At first glance, Kentucky’s Devou Park is just like any other urban green space in the United States. But this part of Covington brings drivers from far and wide – all because of a strange phenomenon. There’s a hill here, you see, that leaves visitors absolutely baffled.
Yet the slope in Devou Park doesn’t appear all that different to a standard hill. Motorists may therefore tackle it in the same way they’d approach any incline: getting into the right gear and considering the speed they’ll need to reach the top.
And when you look at this hill from the bottom, it doesn’t appear to be particularly elevated. Nor is it in a particularly remarkable location, being situated on an ordinary suburban road known as Ridgeway Court. Even so, the stretch of asphalt continues to fascinate drivers.
Indeed, tourists across America travel to Ridgeway Court to watch a strange spectacle on the hill. The phenomenon appears to defy all logic and reason, in fact, and this in turn has led the area to develop quite the reputation. However, in November 2017, a couple of experts tried to finally unravel the mystery.
Before we can get into exactly what the specialists found, though, there’s something else to consider. You see, the Ridgeway Court mystery isn’t the only curious anomaly in Kentucky’s history. Take this particularly baffling story from 2001, for instance.
During the spring of that year, a number of pregnant horses in Kentucky tragically lost their foals. And while mares do sadly suffer miscarriages from time to time, the levels experienced in 2001 were well above those expected in the state.
Naturally, those working within the thoroughbred sector were desperate to figure out this mystery – not least because it had cost the industry around $225 million. And in the end, they came up with a credible theory to explain the miscarriages. In the spring of 2001, you see, the weather in Kentucky had been quite unpredictable.
Experts argued, then, that these conditions had led the cherry leaves found on farms to produce cyanide. And if the pregnant horses had consumed the affected vegetation, this would then go some way to justify the rise in miscarriages. Yet there was one big problem with this hypothesis.
Across the state, you see, there were farms with cherry trees that hadn’t reported any miscarriages in their mares. Perhaps, then, the leaves weren’t the problem. And, ultimately, there was never a clear explanation for the tragic losses.
In 2001 several unresolved animal murders in Grayson, Kentucky, were also put under the microscope. These deaths had taken place over a time span of a quarter of a century and had one detail in common. Curiously, the livestock had all been brutally mutilated, with many of them also losing their vital organs. But this wasn’t even the weirdest aspect of the murders.
Given how horrific the animals’ deaths had been, you would probably expect the respective crime scenes to be pretty graphic. Incredibly, though, the investigators failed to spot any blood near the deceased animals after they had been discovered. There were no traces of blood spatter anywhere, in fact – and this left the local authorities absolutely dumbfounded.
And you may have already heard about this next strange mystery from Kentucky. The story begins at the turn of the 19th century, when a Frenchman named Martin Fugate moved to the state with his wife Elizabeth Smith. The couple also went on to have a number of children together. It’s fair to say, though, that the Fugates weren’t your typical family.
Most notably, Martin and some of his children all had blue skin. This bizarre condition was then passed down to the next generation and the next until a baby named Benjamin Stacy was delivered in 1975. And, unsurprisingly, the family earned a nickname into the bargain, with locals dubbing them the “blue people of Troublesome Creek.”
Unlike the previous stories, though, there was an explanation for this particular phenomenon. As it turned out, Martin and Elizabeth both suffered from a blood disorder called methemoglobinemia, and it was this that had caused the discoloration of Martin’s skin. Even more remarkably, another family in the area had the same condition.
Martin’s children subsequently married into the state’s other “blue” family and continued to do so for the next 100-plus years, meaning methemoglobinemia was passed down to each new generation. Benjamin proved to be the last in the clan with the condition, and the color of his skin reverted to a more normal hue after he had grown up.
To explain more, a physician named Ayalew Tefferi spoke with ABC News in February 2012. He said, “It’s a fascinating story. You almost never see a patient with [methemoglobinemia] today. It’s a disease that one learns about in medical school, and it is infrequent enough to be on every exam in hematology.”
But another bizarre tale involving Kentucky actually began thousands of miles from the American state. Back in the 1810s, people living in Sheffield, England, reported sightings of a strange-looking man in the community. According to these witnesses, the fearsome individual in question would terrorize the locals before jumping huge distances to escape.
Aptly, the mystery man was therefore dubbed “Spring-Heeled Jack.” Then, two decades after Jack was first seen in Sheffield, he appeared further south in London. It’s believed, moreover, that the figure’s reign of terror in the English capital lasted for around 18 months.
So, what did Spring-Heeled Jack look like? Well, it’s said that he wore a skintight black suit and a cape as well as a helmet featuring sharp-looking ears. Most disturbingly of all, though, the man apparently had bright red eyes. And given that unnerving vision, it’s perhaps no surprise that stories about Jack continued to circulate for the next 40 years.
Then, in 1880, Spring-Heeled Jack reportedly made his first appearance on American soil, in Louisville, Kentucky. And much as he is said to have done in England, he apparently went on to scare the locals for a period – only to leap away before he could be caught. However, following that terrifying stint, the mysterious figure allegedly left the state before he finally emerged again in the U.K. in 1904.
