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Hunting Ghosts, Live! (Pt. 1)

A couple weeks ago, I was going through some paperwork and rediscovered a journal from a part of my past that continues to follow me around. People have brought it up at weddings, birthday parties, even a funeral… More than once, someone has walked up, joined the conversation, and a few minutes later, turned my way and asked “So you worked with the Ghost Hunters, huh?”

I did, having spent Halloween night three years in a row working on investigations that were broadcast live, and that third year also included a couple months on the road shooting a spinoff show, Ghost Hunters Academy. In high school, I spent autumn nights working at a haunted house. It was fun, but getting to experience the other side of that vulnerability – plus kicking it up quite a few notches for staying overnight at historic places with dark pasts – was much more intense.

In 2007, I was in college and paying the bills by working at a TV station during the week and a radio station some weekends. I was so busy, Ryan Seacrest would have been proud. In between classes one day, an L.A. number lit up my flip phone. Riding high on ambition and partly thinking the world might take notice of my work ethic, I thought this call might be a turning point in my life. In retrospect, it sort of was.

At the other end of the line was one of my bosses from a country music festival broadcast I helped with in Ohio the previous year. “Since you’re near Kentucky, we were wondering if you might be interested in working on a Ghost Hunters live investigation on Halloween.” Let me think… Hmm… Well… Yes, of course! To avoid any setbacks, I checked in with all of my professors (and my girlfriend, hah!). Some teachers had strict attendance policies but made an exception to their rules since this opportunity was directly related to the Mass Comm./Broadcasting degree I was seeking. One disbelieving instructor made me explain how in the world I landed such a gig.

Before long, I was driving to Louisville, Kentucky to stay there the better part of a week in preparation for Ghost Hunters Live on Halloween night. My journal from that time starts below…

Louisville, Kentucky / USA - Oct. 29, 2007: The Waverly Hills Sanatorium exterior is shown from an elevated view during the day.

DAY 1 – OCT. 29 My call time is 10 AM. I left home early, but the drive through Cincinnati put me behind schedule. At this rate, I’m predicting road construction on I-75 will finally be done in about 200 years. After the delay, I end up pulling into the parking lot at Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville at 10:10. That’s at least twenty minutes later than I had hoped but, fortunately, no one notices. Equipment trucks are driving in, the Production Office is being set up, and other Production Assistants are busy moving tables, setting up the food catering area.

I park, help set up a couple tables, then ask where the Production Office is. Someone points to it, and I head that way. Walking in, I apologize for being late which, you know, can partly be attributed to jumping right into work.

After filling out the start paperwork, one of my coworkers and fast friends, Adam, asks if I want to take a tour of the place, saying there probably won’t be another chance to look around later. That sounds like a great opportunity, and he leads the way. From the Production Office, we walk down a flight of stairs, then through a subterranean corridor, which is currently decorated as a haunted house attraction for the holiday. Perfect. Instead of considering the souls of some-tens-of-thousands tuberculosis patients who died here (no one knows the exact number) and might inhabit the place, we get to instead imagine a clown lunging at us from the darkness.

Halloween haunted house displays are shown.

After this tour, the first day on the job is actually sluggish. There’s some light work here, some work there but, in true ghost hunting form, the activity picks up after dark. The production team is busy shooting some promos upstairs in the 5-story building when a call comes over the radio: they’re done with the lighting kits on the top floor and need help bringing those down. I volunteer and navigate my way through the basement again – solo this time – with my cheap flashlight barely illuminating the path ahead.

Along the way, the sound of shuffling follows along behind me. I stop walking, then the shuffling stops. “Someone else is definitely down here,” I tell myself. Turning a quick 180, with the dim flashlight in hand, no one is there. With a pounding heart, I continue on, and the shuffling sound starts up again. I pick up the pace to the stairwell and feel some sense of relief once some crew members chatting upstairs are within earshot.

It takes a few trips up and down the stairs to lug all the lighting gear back to ground level, and someone else takes it from there. A few minutes later, back in the Production Office, one of the building’s co-owners is around, and I mention the shuffling in the basement. “Oh, those are the shadow people,” she nonchalantly tells me. “They follow me around all the time.” What have I gotten myself into?

