The Waverly Hills Historical Society thanked the Louisville Metro Police. On January 26, the Louisville Metro Police responded to an unusual call. Someone reported that an actual corpse was being used in the Waverly Hills Sanatorium displays. The police went out to see what was going on. Upon arrival, the police were assured by the people who run Waverly Hills that all of the props were just that: props. Not one dead body was found!
The police got a tour and a chance to chat up the folks before heading back out on patrol. The Waverly Hills Sanatorium Facebook page posted a sincere thanks, which piqued everyone’s interest. Here is what they posted:
Growing up in Fort Myers, I was fortunate to have parents who owned a boat. We would spend weekends out on the water, eating on Little Shell Island, and motoring up and down the Gulf of Mexico. When we were making it an all-day affair, we would head down to Collier County and look at the three odd houses perched on Cape Romano. The most famous was and remains the Dome House.
I didn’t appreciate my youth living on a canal where manatees swam and seahorses grew until I left. I guess that’s the age-old adage. Many years later and well into my adult life, I was able to spend the day on the water sailing past Cape Romano. While the Pyramid House and the Stilt House are long gone, the Dome House remains.
Bob Lee made his fortune in the oil industry which led to his ability to retire at the age of 44 and become an inventor. He envisioned an eco-friendly home where his family could vacation. The home would be off the grid and powered with renewable energy. He first built a prototype on his property in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
In 1978, Bob purchased four lots on Morgan Island in the Ten Thousand Island chain south of Marco Island, Collier County, Florida. The island was pristine, unlike the rapid development taking over Marco.
Bob decided to build a home linking 6 dome structures all perched on cement stilts. Bob bought a barge, a flat motorized water vessel that easily transports equipment, and ferried over steel forms (molds) and 2 concrete mixers. He mixed the concrete with freshwater and built the domes. Bob installed under-dome heating via fire; the walls were insulated with foam. Dell Jones installed solar panels. Along the bottom of each dome was a gutter system the collected rainwater which was filtered for use.
If the house seems rustic, you’re wrong. It was actually quite lavish. Pinterest has a large collection of images. Carpet and tile were laid for flooring. There was air conditioning, satellite TV, and even a hot tub. It was the perfect vacation getaway.
The 2400 square foot 3-bedroom and 3-bathroom house was completed in 1982. Bob along with his wife Margaret and family enjoyed two years at the house. In 1984, Bob sold the property to George Wendell. Caretaker Brian Slager moved into the house. By 1987, the house was back in Bob’s name, and the family made it their primary residence.
John Tosto of Naples purchased the lots in 2005 for $300,000. He sought to develop and protect the home. Bob encouraged building a seawall; however, it was too late. The island was eroding beyond conservation.
Mother Nature has not been kind to the island chain. All three houses had generous beach sand buffering them from the water. Over time, erosion and natural weather phenomena took away the sand. In 1992, the category 5 Hurricane Andrew destroyed the interior of the Dome House. By October 2005 when Hurricane Wilma churned past, the sand was eroded further. Two of the 6 domes fell on September 10, 2017, in Hurricane Irma.
After several years in court battling the land use of the Dome House, the State of Florida now owns the land while Tosto owns the structures. The house sits in the water and has become part of the Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve. It is a destination for tourists and urban explorers. Sea creatures and birds have made it their home. Nature has reclaimed what was always hers.
The house is viewable only by water. As the erosion continues, there are growing fears for the safety of boats attempting to anchor or to sail close. Hire a licensed boat captain or company to sightsee. Never attempt to trespass.
Bongoland was a roadside attraction that operated between 1948-1952. It was the brainchild of Dr. Perry Arthur Sperber (1907-1996), who leased the land in Port Orange, Florida from Daytona car dealer J. Saxon Lloyd. It was doomed from the beginning.
