by Michael D. Griffiths
Secret tunnels, an abandoned 19th century Masonic Lodge, a decaying school building and an opera house haunted by the ghost of a singer. Sounds like the stuff out of movies, no? Actually, it’s all real and you can find this and more in Kentucky, as I discovered during a paranormal investigation.
My name is Michael Griffiths. I am a trainer for a psychiatric hospital, which I guess made me enough of an expert in psychology to be invited to join a ten-person team of supernatural investigators heading to Maysville, Kentucky to examine three haunted buildings some nine years ago.
We were all invited to join the group by a mild-mannered lawyer named Richards (the names of the members involved in this expedition have been changed). With Richards along, this gave our group the auspicious number of 11 and, being a numerology buff, I took this as a good sign.
I flew into Cincinnati late Thursday night. Another member of our party, Manny, picked me up at the airport. As we drove through rural Kentucky, we discussed our plans and expectation for the days to come. We were both excited and talked through the entire ride.
I had never been to this part of Kentucky before and the dark hills set the mood as I peered out the window and prepared myself for our adventure.
The Underground Railroad
The next morning we gathered in the 19th-century Cox Building – popularly known as the Masonic Lodge or Masonic Temple – on Market Street and East Third Street, where most of us were staying.
The majority of the investigators were complete strangers to me, although I had met Robert once in Boston, and the inquisitive Jon and I had had a brief meeting on Star Island, located off the coast of New Hampshire.
So, in the end, the members of our team included Richards, Manny, Jon, Robert, Elsa, Pinn, Claire, Nathan, Sarina, Carter and myself.
We went out to lunch to get to know each other better, prior to entering the haunted Underground Railroad that was our destination. The building that housed the railroad also had a restaurant (it seems most haunted buildings in Kentucky have restaurants).
Our waitress told us that the ghost of a large, black man had been seen in the building only two weeks earlier. Local legend had it that a man was discovered trying to flee from his slavers and killed within the tunnels.
After lunch, Richards led us into the underground railroad that had been used for hiding runaway slaves. The once-secret tunnels were located in the basement of the building. Now, it was a dusty, unused area. In the walls, there were trapdoors, which led to narrow, three-by-three, crumbling brick tunnels. I took several pictures and some of the investigators climbed inside.
As I snapped my camera, I felt a pillar of cold in front of me. I shouted out to the others, but when they arrived, it was gone. It was not until the film was developed that it was discovered that there was a ghostly shape captured on it, which included the face of what could be a man.
After the tunnels, we visited the local museum and started to break into groups to do research on the areas that we were visiting. I later returned to the Masonic Lodge were we were staying at. I wondered why it was unused. I become more intrigued when I discovered that the Masons built a new, smaller temple only a few miles away, which they had now been using for over 50 years.
The building was a large, beautiful Queen Anne masterpiece. Scattered throughout the structure were Masonic symbols such as the All Seeing Eye and the Red Cross built into the turret’s tiling. Ancient red brick with stained-glass windows created a majestic effect, and of course, there was a charming, eclectic restaurant on one side of the first floor.
Beginning to dive into the history of the area, I found several mentions of the Knights Templar in the town, including a photograph of over one hundred of them marching in a parade. Where did these people meet? Why did the Masons no longer use this wonderful building? I spent the rest of the afternoon researching the Templars and the history of the town.
The Washington Opera House
The Washington Opera House on 2nd Street was built in 1850, then gutted by a fire in 1898 and restored. It had been run by a local woman since 1962. Richards arranged an interview with this woman.
She told us about the singer, Loretta, who had died on stage at the theatre in 1886. Her dying wish was granted and she was buried in the floor of the basement’s dressing room. Since then, she has been haunting the building and, some say, protecting it. One story states that two people were going to attempt to buy the place in order to demolish it and the ghost of Loretta caused an overhead stage light to fall, narrowly missing one of them. According to another story, a director was pooh-poohing the ghost. She never did it again after a butcher knife appeared over her head and fell, embedding itself into the stage floor, only missing her by inches.
Full of excitement, the group headed over to the theatre. It had begun to rain, which added to the atmosphere of our pursuit of things otherworldly.
However, there was an unexpected middle-school play rehearsal taking place in the theatre. It was hard to sense the spirit of the place with 12-year-olds running about. I split from the party and began to investigate some unused rooms located in the attic of the building. After finding an old ladder, I went up to the two rooms that seemed to be attached to the roof.
These rooms had been long without use. Layers of dust covered the pitch-black, hanging wooden boxes. The thin beam emitting from my flashlight showed me destroyed sinks and lost chairs. I felt unnerved. I paused only long enough to take a few pictures before rushing back to the others.
Dinner was to be an interesting event: we were to meet the town’s Mason Warden and his wife. Stained glass surrounded us as we took our dinner in the restaurant on the first floor of the old Masonic Lodge. We sat at the biggest table where the Warden and his wife sat opposite each other. I chatted with a nice woman who worked there and pressed her for information about the locked upper floor, while some of the others interviewed the Warden.
Despite the Warden’s protests, his wife began to tell us about a group of teenagers who had broken into the third floor of the lodge and how, supposedly, one of them fell from the window to his death.