The crew dinner break is sometime around 9 PM. Outside it’s probably 40°F (about 4°C), and it’s funny hearing the L.A. crew complain about the cold. The key to dressing for the Midwest is to expect the unexpected. In spring or fall, don’t be surprised if you’re comfortable wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the afternoon, then need to put on jeans and a heavy coat in the evening. With it being almost November, we do sometimes get snow around this time of the year.

At the end of this setup and scout day, I end up driving the main Ghost Hunters, Jason and Grant, to their hotel. It’s next door to mine but theirs looks about 5x nicer. You won’t hear me complaining, though… This is already an amazing break from my daily routine, and I’m really getting paid to do this? It didn’t take long to find out Jason and Grant are hilarious, making the drive to the hotel a fun one.

DAY 2 – OCT. 30 Right off the bat, it’s been a busy day. J&G are scheduled to do some morning news-type interviews, so we arrive at the sanatorium before any of the other crew. Fortunately, that gives me a chance to kick back, check my email (finally!), and take a few pics. I find the “death chute,” which is a subterranean tunnel 500 ft. long (152m), once used to covertly transport the dead, with the hope of maintaining morale among the living.

Louisville, KY / USA - Oct. 30, 2007: A subterranean passageway known as the “Death Tunnel” or “Death Chute” is shown at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium. The corridor was used to transport bodies of people who died from tuberculosis at the nearby sanatorium during the early 1900s.

A few hours later, a daunting to-do list is in front of me. First up, I take the main cast back to their hotel. From there, it’s to the dry cleaners. Then, I pick up the two female Ghost Hunters Live cast members from the hotel, drive them to a store in Indiana, drop them back off, pick up Grant and Jason again, take them to Waverly Hills, go back to the dry cleaners, stuff info packets under doors at the hotels, pick up a package from a shipping store, then head back to the venue. After that, it’s pretty much cake. What’s been consolidated to a paragraph here was actually a hectic day. As I drive back to the hotel for the final time today, the business phrase “first in, first out” comes to mind, knowing the rest of the crew will still be working late into the night.

DAY 3 – OCT. 31 (HALLOWEEN) I’m not a morning person but end up with another early call time and hit the road before anyone else. A tape needs to get to a satellite uplink facility. Due to some miscommunication between the dealmakers, I end up there an hour before the scheduled satellite time. My contact emerges from the building, collecting the large video tape and a list of satellite coordinates and frequencies. He says “I’ll let you know when the footage has been sent.” “Sounds good,” I say, and he heads back into the brick building. I wait and wait and wait. 2.5 hours later, I finally get confirmation all is well… The 5 minutes of Ghost Hunters promo footage has been sent just fine.

Louisville, Kentucky / USA - Oct. 31, 2007 - A Sony professional video tape containing promos for Ghost Hunters Live is shown up close.

From here, I make another trip to the cleaners. I’m not sure what’s up with having all these clothes dry cleaned daily, but apparently “Big Boy Thirty Minute Cleaners” is busy enough that it’s more like “Big Boy You Drop Your Clothes Off the Day Before and We’ll Have Them Ready at the End of the Next Day Cleaners.” My grandmother gets a kick out of calling this “gopher work” – you know, go ‘fer’ this, go ‘fer’ that, and this particular drop-off and pickup scenario isn’t working for me. I take all the “TAPS” (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) clothes back from the clerk and head straight to the cleaners I visited yesterday. It’s a mystery why I wasn’t just sent to that location today. The old man there had a ton of work to do, but he was able to prioritize this TV show order and, of course, a cash bonus makes a good incentive. I don’t have much to offer but certainly appreciate the expedited help.

Hours later, the clothes are ready. I grab them, then head to the hotel, where the Ghost Hunters cast are getting ready for the live event. I’ll be driving them to Waverly Hills but, now that a limo has pulled up, maybe the plan has changed. Jason emerges from the hotel, spots me and heads my way. I ask if he knows anything about the limo. It’s for one of tonight’s guest investigators, ECW wrestler Elijah Burke.

