For this edition of the Tell-Tale Traveler, I decided to focus on a city that just so happens to be the home of my favorite haunted location but more on that later. When one thinks Louisville, Kentucky, the first thing they probably think of is horse racing and Churchill Downs. But for me, Louisville is far more than that. It was actually the first city to which my mother allowed me to travel--at 17 years-old with friends--for a concert. If you’re curious, I saw Godsmack and Staind, in their early days. Louisville is an incredible mixture of Southern decadence and modern innovation. It also happens to be home to some very strange and unusual locations.
Upon deciding to take a trip to Louisville, you must book a room at a haunted hotel and fortunately, Louisville offers you two options, with a third being about 45 minutes away but that will be mentioned later. The first is the Seelbach Hotel. For those of you who are fans of the Great Gatsby, you might be interested to know that the novel was actually inspired by the beauty and opulence of the hotel. The Seelbach is also home to the Lady in Blue. It is believed that she is the ghost of Patricia Wilson. Patricia died in July of 1936 and her body was found at the bottom of the elevator shaft. Though there is some disagreement about how she may have died, an accidental fall, suicide or possibly something more sinister, anyone who has had an experience with the Lady in Blue will tell you she exists. She spends much of her time on the 8th Floor, as well as in the Hotel Bar so you can increase your chances of seeing her by booking an 8th Floor room or perhaps enjoying Louisville’s official cocktail, the Old Fashioned.
If the Seelbach doesn’t quite strike your fancy, you can also stay at the Brown Hotel. For you foodie’s out there, this is the hotel that created the Hot Brown Sandwich in 1926. I’ve never had one but I believe it has bacon on it and from what I’m told practically everyone loves bacon! You might also encounter the ghost of the Hotel’s namesake, J. Graham Brown. Brown passed away in 1969, following which the Brown Hotel would close for 10 years. When it reopened in 1979, occupants of Mr. Brown’s 15th Floor Suite began to report strange experiences. The elevator is also known to stop unexpectedly on the 15th Floor and Brown’s ghost has been spotted in various locations throughout the hotel, always leaving behind the tell-tale scent of cigar smoke.
Once you’ve selected your hotel, you are ready to begin your odd little trip to Louisville. I suggest heading to NuLu, also known as the East Market District, a very funky arts and dining area of Louisville. You’ll have many options for restaurants but the Garage Bar is actually an old auto service shop and the owners have kept that vibe alive using many of the aesthetics that are original to the location. They serve wood-fired pizzas with a Southern flair, craft beers and you guessed it, amazing cocktails! The margarita pizza is fantastic and I believe my friends dined on some sort of lamb calzone. They seemed incredibly impressed with it. I opted to have the very Southern honey, lavender lemonade and it was so good. So good in fact, that I actually now make that cocktail at home but with Sweet Potato Vodka from New Orleans. My friend ordered a Basil Gimlet…Gin and Basil, need I say more. It was wonderful. Oh, and did I mention the outdoor seating? It’s AstroTurf furniture…couches and chairs.
As you enjoy your meal at the Garage Bar, you may notice a large three-story building on the other side of the street. It may first appear to be just an old school building but then you’ll notice the whimsical and wonderful antiques outside. This is Joe Ley Antiques…a wonderland of the strange and unusual. It feels like you’ve entered a funhouse filled with every antique ever! You can literally find anything here: architectural salvage, books, mannequins, coffins, horror related items and there are even items for the traditional antique buyer as well so everyone will walk out with something. The pricing system also adds to the fun of an adventure to Joe Ley Antiques. Items are priced with a code, as opposed to a price and upon arrival, patrons are given a run-down of how to decipher the codes. Expect to spend about two hours browsing, as there is also a basement and outside area.
After spending 2+ hours at Joy Ley Antiques, you may be feeling the need for a sugar fix and NuLu has the perfect little shop for that. Muth’s Candies is a 94-year-old family owned shop where the recipes are still family owned and the chocolates are still hand-dipped. There are so many things to choose from including hand-made turtles, chocolate-covered caramels, old fashion bourbon balls, taffy and peanut brittle and that is just the beginning of the selection at Muth’s Candies. I highly suggest the turtles and of course, the bourbon balls, you are in Louisville, after all.