Florida has a long and rich cultural history, and Port Orange is no exception. Situated south of Daytona Beach, the area saw Franciscan monks founding the Lost Mission from 1602-1625. The coquina shell walls of the mission are in ruins yet explorable today. (They failed at persuading the Native American Indians to convert to Christianity.) In 1763, the English Crown deeded 101,400 acres to Dr. Andrew Turnbull, who exploited the land and the slave labor.
Bahamian native Patrick Dean purchased 995 acres in 1804, establishing a plantation. He was killed by the Seminole Indians in 1818 during the First Seminole War. The land passed via will to his aunt, Cicely Green Bunch, whose husband was Patrick’s uncle and owned adjacent property. According to records, it appears that Cicely predeceased Patrick and her share went to her grandson upon her husband’s death. The grandson by then was Admiral John Bonnemaison Bunch McHardy, who favored the military over farming. He sold the plantation to Joseph and Charles Lawton on May 3, 1832. Later that year, the brothers sold it to Sarah Petty Dunn Anderson for $4,500. Sarah’s sons, James and George, ran it for three years. It was during this time that the land became known as Dunlawton.
Dunlawton burned during the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842. By 1838, it was rebuilt, only to burn down again in 1856 during the Third Seminole War, 1855-1858.This time the plantation was under new ownership. John F. Marshall paid $8,000 for the land on September 18, 1846. Marshall attempted to bring the plantation back to life, only to fail. He decided to lease the property with a right to purchase to Charles P. Vaux, who also failed, in 1853, and the property reverted back to Marshall in 1855. Upon the third and final burning, the plantation ceased to be agriculturally viable.
The Civil War interrupted the timeline, as Confederate troops used the property for camping. After the Confederates lost and surrendered, Marshall was able to locate a buyer, attorney William Dougherty, who sought to subdivide the land and sell it piece by piece. The last person to own the property was Joseph Saxon Lloyd (1907-1991). Somehow Dr. Sperber was able to pitch the idea of building huge dinosaurs amongst the fauna, set up a Seminole Indian village, and small zoo in an attempt to lure vacationers traveling by car to stop in. A baboon named “Bongo” gave the attraction its name: Bongoland.
Manuel David “Manny” Lawrence was a sculptor and cement worker. He created the dinosaur statues, of which 4 survived (spoiler coming). Manny build a 42-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex; 30-foot Stegosaurus; 25-foot Triceratops; and an 8-foot Dimetrodon. His work was known throughout the area as he worked at the Museum of Natural History in Holly Hill, Florida. Manny died in 2003 at the age of 79.
Advertising the park was expensive and ultimately led to its closure. Although the live animals were removed, the dinosaurs remained. In 1963, Lloyd donated the entire property to Volusia County. In 1972, it was added to the Florida Historical Registry. The Botanical Gardens of Volusia, Inc. began maintaining the property in 1988. The Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens are a unique place. Even though the plantation and mission and odd mini zoo are gone, the county realizes the interest it generates. It is one of a few abandoned locales that encourages people to explore. Call ahead to check on seasonal hours.
Dr. Perry A. Sperber wasn’t finished with dinosaurs. In 1970, he published Sex and the Dinosaur, where he theorized that animals are direct ancestors to the dinosaurs. Before his death on October 4, 1996, Dr. Sperber made the rounds discussing Bongoland and his book.
And now for the spoiler: In 2019, the T-Rex crumbled and fell. Apparently, it is unable to be salvaged and restored; however, several groups have offered assistance. Decades of extreme Florida weather claimed the mighty dinosaur.
In 1897, architect Horace Trumbauer commenced construction of a 70,000 square foot home consisting of 55 bedrooms and 20 bathrooms at 920 Spring Avenue, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. The 110-room Neoclassical Revival Lynnewood Hall was completed in 1900. The owner, Peter Arrell Brown Widener (known as P.A.B. Widener), had known grief even before moving in.
P.A.B. Widener grew up poor. He trained as a butcher and saved his earnings. During the Civil War, Peter was able to secure a government grant to supply mutton to Union troops. Peter turned the $50,000 in 1860 dollars and co-founded the Philadelphia Traction Company. In 1858, he married Hannah Josephine Dunton, known as Josephine. Together they built one of the wealthiest family empires in America.