A short while later, I’ve wrangled up the rest of the cast, and we head to the venue. It’s a quick trip to Waverly Hills, and it’s an amazing sight when we discover hundreds of fans are lining both sides of the .5 mile (.8 km) driveway. I suddenly feel like a Secret Service agent and, astonishingly, not one person I make eye contact with has their camera ready. Most don’t even seem to even realize the stars they’re hoping to catch a glimpse of are in this SUV.

Arriving at the gate, the guard stops us, and I flash my laminated “All Access” pass. He eyeballs it, then takes a look at everyone else in the vehicle and says “I’m going to need to see some credentials, guys.” Just before my blood starts boiling, the guard laughs and waves us on. Whew. Perfect comedic timing.

the key to the castle - my 2007 "all access" badge

At that moment, one of the Ghost Hunters says to me “Go ahead and park. We’ll meet you up there,” and they all start getting out of the vehicle. We aren’t quite to the venue yet, so I don’t know what they’re doing. Graciously, the cast start backtracking down the driveway to sign autographs and take photos with their fans. That’s a pretty awesome sight.

Over the next few hours, there really isn’t much for me to do. I can’t really figure out if the host of the live show, Josh Gates, has any interest in using cue cards or not, but another P.A. and I are assigned the task to make them. The giant marker makes that awful squeak when writing on the glossy poster board, and my writing seems to become more slanted as the scent from the markers starts affecting my brain.

Once the live show is underway, at 9 PM, I keep updating and holding cue cards next to the camera being used when coming back from each commercial break. With Josh being a consummate professional, he starts deviating further and further from the prepared text. Once it’s clear he’s going to continue effectively improving his way through, I toss the rest of the cards aside and enjoy the show from this unique perspective – the front door of Waverly Hills Sanatorium on a cold Halloween night.

Louisville, Kentucky / USA - Oct. 31, 20007 - The Waverly Hills Sanatorium building front entrance is shown at night. For editorial uses only.

The coordination between the crew inside the building, outside the building, the host, and the investigators is incredible. It’s evident a lot of these people are very familiar with working on live broadcasts.

In the middle of the night, as some of us are struggling to stay awake, a jarring scream rings out from somewhere in the large building. People begin whispering into their walkie talkies, trying to find out what just happened. Is someone hurt? Is someone just spooked? Someone says the wrestler, Elijah Burke, has dropped his phone, which spooked him. Someone else says he was “touched by an angel.”

Other than Elijah’s excitement, it’s been a really long night, with the live show finishing at 3 AM. Figuring it’ll be a while before I see this team again, I ask Grant, Jason, and Kristyn for a photo before we all part ways…

Louisville, KY / USA - Nov. 1, 2007: Ghost Hunter Grant Wilson, Production Assistant Justin Kilmer, and Ghost Hunters Jason Hawes and Kristyn Gartland are shown after a live TV investigation on Halloween night.

DAY 4 – NOV. 1 The long night continues. Ghost Hunter Dustin and contestant Mark (update: he died in 2015 as part of a murder-suicide) have early morning flights, so I take them to the airport, then head there again a couple hours later to drop off contestant Patrick.

Checking the chatter about last night’s show, there have been some complaints about people that shouldn’t have been there. I get it – there’s an illusion that only about 15 people are on the premises. In reality, a live show requires a big crew, and my friend that was spotted on-camera, at the end of a hallway, was delivering fresh camera batteries so the overnight investigation could continue unabated. So yeah, it’s unfortunate there were a few mistakes, but it was live TV, so that really shouldn’t impact reviews of the overall experience. Personally, I was really impressed by the job the cast and crew did, as well as the coordination of so many moving parts.

These days (current pandemic excluded), Waverly Hills is a very active place (maybe a double entendre), hosting public tours and overnight ghost hunts of their own, putting on Christmas laser light shows, and serving as a space for private events. Give it a look if experiencing what’s considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world is your idea of a fun night.

As for me, it’s been interesting reliving the experience through my old journal, and it won’t be surprising at all if, for many years to come, a stranger occasionally turns my way and asks “So you worked with the Ghost Hunters, huh?”

If you’ve had any paranormal experiences, I’d love to hear about them. Hit us up via the "Contact" section!


“Hunting Ghosts, Pt. 1” Written by Justin Kilmer, Edited by Janine Kilmer

Unless otherwise noted, all media and text on this page are copyrighted © by Justin Kilmer.


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