Now that you’ve explored Nulu, you must explore Old Louisville as well. Fortunately, there is a ghost tour for that. Old Louisville has been dubbed by many as America’s Most Haunted Neighborhood and the district has been well preserved to its original Victorian grandeur. A gentleman wearing a white suit and string bow tie has been known to watch over renters in one of the homes, while another home is thought to be haunted by the children of the former owners. One mansion was even the subject of an episode of the TV series, “The First 48.” The neighborhood is also filled with gas lamps and lush garden paths, which at night, give this neighborhood a truly creepy vibe. For those interested in booking a tour, no worries, tours are conducted daily at 7:30pm. The company also offers a tour for those interested in history and architecture. These tours are held daily at 11:00am and 1:00pm.
Before you head back to your hotel for the evening, you definitely want to take a 45-minute drive south to the Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky for dinner. The scenery is beautiful in Bardstown and the Talbott is a great place for food and spirits. When I visited, I ate my dinner in the Bar area but the Talbott also hosts an upscale restaurant. I highly recommend the fried green tomatoes and the fried banana peppers dipped in a wee bit of beer cheese. The cocktail menu is extensive and because it’s Kentucky, many contain bourbon. I was skeptical but when in Kentucky, one must sample bourbon at some point. I ordered a Bourbontini and I must say, it was so yummy! It contains Four Roses Bourbon, apple cider, cranberry juice and sweet and sour.
But the Talbott is home to some otherworldly spirits as well. Reports claim that the ghost of Jesse James frequents the Talbott Tavern and has been seen by many guests. The Talbott is also home to the Lady in White, who has been seen throughout the Tavern. Visitors also claim to see orbs and flashes of light, objects move including glasses and silverware, doors opening and closing and phantom footsteps. Shadows have also been spotted turning corners and when guests or employees follow, there is nothing there. The Talbott Tavern also serves as a Bed and Breakfast so for those brave enough, overnight lodging is available at the Talbott. Each of the Talbott’s six rooms are also named for a famous person that has visited the Talbott including Abraham Lincoln, Jesse James, Daniel Boone and Washington Irving.
To start your second day in Louisville, be sure to grab breakfast at Please and Thank You. This cute little Southern Bakery also sells vinyl records and take and bake versions of some of their goodies. During my visit, I sampled the Basil Lemonade, along with a Veggie Bagel (cream cheese, red onions, tomatoes and sprouts, minus cucumbers) and a Vegan Carrot Muffin. It was all so yummy. I also suggest browsing the vinyl records and grabbing a few sweets to go, both to eat later and bake at home. I ended up walking out with a chai latte and some chocolate chip cookies, which by the way, are amazing!
Now that you’ve had a good breakfast and a lot of sugar, take a drive over to Cave Hill Cemetery and its sister cemetery, Eastern Cemetery. You will not confuse the two cemeteries as they are distinctly different but located right next to one another. Cave Hill Cemetery is beautiful, feeling more like a lush garden or a park than a cemetery. However, it does have a dark history. The land where Cave Hill now sits was once occupied by the city of Louisville’s, “Pest House,” a site where people infected with the various infectious diseases of Louisville’s early days would be held. Many people would die on the land before it was even established as a cemetery. Many visitors have noted hearing footsteps and sounds that they cannot explain. Orbs and strange lights have also been spotted in the cemetery at night. There are also many notable names buried within Cave Hill Cemetery including George Rogers-Clark, Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC and Muhammed Ali. The cemetery is so large that maps are available at the cemetery office to help visitors explore the nearly 300 acres of tombstones and monuments. For those interested in a tour, the cemetery offers many options throughout the year including tours focusing on the military figures of Cave Hill, Historical Walking Tours and even a Twilight Wagon Tour. The website has more tour options so there is really a tour for everyone.
Next to Cave Hill Cemetery sits its sister cemetery but you might almost miss it. The entrance to Eastern Cemetery is next to an apartment building that previously served as the cemetery’s crematorium. The entrance is small and the cemetery is in a state of disrepair. It is also much smaller than Cave Hill, at only 28 acres. However, despite its size and the fact that it only contains about 16,000 monuments, records indicate that roughly 138,000 bodies are actually buried in Eastern Cemetery due to its use as a Pauper’s Cemetery and also many years of worker’s reusing graves for new burials dating back to the 1920’s. Infants have also been discovered buried in as little as a foot of soil and it has been reported that cremated remains were found in a cemetery building as recently as 10 years ago. As one can imagine, reports of hauntings have long surround Eastern Cemetery. These include sightings of a woman in Victorian era garb, footsteps and voices have been heard and ghostly shadows have been spotted near the old chapel and throughout the cemetery. There is finally good news for Eastern Cemetery though, as a group of volunteers are now working to restore the cemetery.