The couple’s hard work paid off. They amassed a fortune beyond belief, all the while remaining true to their Episcopalian beliefs. However, like all families, they suffered their share of heartbreak. Their firstborn child, Harry Kern Widener, died of typhoid fever when he was about 11 years old in 1871.
As P.A.B. began to wind down his business dealings, he purchased a yacht, christened Josephine after his beloved wife. The large vessel was fully staffed and prepped for a 2-year cruise around the world in 1896. Peter and Josephine were joined onboard with the remaining sons, Joseph E. and George Dunton, and their families. The vessel was heading to Bar Harbor, Maine before heading off on the worldwide voyage. Josephine was not well leading up to the trip and was eager to set sail for warmer climates to heal. However, on the evening of July 31, 1896, the physician was called twice to attend to Josephine. Believing she was resting comfortably for the night, the doctor returned the following morning to find her dead from heart disease. The Philadelphia newspapers were bereft in the sudden death of the beloved citizen. Mrs. Widener’s corpse was returned via the Reading Railroad for her final resting place in the family mausoleum. In 1898, Harry would be reinterred beside his mother.
Although P.A.B. did find a small amount of pleasure sailing aboard the Josephine, he turned his attention elsewhere: Building a large home to house his growing family and his huge art collection.
Lynnewood Hall “dripp[ed]” in luxurious items. Nothing was spared in the décor. By now, P.A.B. decided to invest in the International Mercantile Marine company with J.P. Morgan. Int’l Merc owned the White Star Line, and their infamous ship the RMS Titanic. Peter’s third son George, his wife Eleanor, and adult son Harry Elkins boarded the ship on her maiden voyage to return from Europe. Although Eleanor and one servant survived by boarding one of the lifeboats reserved for 1st Class passengers, George, Harry, and the other servant were not so lucky. They drowned when the ship sank in 1912. This added more heartbreak to Peter, who by now was residing in Lynnewood Hall.
On November 6, 1915, Peter was found dead in his bed at the sprawling estate.
Third son Joseph, who was living on the grounds with his family, ran the estate up until 1942. During that time, Joseph would open the vast—and expensive—art gallery to the public in June and October. Joseph donated over 2,000 pieces of art to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. P.A.B. may have begun collecting art as a novice, but he along with Joseph built one of the largest and best private collections in the world. The pieces were on display throughout the house and grounds earning Lynnewood Hall the description: The House that Art Built. The collection was valued at nearly $50 million dollars in 1924.
Joseph died in 1943, and none of the heirs showed interest in maintaining a mansion of this scale. It sold for $130,000 in 1948 and again in 1952 for $192,000 to the Faith Theological Seminary, run by Carl McIntire. It has essentially been abandoned since 1952. However, another religious organization, First Korean Church of New York, is the current owner. When the church was denied a property tax exemption on the 33-acre property, the church decided to sell. The mansion initially listed at $20 million dollars. The last time it was online for sale, it was priced at $11 million. That listing has been deactivated.
The house may be salvageable. At least for now. If I had the connections, I would form a company to purchase the building and land and set about rezoning for multiple housing, whereby people can purchase expansive condos in the subdivided building and create a subdivision honoring the past while providing the necessities of today. There once was an electricity plant on the original property. I would get it back up and running.
My dream may not be too far off the mark. I’ve read of one developer seeking to create a high-end B&B model for the uber wealthy. I’m unsure that is the demographic who would love the opportunity to explore. Personally, I think the cash cow option is paranormal investigations to see if the “ghost” stories of three gentlemen haunting the estate are true.
A 35-year-old Kenmore, NY woman and unidentified man were trespassing in the abandoned Buffalo Central Terminal Saturday evening when the woman fell 15-20 feet through a substation roof. Emergency responders arrived shortly after the 10:30 PM call and transported the female to Erie County Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries. At this time, no charges have been filed. Of course, there is a lesson here: Don’t trespass.