The Maysville Academy
After dinner, it was time to head to the Maysville Academy. William West Richeson founded the Maysville Academy in 1831. His most famous pupil was Ulysses S. Grant. When I visited it, there was little left of the former proud institution.
It was just after midnight when we went to the destroyed and abandoned school. There were several roughly-made structures still standing. It looked like square tombs had been constructed from the remains of several buildings.
Cautiously, we began to explore these mismatched rooms. Rough, crumbling bricks made up the majority of these roofless structures. The place had been left unused for decades. We searched through the bricks and decayed earth for a long time. Despite the general eeriness of the place, no paranormal activity was observed.
We returned to the Masonic Temple and gathered our gear. Many of us had a backpack full of equipment. We grabbed our cameras and checked our flashlights. Then we went to the locked door leading to the third floor, the abandoned portion of the building that had been used as a lodge space, at some point, by the Masons.
The Masonic Temple
Slowly, we entered the dark, abandoned floor. Dusty, black corridors led off in several directions. After a bit of searching, we came upon a huge ballroom. On the far end of the room, there were a series of paintings on the walls.
I rushed forward and was excited to find several painted figures depicting the armoured Templar knights.
Leaving the ballroom, we came to another large room that had two doors. Both were closed. Robert opened the first door. The small room itself was empty, but had a shaft leading up beyond our sight and into the darkness above.
When we opened the door into the other room, we found it to be full of swords and other weapons. Inside this room was a narrow wooden spiral staircase leading upwards.
I was excited to explore this level and started to rush through a doorway to our left. I would have continued if the shouts of my comrades had not brought me back to their sides. They had found a hidden door in the floor. It was located to the right of the entrance.
We quickly realized that we had found where the passage from below ended. More exciting than this, however, was the sight of an old worn book that had been placed on some planks below us.
Being the tallest man present, I was elected to retrieve the book that balanced on the boards five feet below us. Manny and Robert grasped my belt, and I was lowered upside-down into the dark pit. With a great deal of stretching and effort, I was hauled back out of the passage.
We decided to finish exploring this floor. Yet, to our dismay, this level had only a few other rooms and soon, we had explored them all. Then I noticed another staircase leading down, which was almost concealed in the dark corner of the last room. Again, I guided the way back down to the third level of the temple. The strange thing was that we had explored the entire third level.
Or so we had thought. Once we were back on the third level, we came upon a narrow series of hallways, which we had not seen earlier. One room seemed to be a washroom. Perched on one of the sinks was a five-gallon steel cauldron. A rusted ladle protruded from the congealed mass inside. Making the mistake of stirring the contents, I was rewarded by a hideous stench which made me want to retch.
While this was happening, Nathan had found a door. It was, however, barricaded from the other side. Nathan discovered a small hole in the wall. With the use of a broken broom, he was able to hit the chairs that were blocking the doorway, moving them enough out of the way for us to enter.
The first thing I noticed inside this huge room was an altar to my left. On this altar was a wooden black Ibis, the symbol for Thoth.
On the other side of the room, opposite the statue of the Ibis, was a larger collection of items related to magical practices. We found things such as books, bones, dead animal totems, statuettes, figurines, symbols, and many other things I was unable to identify. While the others were gathering some of these dusty objects to be investigated later, Carter and I went over to a strange, large steel tub. It was the kind you might use to feed livestock with. There was a liquid of some kind inside the old tub. I gave it a kick and felt like icy spiders were crawling down my spine when I saw that the tub was filled with what looked to be animal fat and produced a hideous smell.
It was then that I heard Elsa scream. We all rushed over to her. While the others were distracted by all objects in the room, Elsa had continued up to the altar. There she has discovered something truly horrible.
On the back of the altar was a long divan. The divan was covered with a dried brownish substance, most likely blood. For a long moment, no one said anything. Then we decided that we had better go back downstairs and investigate the objects, especially the journal that we discovered on the fourth floor.
It was now long past four in the morning, but we gathered around and Robert read the journal to us as we headed deeper into the night. The journal appeared to be a diary of a group’s attempt to work the Black Arts. Spells they had attempted were outlined and successes claimed. Looking out into the darkness through the wide Temple windows, while Robert read the journal, is still one of the most unnerving experiences of my life.
We later inquired with the owner of the Masonic Temple as to who the proprietor of the journal could have been. However, he had only come into possession of the lodge recently and, besides a preliminary walkthrough, had kept the upper floors locked because he believed the area unsafe. To this day, the owner of the journal remains a mystery, although I have conjectured that the odd items we found probably belonged to some teenagers playing pranks and fiddling around.
The neglected Maysville Academy no longer exists. It has been demolished. The Washington Opera House continues to function and houses the Maysville Players. You can take tours of the Underground Railroad for $20. As for the Cox Building, more than two million dollars have been allocated to restore the structure. Plans for the building include space for start-up businesses and retail stores on the ground-floor.
Maysville is a popular location for ghost hunters. Aside from the buildings already mentioned, investigators like to flock to the abandoned Hayswood Hospital, built in 1915. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, Maysville is haunted. If not by supernatural entities, then by the ghost of the past, which permeates through the buildings several centuries old, filled with the rich history of the area.