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October 30, 2012

Spooky history: Highland Hills teacher writes ghostly nonfiction

FLOYDS KNOBS — Through tales of the dead reaching out to the living and sharing messages or terrorizing them from the other side, a Highland Hills Middle School teacher did some digging into the real history behind ghost stories in Kentuckiana.

Carla Thomas, a reading teacher at the school, will soon have books published about ghost hunting and an infamous ghost hunter destination. In “With Their Dying Breaths: A History of Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium” and “Phantoms and Spirits: Ghost Hunting in Southern Indiana,” she explores the origins of local ghost stories as well as experiences she had with the Southern Indiana Ghost Hunters.

“Every ghost story I dug up starts with a grain of truth,” Thomas said. “Whether you believe in ghosts or not, they usually start with a person who thought they saw something.”

In the case of Waverly Hills Sanatorium — a former tuberculosis hospital in Louisville that’s famous in paranormal investigation circles — she said digging up the history was difficult because the mass interest in the site has led to the theft of many documents about it from libraries.

However, she said she was able to talk to a lot of people who were there when the sanatorium was still open and get stories directly from them. Waverly Hills was closed in 1961.

“I feel like I did a really good job of not making it bigger than the story was,” Thomas said. “I tried not to embellish anything or exaggerate to make a better story so I could truly honor the memories of the people who died there.”

She said while some estimate 60,000 deaths from the time the hospital opened until it closed, she couldn’t corroborate those numbers. But she said there was easily a minimum of 10,000 to 20,000 deaths there.

But she also tagged along with the Southern Indiana Ghost Hunters — a team of paranormal investigators — for her book, “Phantoms and Spirits: Ghost Hunting in Southern Indiana.”

She said she thought the team tried to be as scientific as possible with their investigations, using a variety of tools to measure temperature and electric activity to come to some kind of conclusion about whether a space was haunted or not, as well as visiting the same site multiple times to compare results.

She said though many people have their doubts about specific ghost stories, she finds several believe in ghosts in spite of their skepticism.

“I find that generally, most people believe in ghosts,” Thomas said. “I don’t know why that is. I think we’ve all grown up with these stories and some of us have experienced these things. But then I think there’s some of us that just like to be scared.”

She said even when she’s not researching for books, she does like to visit alleged haunts. This December, she said she plans to spend the night in a haunted hotel.

But that doesn’t mean she necessarily believes in the ghosts she’s hunted.

“I have seen and witnessed things that I can’t explain,” Thomas said. “There’s nothing I can say to explain it. I don’t know that makes me cross the bridge into being a believer or not, but I thought those experiences were interesting.”

Her book on Waverly Hills should be finished in a couple of weeks and her ghost hunting book should be finished in December. She said they’ll be available on www.amazon.com or  possibly in Arlston’s Booksellers in Corydon.

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