The Buffalo train station was a 17-story Art Deco hub for the city. Opening on June 22, 1929, the 14-platform station was designed by New York architects Fellheimer & Wagner. At one point, the 61-acre property consisted of several buildings; however, smaller buildings were torn down in 1966 to save on property taxes. All that remains is the main building, baggage building, and mail complex. The Lake Shore Limited was the final train to leave the station on October 28, 1979, at 4:10 AM. After changing hands several times, the terminal is now owned by the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation, whose organizer purchased the property for $1 cash and repayment of $70,000 in back taxes. The non-profit is in the process of restoring the building.
Both Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters Academy conducted investigations that were televised (2008, 2009, and a live investigation in 2010). Unfortunately, these investigations inspire others, with less experience, no liability insurance, and no written permission to venture onto the private property. These explorations have generated a great deal of buzz online, especially when someone is injured.
These people clearly should not have been inside the terminal. It was dark. Power is generated via solar energy. The utilities are at a minimum. The property has been abandoned for a long time. Urban explorers, or UrbEx for short, explore abandoned urban areas; however, they go when it is safe. Although the intentions of this couple are unknown, they were conducting an investigation, something that takes time and equipment. They weren’t merely popping inside to snap a few pictures. Their conduct was reckless and dangerous. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.
The flimsy “Dogman” attack at the abandoned Hayswood Hospital is making the Internet rounds. Skip the story. Instead, read about how a widow generously purchased and gifted the small town a hospital. The hospital’s history is more exciting.
With a population under 9,000 residents, Maysville is an example of quintessential small-town Americana. Maysville, Kentucky sits on the southern side of the Ohio River. The median income is $29,274 with a 22% poverty rate. On 4th Street overlooking the downtown, sits the abandoned Hayswood Hospital.
The main wooden building was built around 1842 by Dr. Joseph Taylor. By 1886, newspaper articles began soliciting female students for the private Hayswood Female Seminary, founded by Rev. John S. Hays, D.D. The school offered education in the arts, as well as, traditional subjects. Rev. Hays died in 1899 at the age of 67. However, the school continued in operation until 1907.
On August 8, 1907, “Hayswood” as it was informally known was auctioned for $6,200 and sold to widow Mrs. May V. Peale Wilson, who promptly deeded the property to a trust in order to open a town hospital. On December 2, 1907, the Hayswood Hospital informally opened. It was dubbed the “palace on the hill.”
By 1907, May Wilson was a widow who had the means to purchase property. Wilson did reside at the hospital. She advertised for a “white woman” to serve as a companion and cook. The “May Wilson” Hospital League was a women’s volunteer group. Mrs. Wilson died in 1909. She did not have any surviving children and bequeathed her fortune to various individuals and organizations. The hospital received an annual payment from the trust. In 1909, the hospital was re-dedicated as the Wilson Hospital. An oil painting was commissioned to hang within the hospital.
The trust ran the hospital from 1907-1915. The city took control of the hospital and saw it through an extensive renovation in 1925. Samuel Hannaford designed a brick building and added a 4th story due to anticipated volume. In 1981, the hospital was sold to the Nashville company Hospital Corporation of America, which ran it as the Maysville Hospital until February 9, 1983.
The hospital, abandoned and decaying, changed hands several times. First in 1994 for $42,000 to Ester Johnson of Classic Properties. Ms. Johnson sought to renovate the building and turn it into high-end apartments. The development never took off. Johnson lost the property to unpaid taxes in a tax sale.
Tax Ease Lien Servicing paid roughly $6,000 for the property in 2013. Still, the hospital sat abandoned but became a regular location for thrill seekers and paranormal enthusiasts. And, yes, all of them were trespassing with lots of them receiving citations.
Hope gripped the town in 2018 when Stitch Up Properties, LLC snatched the property for $50,000. However, it may be dashed as the local newspaper has not been able to contact anyone at the company to enquire about prospective development.