Following your cemetery adventure, you may be ready to grab lunch and Louisville is home to the perfect location to follow up any cemetery excursion: Holy Grale. Located in the Highlands neighborhood, this restaurant is housed in a former Unitarian Church built in 1905. The restaurant considers having one of their many craft beers to be a religious experience. Though I’m not usually a beer girl, they serve an excellent Boon Framboise, which is a Belgium Raspberry Lambic. It makes me think of cider, more than beer but regardless, it’s very tasty, so tasty in fact, I had two. On the food side of things, Holy Grale offers a very unique, German inspired menu and is another excellent place to get beer cheese, which I did. The beer cheese is served with a super yummy pretzel bread and I also opted to order a cone, that’s right a cone of French fries, along with wasabi mayo and curry ketchup for dipping. I must say, I was quite partial to the wasabi mayo. It’s so good, Holy Grale should bottle it. I would buy it, in bulk.
Now that you’ve discovered my love for wasabi mayo, I should probably just go ahead and profess my love for Waverly Hills Sanatorium. This is hands-down my most favorite haunted location to visit and I have been fortunate enough to visit for two overnight ghost hunts and anticipate going back for more in the future. The gothic architecture is beautiful, with the hulking building nestled among the rolling hills of Louisville, it can be quite a sight for those interested in both ghosts and 1900’s era architecture. However, as with any Sanatorium, Waverly Hills has a long history of sadness and death. During the early 1900’s, Tuberculosis was ravaging the state of Kentucky and there was a need for a hospital to treat the White Plague, as it was known. The original building was erected in 1910 and was a small two story building capable of housing 50 to 60 patients. However, within a short 14 years, the need for a much larger facility would be necessary. Construction would begin in 1924, with the Sanatorium as it stands today opening in October of 1926. The building is five stories and could accommodate as many as 500 patients with all stages of Tuberculosis. Waverly Hills used quarantine, sunlight, fresh air and a positive attitude to treat patients. Old photos show patients on the balconies, with snow falling around them. Other treatments included radical and painful surgeries, some involving collapsing the patient’s lung. There is also a tunnel, formerly an old coal tunnel, leading to the bottom of a steep hill, nearly 500 feet down. It was used by staff to bring supplies to the building and to remove the unfortunate souls who perished in the hospital.
Following its use as a Sanatorium, Waverly Hills would be used as a nursing home until 1981, when it was closed due to concerns for patient treatment and various violations. As you can imagine, Waverly Hills is home to a variety of paranormal activity. The previously-mentioned tunnel is also known as the Death Tunnel. Visitors experience chilling voices, both audible and on digital recorders, shadows can be seen and footsteps can also be heard. During my visit, I heard strange noises while descending into the Death Tunnel but was unable to determine exactly what they were, though it sounded like a voice. One of the most well-known ghosts is Timmy, a young boy said to have died in the hospital. Visitors often bring balls to Timmy and invite him to play along. There is also the ghost of the Nurse is 502. It is believed she committed suicide, either by hanging or jumping from the balcony. It is rumored that she may have become pregnant or possibly infected with Tuberculosis. I did catch what sounded like chunky heels, much like a 1900’s era nurse would wear on my audio recorder while standing on the roof of the building trying to illicit a response. The surgical suite is another location where people report feeling a heaviness in their chest and in years before the door was propped open, visitors would often experience the door closing and latching, trapping visitors inside.
These are just some of the spirits and stories that you might encounter on a visit to Waverly Hills Sanatorium and fortunately, Waverly Hills has quite a few options for visitors. For those interested in staying at Waverly Hills, you can book a 6-hour public overnight investigation, or if you have a group of 10 or more friends, you can also book an 8-hour overnight investigation. Now perhaps you’re thinking, I don’t know if I can spend 6 to 8 hours at Waverly Hills. No problem, Waverly Hills also offers Daytime Historical Tours, along with Public Guided Tours and also Private Guided Tours for groups of 25 or more. During the Halloween season, Waverly Hills closes for tours and becomes a functioning haunted attraction, while at Christmas, the building is turned into a laser light show extravaganza. So, as I said, there really is a reason for everyone to visit Waverly Hills.
