen asleep despite her fear.

With the sunlight and activity the following day, Chatterton found it easy to dismiss the terror of the night before. She even convinced herself that it had been some sort of practical joke on her - but a conversation with Coward and another woman soon made her realize that the ghost was all too real, and that he had been seen by other women in the same room. While Chatterton heard a voice and footsteps, the other women had actually seen him, and had been terrified beyond belief.

Despite Coward's tales of the other women's experiences, Chatterton still tried to deny his story, until their mutual acquaintance broke in. The woman (given a false name in the story) told Chatterton that the room was haunted, and that she knew it... because she had been one of the previous guests in that room.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Your ghost stories

Anyone out there want to send in your experiences? Feel free! I might edit the stories, of course, and I reserve the right to print them should the occasion arise.

Go for it!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Banff Springs Hotel

The staff of the hotel will tell you that it isn't haunted. Others will tell you differently.

One of the ghosts seen at the hotel is that of a bride. There are two stories about her untimely death; in one version, she was walking down the staircase when her train caught fire from one of the candles on the stairs. In her panic to put out the flames, she fell down the stairs and broke her neck. In the other version, she tripped over her train, causing the neck-breaking fall. She has been seen dancing alone in the hotel ballroom.

A bellhop called Sam has been seen still doing his rounds, helping (living) guests with keys and performing other services.

A similarly helpful ghostly bartender tells guests when they've had enough to drink.

A headless piper still plays his bagpipes (how?).

One of the rooms was the site of a murder - either of a little girl or of a whole family, depending on the story you hear. It had to be walled up due to the fact that a child's fingerprints appeared on the mirror every time it was cleaned.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


The word "chickamauga" comes from the Cherokee language; it means "river of death".

This is a highly appropriate name for a field where more than 34,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed on September 19 - 20, 1863. It's now a park, but the events of 1863 linger on.

After the battle finally ground to a halt, many of the soldiers' wives took lanterns and searched through the night for their loved ones. The bodies left on the battlefield weren't buried for two months; given the state of the corpses by that time, they were simply buried three to four in a grave, usually in shallow graves. To this day, it's not unusual for one of the soldiers' bodies to be found in the park; it's a giant graveyard, with no map telling where the bodies are.

Civil War reenacters frequently come to Chickamauga, acting out one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles. One group, camping overnight in the park, met up with another group; the first group sat around the second group's campfire, trading stories, then returned to their own camp to get some sleep. The following day, no trace was to be found of the second group - no food, no tents, no sign of a campfire.

Visitors and rangers alike have experience paranormal phenomena. The spirits of the dead appear with ghastly wounds. Hoofbeats and footsteps are heard. Sounds of moaning, and of sobbing women (the soldiers' wives, most likely) echo through the area. A headless horseman has been seen. Mist swirls through the field.

The "River of Death" continued to act thirty years later, when troops of men were stationed at Chickamauga for training prior to being shipped down south to fight in the Spanish-American War. Many of them fell ill and died.

These days, the park is also a spot where people have been murdered, or where murder victims have been taken and dumped; the soldiers of 1863 aren't the only ones whose remains have been found here. One memorable story concerns a man whose wife and her lover attempted to murder him. He managed to escape, though badly wounded, and ran screaming through the park before a ranger found him. The two would-be murderers were still chasing him, each of them armed with a knife.

Several photos showing inexplicable images have been taken at Chickamauga - misty forms, strange shadows, and so forth.

The park is open daily - and at night, I'm sure it's even more open, but be sure to get permission, if you feel like braving the nighttime atmosphere.

Monday, February 8, 2010


The island of Poveglia is located in the Venice Lagoon, between Venice proper and the island of Lido.

The story - a good one, but of dubious (at best) authenticity, is that during the Great Plague, Venice's fast-dying victims were put on Poveglia. Even those who weren't dead, but considered to already have the plague, were dragged out of their homes and forced to the island, where they were thrown into plague pits with the dead. A cloud of smoke usually however over the island, from the bonfires built to burn the corpses.

In 1922, so the story goes, someone got the bright idea to build a psychiatric hospital on the island. The doctor in charge was a sadist who liked to "experiment" on the patients. The patients, by the way, reported hearing strange noises and seeing the ghosts of rotting bodies, but these complaints were put down to mental illness. The doctor in charge continued his little hobbies on the patients.

Finally, the doctor himself fell from a high tower in the hospital, and was choked to death by a strange fog that forced itself into his mouth.

Poveglia is regarded as one of the ten most haunted places on earth. It is off-limits to tourists.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A haunted house that really is haunted!

A menacing voice warns visitors to "Get out!" of a certain fifth-floor room.

A woman, bleeding from her slashed wrists, screams out, "Help me!"

The scent of cooking food wafts down the hall from a long-disused kitchen.

The Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky was once a famed hospital for victims of the early-20th-century "White Death", better known as tuberculosis. Regarded as one of the best sanatoria in the country, the treatment methods in those pre-antibiotic days are horrifying to modern readers. Fresh air was thought to be beneficial for tuberculosis sufferers, so the patients were put into large rooms with the windows wide open, even in the dead of winter, to "clear" the germs from their lungs. One last-resort treatment is one that must have been pure agony for the patients. A balloon was inserted into the lungs and inflated. This "treatment" often involved the removal of one or more ribs, to inflate the lungs even further, and almost invariably resulted in the death of the patient.

The sanatorium had a "Body Chute", a secret passage that the staff used to remove the bodies of those patients who had died. Realizing the the sight of corpses being carted out of the sanatorium on a daily basis would have a demoralizing effect on the rest of the patients, they devised a way to take them out in secret, unseen by the residents. This passage was also used by the staff to enter the sanatorium in inclement weather.

As with so many "hospitals" of its kind, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium eventually closed with the onset of newer and more effective (not to mention far more humane) treatments for tuberculosis. The imposing, rather scary-looking building fell into disrepair.

Now, the premises are used as - surprise! - a haunted-house attraction, with the novel twist that this is one place that has its own ghosts, not those dreamed up by a creative team. Room 502 is said to be the most haunted room; the fifth floor is where patients with mental illnesses were kept, and it continues to be the most atmospheric and disturbing of the building. In 1928, a nurse in her late twenties hanged herself in this room. Rumor has it that she had had an affair with a married doctor on the staff, and became pregnant. Rather than face the social ostracism of being pregnant and unmarried, she chose suicide. This is the room where the words "Get out!" are frequently heard.

In 1932, another suicide occurred when a nurse threw herself off the roof patio.

So far, it seems that most of the ghosts are not those you would expect - not the patients, who underwent tortures in their search for a cure, but the specters of the despairing nurses (and, perhaps, an orderly, for whom there is no background story). The fifth floor, though, seems to have absorbed the insanity of its erstwhile residents; could that be why the pregnant nurse of 1928 chose to hang herself there?

Now, the curious can have a good look at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium. The current owners have put in a lot of hard work to clean up the place; carting off garbage, removing dangerous asbestos, laying new floors. They offer 4-hour and 8-hour "ghost hunts" to the intrepid. The Waverly Hills website contains all the details, including some of the hospital's history, and photos that may or may not show some of the disembodied residents.

WARNING: The sanatorium is private property. Nobody is allowed on the grounds without a reservation. The "ghost tours" are ONLY for those 18 years of age and older. See the website for further information.