Everyone loves a spooky ghost story—the chilling thrill of the unknown, the creepy vibe from a derelict building, and the tantalising feeling that there may be more to the world beyond the veil of daily life. Or, to quote the Bard himself—William Shakespeare—in the ghostly Hamlet, that there might be “more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Well, if you’re a fan of things that go bump in the night, you’ll be in luck during a visit to one of the USA’s oldest states. Kentucky is home to a number of historic inns with intriguing ghost stories—such as the 18th-century Old Talbott Inn with its supposed links to infamous lawbreaker Jesse James—and even entire city neighbourhoods with a litany of spooky tales to tell, such as Old Louisville. But where does a fan of the paranormal start when looking for spooky thrills? Read on for the top haunted placed in Kentucky, USA.
From an entire neighbourhood to a single spooky building now, Boone Taven, in Berea, dates back more than 100 years to 1909 and boasts beautiful, ornate architecture—complete with towering white Greek columns. It has regularly made it to the lists of America’s most haunted hotels, and numerous past guests have reported seeing the ghostly image of a little boy in their holiday photos. Paranormal investigators also claim the basement indicates particularly high spirit activity. This spooky reputation has made it a popular spot for travelling fans of the paranormal, and it even plays host to special ghost-hunt weekends. What’s more, its central setting close to the likes of Berea College (which actually owns it)—coupled with an on-site restaurant, swimming pool, fitness centre, and free bike rental—means you’ll find plenty to enjoy even if you don’t crave a ghostly encounter.
2. Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Let’s face it, there are few locations spookier than a former sanatorium. Waverly Hills Sanatorium has a particularly spooky reputation—thanks in no small part to its derelict state, imposing Edwardian-era architecture, and decades-long history as a place for treating tuberculosis patients. Indeed, it is regarded as one of the most haunted spots in America—and regularly features on television, having appeared on the likes of Ghost Hunters, Most Haunted, Paranormal Lockdown, and Ghost Asylum, among others. It has even been name-checked on long-running fantasy action series Supernatural—such is its reputation. Although there are plans afoot to turn the building into a hotel, its current owners host regular ghost tours and will happily open it up to overnight guests brave enough to defy all things that go bump in the night. Tours range from guided visits to eight-hour-long paranormal investigations.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Address: 4400 Paralee Dr, Louisville, KY
Website: Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Opening hours: Varies (March - October)
Price: From 25 USD
3. Paramount Arts Center
Not quite a case of the Phantom of the Opera, but certainly an example of the Poltergeist of the Theatre, Paramount Art Center is home to a particularly popular spook—Paramount Joe. The ghost is said to be the spirit of a construction worker who died in curtain rigging in the 1940s, and there have been numerous tales of Joe’s activities in the subsequent decades. One particularly famous case revolves around musician Billy Ray Cyrus. While filming the video for his hit “Achy Breaky Heart,” he signed a bunch of posters, including one dedicated to Paramount Joe, which was duly hung alongside pictures of past performers at the venue. When space on the wall became a little tight, the poster was removed from its place of reverence. However, the following day, when staff opened up, they found all of the other posters strewn across the floor. Needless to say, it was swiftly rehung and still takes pride of place today. Those who visit the still-fully-functioning theatre can enjoy a tour of the venue or take in a show.
Paramount Arts Center
Address: 1300 Winchester Ave, Ashland, KY
Website: Paramount Art Center
Opening hours: Varies
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4. Kentucky State Penitentiary
The so-called Castle on the Cumberland, Kentucky State Penitentiary is a still-operational maximum security prison and houses some of the most dangerous prisoners in the state. Located not far from downtown Eddyville, the notorious prison is home to the state’s death-row prisoners. Dating back to the late 1880s, the site is the oldest prison in Kentucky, so it’s little wonder that it has earned a reputation as being one of the state’s most haunted spots, with past guards reporting everything from moving shadows to spooky poltergeist activity. Naturally, its status as a fully functioning prison of up to 856 prisoners means your options for visiting are distinctly limited. Ghosthunters will likely have to console themselves with gazing upon the atmospheric Victorian architecture from well outside the security fences.
Kentucky State Penitentiary
Address: 266 Water St, Eddyville, KY
Website: Kentucky State Penitentiary
5. Old Talbott Tavern
Reputed never to have closed its doors since first opening 240 years ago, this historic tavern was a stopping-off point for hardy pioneers heading West, and it has also welcomed a host of famous faces through the ages, including three future U.S. presidents—Abraham Lincoln among them. Naturally, such deep roots mean it has its fair share of spooky tales to tell—from balls of light and ghostly music to apparitions and poltergeist activity. One legend has it that it is even haunted by infamous cowboy Jesse James—there is a bullet-riddled painting on display for which he is said to have been responsible. Since it is still a functioning restaurant and bed-and-breakfast, guests will have ample chance to see if they’ll experience any of the activities that once earned it the moniker of being the USA’s 13th most haunted inn. Unlucky for some.
Old Talbott Tavern
Address: 107 West Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, KY
Website: Old Talbott Tavern
Opening hours: Dining: Sun - Thu: 11am - 8pm; Fri - Sat: 11am - 9pm; Bar: Mon - Thu: 4pm - 9pm; Fri - Sat: 12pm - 1am; Sun: 1pm - 8pm.
Price: From 82.80 USD (rooms)
6. Bobby Mackey's Music World
On to a spooky nightclub now, Bonny Mackey’s Music World, in Wilder, is self-styled as the most haunted nightspot in the USA—and with claims that this roadhouse was built on the site of a 19th-century slaughterhouse, it’s easy to see why. Indeed, it has become the focus for a string of urban legends, which revolve around everything from gateways to hell to hauntings by a murder victim. Some even claim a pregnant dancer once committed suicide on the site after her beau was murdered by her father. In recent decades, it has seen increasing interest from a string of paranormal TV shows. And as well as being able to book paranormal tours of varying lengths, the site still functions as a music and club venue—so it will be not just the ghosts but also the kicking beats that go bump in the night.
Bobby Mackey's Music World
Address: 44 Licking Pike, Wilder, KY
Website: Bobby Mackey’s Music World
Opening hours: Fri - Sat: 7pm - 2.15am (club)
Price: From 25 USD
One of the country’s best-preserved 19th-century neighbourhoods, Old Louisville—in the heart of Louisville—is dominated by Victorian redbrick architecture. Its high concentration of picturesque buildings, the size of the preservation district in which it sits (third largest in the United States), and its numerous pedestrian-only streets will likely make it a pleasant spot for those seeking to enjoy a little exploration. Naturally, this abundance of Victorian mansions and atmospheric setting lends itself to spooky activity. The area has developed a reputation in the last couple of decades as being among the spookiest in the entire country, with ghostly goings-on reported everywhere—from parks and churches to some of the mansions. And even if you don’t see anything that goes bump in the night, you’ll still have plenty of pictures of the beautiful architecture to look back on.
Historic Old Louisville Walking Tour
Duration: 1 hour
Time to see for yourself?
Tired of the usual vacation itineraries? Whether it’s spooky centuries-old inns, creepy derelict hospitals, or terrifying urban legends, there are a host of spooky locations guaranteed to set your senses on high alert during a visit to Kentucky. Where will you visit first … if you dare!
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