Written by Darian Bianco, UPK Marketing Intern
In a world as chaotic as ours, now more than ever, people are looking for things that make them smile or laugh—a sense of escapism, if you will. Some people, however, want more than just something funny or sweet. They want a thrill. Me personally, I’m satisfied with a scary book or a horror flick with the lights turned off, but I know there are people out there who want the experience, who want to see the real thing, something that’ll send chills up their spines. I decided to do something to help all of you local adrenaline junkies out. I dove into our publication, Ghosts of Old Louisville: True Stories of Hauntings in America’s Largest Victorian Neighborhood by David Dominé.
As I leaned over the map of Old Louisville, examining the nineteen different locations detailed in the book, it occurred to me that I was born and have spent most of my life about half an hour outside of Louisville, and yet I’ve never explored the “old” part of it. Really, I’ve never explored any part of it, and that feels like a shame. Granted, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to real, scary things. The one time I went to a haunted forest, I blacked out. I can tell you little to nothing of what the forest was like – I remember yelling, screaming, strobe lights, a corn maze, and the guy who chased me with a chainsaw at the exit. However, I understand the thrill of the unknown, of having a chance to reach out to something that is Other with a capital O. With that in mind, I’ll plot out a few Old Louisville Location, places I’d like to be brave enough to visit one day, and places that you tougher folks would enjoy.
“At the center of the boulevard that runs the length of Saint James Court, and well within the view of the Conrad-Caldwell House, a large fountain splashes day and night. Locals consider this the center of Saint James Court, and as such, the heart of Old Louisville. It is reputedly the most romantic spot in the city, and on warm summer nights when couples, hand in hand, stroll by its cascading, shimmering waters bathed in the soft glow of the gas light, you can see why. The romantic, nostalgic feel of this fountain is eternal, and it sparks the same tender feelings in many throughout the entire year.”—Page 111
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I would, however, recommend taking this stroll to the Fountain Court in the daylight hours. One of Old Louisville’s most renowned ghosts, the Widow Hoag, is waiting for the return of her Air Force son who died fighting in the Pacific during World War II. The body was never found, and until the day she died, Mrs. Hoag was certain that someday, her son would return to her. Many believe that the spirit of Mrs. Hoag is still at Fountain Court, not even aware that she has passed away – her ghost exists in denial, still sure that her son is going to come home, and that life will go on just as it was before. There is hope that Widow Hoag will find peace someday, if her spirit can ever reunite with the spirit of her son.
“Until then, her saddened spirit will have to lurk in the shadows of quiet Fountain Court, sharing the cool, grassy spaces with the living while life goes on.”—Page 114
“Located on the northern fringes of the University of Louisville campus, the J.B. Speed Art Museum is Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum, with over 12,000 pieces in its holdings. The extensive collection spans 6,000 years and ranges from ancient Egyptian to contemporary art, and the galleries include seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, eighteenth-century French art, Renaissance and Baroque tapestries, and significant pieces of contemporary American painting and sculpture as well. The Speed also houses portraits, sculptures, furniture and decorative arts by Kentucky artists and other noted works created specifically for Kentuckians… In addition to numerous collections of art, the Speed Art Museum also houses at least one ghost.”—Page 125
Well, that’s not something you can find just anywhere, huh? While there are several theories about the who or what is haunting the Speed Art Museum, one theory abounds over all the rest – Harriet “Hattie” Bishop Speed, the wife of the museum’s namesake, is our specter. By the time Hattie passed in 1942, she had become a legacy in the Old Louisville art circles, a pillar of the community, and an upstanding citizen. However, no one is perfect, and it is commonly believed that Hattie suffered from one ugly flaw: jealousy. While Hattie was happily married to James Breckinridge Speed for six years, she was his second wife. His first wife, Cora A. Coffin, had borne James Speed two children, and after she died, she left a void in his life that his new wife often felt inadequate to fill. It seems odd, to have a rivalry with a dead woman, but perhaps Hattie Speed founded the museum as a memorial to her husband, as a final one-up on Cora Coffin, proving that she had loved him more.
If you’re a little unnerved by hanging out with a jealous spirit, never fret; the Speed Art Museum is offering SPEED ONLINE, a way to celebrate art from the safety and comfort of your own home. However, if you’re wanting to perhaps walk the museum proper, see if you can feel a cold chill or smell rosewater perfume, the museum is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
“Does Miss Hattie still continue her nightly visits to check on the progress of the museum she founded over seventy-five years ago?”—Pages 128-129
I guess it’s up to you to find out.
“Anyone at all familiar with Louisville has heard about the infamous tuberculosis sanatorium at Waverly Hills in the city’s south end – and the countless stories of hauntings and strange events surrounding it. A titanic four-story, art-deco masterpiece with more than four hundred rooms at one time, it sits alone and abandoned, looming over Dixie Highway while the ravages of time take their toll. For more than twenty years it has stood empty and waiting while inclement weather destroys the roof and exposes its delicate interior to the elements, while thoughtless vandals and hoodlums add to the damage, and a derelict landlord and a community largely indifferent to its plight sat back and watched it slip further from the grasp of restoration, all seemingly oblivious to the important piece of Louisville history decaying in front of them.”—Page 178
Whether you’re native to Louisville or just the state of Kentucky in general, Waverly Hills is a familiar if unsettling name. It is a location known for its hauntings and has been the subject of several paranormal TV shows that explore abandoned locations. Normally, at this time of year, Waverly Hills is hosting an annual Haunted House Fundraiser in order to keep the historic location up and running. Due to the pandemic, that isn’t an option this year – but if you still want to have an authentic experience, Waverly Hills is offering Haunted Halloween Guided Tours! Tickets can be bought online, offered through Halloween, and they are also offering a paranormal investigation on Halloween night! Perhaps you’ve noticed that I haven’t offered up too many stories about Waverly Hills, as opposed to Fountain Court and the Speed Museum. Maybe, that’s because I want you to go and experience a story for yourself.
If the beautifully written and chilling excerpts shared here have sparked your interest, you can go to our website at kentuckypress.com and pick up Ghosts of Old Louisville: True Stories of Hauntings in America’s Largest Victorian Neighborhood by David Dominé. There are plenty of historic, gorgeous, and haunting locations in the text to be explored, places you can read about and then see for yourself. As said in one of my favorite movies: “Life’s no fun without a good scare.”