In the end, most people want to know if the hospital is haunted. It’s unstable and dangerous to explore. In addition to the falling debris, the hospital has a lot of asbestos, which hindered earlier developments since the cost to remove ran about $2 million dollars.
I’ve seen several blogs discussing these supposed haunting. However, they fall flat and lose credibility because the writers have their facts wrong. If someone can’t even research the location, then how can we believe he researched any hauntings?
Assemblage artist Juli Steel creates miniature vignettes using upcycled materials. Her Instagram and Etsy shop theme: “Repurposed art with a twist.” Steel’s Instagram page TwistedCopperForest, https://www.instagram.com/twistedcopperforest/, has over 17,000 followers. Instead of the idyllic dollhouse, Steel’s creations explore the abandoned. Steel’s OOAK, one-of-a-kind, creations may be considered dark; however, they’re very popular. And she’s not the only one exploring this theme.
Canadian artist Heather Benning rebuilt an old farmhouse, removed one side of the building, and installed Plexiglas, thus creating a life-sized dollhouse. She debuted the art installation June 9, 2007. Left to the elements, the house burned down March 23, 2013.
Early forms of the modern-day dollhouse were meant for adults. In the 17th century, “Nuremberg Kitchens” were used as educational devices to help young women learn how to keep house. The most well-known example is Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house (or “baby house”), which was detailed in the limited series The Miniaturist. The house was a large piece of furniture where rooms were replicated from the actual house. Only wealthy families could afford this extravagance. It wasn’t until World War II that dollhouses became toys for children.
Mass production of dollhouses and furniture became more affordable after the war. Production was cheaper by using plastic instead of wood for the furniture and plywood for the structures. The ratio of scale indicates the intended audience. Dollhouses and accessories for adults have the scale of 1:12, one inch to one foot. The scale for children’s toys is 1:18 generally; however, some scales are larger.
Collecting and furnishing dollhouses are a popular hobby. Artists like Steel are re-imagining dollhouses by breathing life into discarded dollhouses and furniture. The online bulletin board site Pinterest is flush with pages showcasing abandoned dollhouses. What may have started as Halloween decorations, these abandoned houses are unique and reflect our interest in all things haunted.
The Wyckoff Villa is not haunted. Further, stating that it is hasn’t help sell it. The abandoned structure has been on the real estate market since 2012, and still, no one bites.
Less than a mile south of the Canadian border sits Carleton Island. The island sits within a chain of islands in the St. Lawrence River known collectively as Thousand Islands. Accessible only by boat, the island has three burial grounds and 34 homes. The most infamous home is Wyckoff Villa, also known as Carleton Island Villa.
Wyckoff Villa was intended to join the ranks of other stately mansions on the other islands. Architect William Henry Miller designed the 15,000 square foot home, and building commenced in 1894. The owner was former Union Captain William Ozmun Wyckoff. Wyckoff returned from the Civil War to become a lawyer and court stenographer. Through the stenographer’s job, Wyckoff learned about a new invention: the typewriter.
The first commercially successful typewriters were sold by E. Remington and Sons in 1874. William Wyckoff began selling the typewriters on a part-time basis, eventually leaving his court-appointed stenographer position to form the Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict company. In 1886, Remington sold the entire typewriter division to Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, and William became the company president. Wyckoff became a typewriter tycoon.
Shortly thereafter, Wyckoff and his wife, Frances Valeria Ives Wyckoff, began searching for a location to build a summer home. They settled on Carleton Island.
However, tragedy would follow. Construction progressed through 1894 and into 1895. A month before the home was ready, Mrs. Wyckoff died. On June 1, 1895, Frances died from either cancer or a heart attack (depending on the source). William moved into the enormous home on July 11th. He suffered a heart attack that very night and died.