Meanwhile, some four years prior to Spring-Heeled Jack’s arrival in Kentucky, the residents of Bath County had their own moment of confusion. In 1876 their community was curiously showered in red meat. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the cuts that fell down from the sky were apparently decent ones, too.
Given how bizarre the situation was, theories were understandably thin on the ground at the time. And while it was initially claimed that a group of buzzards had dropped the meat as they had passed by Bath County, the lack of sightings of any such birds meant this hypothesis was quickly debunked. Even today, the case remains unsolved.
Then, a few decades on in 1948, a Kentucky Air National Guard captain named Thomas Mantell was given instructions from his base. An unidentified flying object had apparently been spotted close to the city of Madisonville, and it was up to Mantell to investigate.
So, Mantell got in his plane and followed the flying object, staying in touch with his base by radio. Then the contact was lost, and after Mantell’s colleagues went out to investigate, they made a horrible discovery. Tragically, the captain’s aircraft had crashed, while the pilot himself had perished.
But the state of Mantell’s body raised many questions. While it was reported, for instance, that all of the pilot’s bones had been “crushed” in the accident, not one drop of blood was found inside the plane. Still, while there was no handy explanation for this strange turn of events, the United States Air Force did offer up a theory regarding the mysterious object.
Supposedly, according to the Air Force, Mantell may have been pursuing a Skyhook balloon. These unusual-looking inflatables were used to study the atmosphere at the time, and – crucially – they were also “top secret.” This meant that Mantell likely wouldn’t have been aware of the object’s true nature prior to the crash.
So, it’s fair to say that Kentucky has seen its fair share of peculiar occurrences over the years. And, more recently, the hill on Ridgeway Court has become a phenomenon in its own right. Why? Well, it seemingly defies the laws of gravity.
Generally speaking, if you stop your car halfway up a hill and forget to put it in park, the vehicle may begin to roll back down to the bottom. On the Ridgeway Court hill, by contrast, the opposite happens. That’s right: here, cars are known to move upwards while in neutral.
It’s a weird spectacle, and plenty of motorists have been drawn to see it for themselves. A local resident named Mary Devitt has also given some insight into what it’s like living near the hill – although she hasn’t actually experienced the weird anti-gravity effect for herself.
Talking to WCPO in 2017, Devitt said, “I don’t think I’ve ever done it actually. I’ve never done it. I just hear people talking about it! When we first moved here, I thought it was very strange that cars kept coasting past the house.”
“Probably the most unusual [story I’ve heard] was [about] a woman who had just gone through cancer treatments,” Devitt added. “And she kind of liked these strange and obscure things. So, she found [the hill] on Facebook and [put] it on her bucket list.”
But Eli White, a psychologist at Northern Kentucky University, has an explanation for the strange goings-on at the so-called “Gravity Hill.” During a demonstration broadcast on WCPO in 2017, White placed his car into neutral, after which the vehicle started to roll slowly up the slope. That’s exactly the experience of others at the site, and yet the academic would go on to say that the visual didn’t line up with what was actually happening.
White told the station, We’re slightly moving forward here, where it looks like we’re moving up a hill. Our perceptual system is very good, but for certain instances like this when you have a false horizon and information over here, that is influencing the grade of this hill. Visually it looks like we’re going up a hill right now, but [that’s not the case].”
Scott Nutter, who works at the same college, concurred with White’s findings, adding, “Your mind is easily fooled by the data that comes in from our senses. This is the exact reason scientists use measuring tools.” Gravity Hill isn’t the only slope in America to confuse and confound people in this manner, either.
Similarly “gravity-defying” hills can be found in Pennsylvania and California, for example, as well as further away in the U.K., Italy and Australia. And perhaps unsurprisingly, people have chosen to test these other strange slopes for themselves, too.
Regardless of where these hills are located, however, they all provide the same illusion. And Pennsylvania State University physicist Brock Weiss neatly explained the phenomenon in 2006. “The embankment is sloped in a way that gives you the effect that you are going uphill,” he said on the American Institute of Physics series Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science.
Weiss added, “You are indeed going downhill – even though your brain gives you the impression that you’re going uphill.” This deception can be caused by the slope’s horizon, or lack thereof. And researchers in Italy proved as much through a curious experiment.
Using models that depicted slopes such as Gravity Hill, the scientists asked their test subjects to look at the replicas from a certain angle. Then they altered the horizon for each hill – and caused plenty of confusion as a result. The group went on to publish their findings in the journal Psychological Science in September 2003.
The researchers wrote, “We found that perceived slopes depend on the height of the visible horizon. [The] surface slant [also] tends to be underestimated relative to the horizontal plane, and when preceded, followed, or flanked by a steep downhill slope, a slightly downhill stretch is perceived as uphill.”
“The visual (and psychological!) effects obtained in our experiments were in all respects analogous to those experienced on site,” the group added. “After each observer’s task was concluded, we placed a small roll of tape on the misperceived slope. And the tape appeared to move against the law of gravity — producing surprise and, on occasion, reverential fear.” It seems, then, that Gravity Hill and slopes like it can freak out even the most rational of folk.