That’s going to do it for this edition of the Tell-Tale Traveler. I hope you feel inspired to take a strange and haunted voyage to Louisville, Kentucky because there really is more to Louisville than just the Kentucky Derby.
Tell-Tale Traveler Strange Louisville, Kentucky Itinerary
6) Louisville Historic Tours - 1300 S. Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40208 – (502) 718-2764 – www.louisvillehistorictours.com
America’s Most Haunted Neighborhood Tour
Daily at 7:30pm - $20 per person
America’s Most Exuberant Neighborhood Tour
Daily at 11:00am and 1:00pm - $20 per person –
7) Talbott Tavern - 107 West Stephen Foster, Bardstown, KY 40004 - (502) 348-3494 - Serving Hours - Monday through Thursday 11:00am - 8:00pm, Friday through Saturday 11:00am - 9:00pm, Sunday 11:00pm – 7:00pm - Bar Hours - Monday – Thursday 4:00pm - 9:00pm, Friday - Saturday 12:00pm - 1:00am, Sunday 1:00pm - 7:00 pm - www.talbotts.com
8) Please and Thank You – 3 Locations to serve you -www.pleaseandthankyoulouisville.com
800 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40206 - (502) 553-0113 – Hours: Monday through Saturday 7:00am to 7:00pm, Sunday 7:00am to 4:00pm
2341 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206 - (502) 432-8614 - Hours: Monday through Saturday 7:00am to 7:00pm, Sunday 7:00am to 4:00pm
252 Market St, Louisville, KY 40204 - (502) 938-6423 - Hours: Monday through Friday 7:00am to 4:00pm, Saturday 7:00am to 4:00pm, Sunday 8:00am to 4:00pm
9) Cave Hill Cemetery – 701 Baxter Ave, Louisville, KY 40204 – (502) 451-5630 – Hours: Monday through Sunday 8:00pm to 4:45pm - www.cavehillheritagefoundation.org
Military Figures of Cave Hill - Saturday, October 13th - 9:00am - 11:00pm - $15 per person
Historical Walking Tour - Sunday, September 16th, Sunday, October 21st, Sunday, November 4th - 12:00pm – 1:30pm - $15 per person
Twilight Wagon Tour - Saturday, September 15th, Saturday, September 22nd, Saturday, September 29th, Saturday, October 6th, Saturday, October 20th, Saturday, November 3rd - 6:00pm - 8:00pm; except October and November, which are 5:00 to 7:00 pm - $35 per person
Civil War Historical Walking Tour - Saturday, October 6th - 9:00 - 11:00am - $15 per person
Evening Civil War Wagon Tour - Saturday, October 6th - 5:30pm - 7:30pm - $35 per person
Art and Artists of Cave Hill - Sunday, October 7th - 12:00pm - 2:00pm - $15 per person
10) Eastern Cemetery - 641 Baxter Avenue, Louisville, KY 40204 – Open until dusk
11) Holy Grale - 1034 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40204 - (502) 459-9939 – Hours: Monday through Thursday 4:00pm to 12:00am, Friday 4:00pm to 1:00am, Saturday
12:00pm to 1:00am and Sunday 12:00pm to 12:00am – www.holygralelouisville.com
12) Waverly Hills Sanatorium - 4400 Paralee Drive, Louisville, Ky 40272 – (502) 933-2142 - www.therealwaverlyhills.com
6 Hour Public Paranormal Investigations:
Fridays & Saturdays- March through August- 12:00am to 6:00am
$75 per guest + Eventbrite scheduling fee. Total approximately $80 per guest.
Private 8 Hour Paranormal Investigation
($100 per guest) + Eventbrite scheduling fee. Total approximately $106 per guest.
Requires a minimum of 10 guests or pay the equivalent of.
Public Guided Tours are scheduled on Fridays & Saturdays - March through August of each calendar year. Cost is $25 per guest, with no minimum.
Private Guided Tour
($25 per guest) This price includes the Eventbrite scheduling fee.
Minimum of 25 guests to schedule a Private Guided Tour.
Sunday Daytime Historical Guided Tour
($25 per guest)
2 Sundays Each Month March through August.
Begins at 2:30pm