No one would reside in the home again. The 11-bedroom, 50 room home sits on 6.9 acres. General Electric purchased the land, seeking to demolish the home and build a corporate resort. World War II placed the development on hold, eventually tanking the project entirely in the 1940s, when the company gutted the interior. Fixtures and material were stripped from inside. In fact, the marble underneath the 5-story tower was removed, thus causing the structure to become structurally unsound. The tower was eventually torn down.
The current owners have marketed the home as a tear-down (versus a fixer-upper as it would cost a reported $10-15 million) with the waterfront land sub-divided for future homes. The realtor receives weekly enquires; however, no one seems to want to purchase. Some media sites have labeled the villa as haunted.
The villa is not haunted. There isn’t one credible story claiming that the house is haunted. It has been described as creepy and spooky, which may be the case, but there aren’t any reliable stories showing evidence that the villa is haunted. Here, the lack of evidence is clear.
What is not clear is why no one has purchased the lot with the villa or any of the other lots. The price tag may be a reason; it is listed for $495,000. Or it may be that there aren’t any year-round residents or paved roads.
The Medfield State Hospital, used to film Shutter Island and called the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, has re-opened for walking tours. Read my article here: https://www.hauntjaunts.net/visit-ashecliffe-hospital/.
Old South Pittsburg Hospital (OSPH) has been shut down by the City of South Pittsburg, Tennessee. The shuttered hospital is a favorite location for paranormal enthusiasts as it provides unlimited access to three levels, sits in a quiet residential neighborhood, and is easily accessible off the interstate. OSPH will remain closed for an indefinite time.
The hospital was operational from 1959-1998 until a modern hospital was built in the next town. Physician Gary Stephen Hayes and Diane D. Hayes purchased the abandoned facility in March 2000 for $202,500. At some point, the property was re-deeded in the name of Alpha Concepts, LLC, an administratively dissolved company. State records indicate the LLC was administratively dissolved in 2007. [Dissolution is not fatal for a company. It means that a company has not remained current in paying state fees; however, a company can pay late fees and become current in most states.] Early reports stated that the property was deeded to OSPH Ghost Hunts, LLC, another administratively dissolved company (2016); however, I could not confirm. Either way, the address for Alpha Concepts leads back to Dr. Hayes. It’s his Alfa Romeo tucked in one of the hallways.
An anonymous caller contacted the city complaining about black mold and possible unsafe conditions. City Administrator Gene Vess told media outlets that black mold was found, causing an environmental hazard. Coupled with the zoning violations and the lack of proper city and state business licenses, the owners face a large hurdle to clear before events may resume; however, unsuspecting travelers may not know.
According to the OSPH website, the hospital is open for business. Nothing on the site indicates problems. Their Facebook page is more candid, although overly optimistic about how long the renovations will take, let alone the cost. A quick online calculator shows that the clean-up on the black mold will run from $30,000-54,000. Ouch. The price increases if other environmental hazards, like asbestos, are discovered. Word of caution: I’m concerned with the language used on the FB page stating that their employees are removing the black mold. At no time should inexperienced employees, family, or volunteers attempt to remove black mold. Black mold is dangerous.
Additional events are actively promoted tonight. The ticketing site appeared to let me purchase a $139 ticket to investigate with the Klinge Brothers. At no time did the site alert me to the closure. Troubling.
The March 2018 closure was not the first problem OSPH has experienced. The federal government filed a lawsuit on the 1100 Holly Avenue property last September (2017). The suit alleges that the Hayes failed to pay $506,036 in unpaid taxes, plus an additional $46,679 in employment taxes from another location. To date, the suit has not been settled or come before the Court.
This week’s news of the facility being closed indefinitely highlights the problems with abandoned properties. When I investigated OSPH, I was not informed that black mold was present. I was warned not to step on the tiles in the basement chapel as they would release asbestos but nothing on black mold. [I was extremely careful in the chapel—just saying.] What happens when property owners fail to inspect the grounds for environmental hazards? Or after inspecting the property, they decide to withhold information? Deeply troubling. I will be following up over the summer with answers and comments. Stay tuned.