'X marks the spot': American Xplorers produce videos of abandoned, haunted, or just plain cool places

Mar. 29—Abandoned amusement parks. Vacant mansions. Ghost towns ... and even ghost ships.

These are a few places to which American Xplorers gravitate. Xplorers, yes, because X marks the spot.

Twenty-nine-year-olds John Valencourt and Thomas Scott are magnets to unique spots all over Kentucky and beyond. Their goal is to draw you in, too.

"We want to show people these places that they maybe can't see for themselves," Valencourt said.

Valencourt is a licensed mental health therapist at Ramey/Estep.

Scott is a machine operator at Rubberlite in Huntington.

Those are their day jobs ... for now.

They aspire to be full-time content creators.

You can find the duo on YouTube (AmericanXplorers), TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Facebook is their No. 1 platform at the moment. They've managed to monetize on a couple of outlets.

It's usually just the two of them hitting the road — sometimes for a three-day weekend, depending on the destination. They map out the most efficient routes to hit multiple marks and seek out good deals on hotels (if needed).

What began with Valencourt and a smartphone with which he recorded vertically in April 2022 blossomed into a fairly tech-savvy tandem.

As of February 2024, the longtime friends were using a GoPro HERO11, a DJI Mavic Air 2 drone and, of course, their phones to produce photos and videos ranging from a minute or two (TikTok, YouTube shorts, Facebook) to 25-or-so minutes (YouTube). They tote microphones and a light with them, too.

Scott is the main editor. The longer videos require five or six hours to edit.

They're nearing 2,000 subscribers on YouTube, and, so far, their most-viewed content was something a little off the beaten path (for them), surprisingly — the Louisville Light Show video around Christmas time garnered 891,000 views on TikTok.

The YouTube video with the best viewership as of late February was from an abandoned mansion in Beckley, West Virginia, where former Mountaineer State Gov. Hewlett C. Smith lived.

The start

Valencourt's infectious enthusiasm for exploration originated in high school.

The Raceland man posted a few short videos on Snapchat that intrigued his friends.

He fielded questions such as "Where did you find this place?" and "What's getting you to go over there?"

One day, in April 2022, the weather was nice and Valencourt didn't have much going on.

"I thought, I'm going to go film a video," he said.

While perusing the Internet for a prime spot, he stumbled upon an abandoned hotel and bridge in Prestonsburg. He had studied at the University of Pikeville for two years, so he knew the area pretty well.

"It was a huge, old arch bridge; it's in the middle of a neighborhood, and you can still walk on it," Valencourt said. "The hotel is off the side of U.S. 23. You can't miss it if you're looking for it."

The hotel was still in decent shape, he said. The conditions were as if everyone occupying the hotel just vanished one day.

"There was still exercise equipment in there; I even got a workout in," Valencourt said with a laugh.

He received positive feedback about the content he'd been posting, but he knew he needed a knowledgeable buddy to take it to the next level.

Born in Hawaii, where he lived for four years as his father served in the Air Force, Scott now resides in Ironton. He and Valencourt have been friends for about 10 years.

Scott is an automobile enthusiast, which drove him to create a bunch of TikTok videos in that vein. His handle is thomasscott9.

When Valencourt approached Scott with the partnership pitch, it was a no-brainer.

"I was wanting to make this a career," Scott said. "We started exploring stuff together, and now we're here."

They post a video every single Saturday at noon — and sandwich several in between Saturdays.

Scott has a daughter — Rae'Lee — so he and Valencourt have to be strategic in planning for trips, especially longer ones such as a journey to Pennsylvania in late February during which they visited Silent Hill and the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The ship

Valencourt said he has an expansive list of "places to visit" in the "notes" section of his phone.

In all, he and Scott have dotted the map an estimated 70-80 times in various locations over the last two years.

"We're trying to hit as much in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio as we can, but we've branched out a little bit to Virginia, and occasionally Indiana and Tennessee," Valencourt said. "I have some family in Michigan and Florida, and they ask, 'when are you coming here?' We're getting there."

When posed a question regarding the category of "most fascinating" places, particularly in Kentucky, Valencourt's mind immediately hopped back onto the Kentucky Ghost Ship, aka the USS Sachem.

The 175-foot ship is nestled into a small tributary of the Ohio River in Petersburg — across the river from Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

The ship's inception was 1902, when it was used by John Rogers Maxwell to sail the New York coastline.

The U.S. Navy changed its name from Celt to USS Sachem when it was utilized in World War I.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, used the ship for experiments during that time period.

Robert Miller, a Cincinnati man, purchased the vessel in the mid-1980s. When he took it on a journey from New York to Kentucky, it eventually got stuck in the spot it sits today.

Sachem was featured in Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" music video in 1996.

Valencourt and Scott walked on logs laid across the water and boarded the ship using a rope ladder.

The AmericanXplorers TikTok video on the Kentucky Ghost Ship generated 20,000 views.

Another memorable Kentucky location is Hayswood Hospital in Maysville. The infirmary was in operation from the early 1800s until 1908. It is recognized by many as haunted.

"When I reviewed the footage, you could hear a little girl laugh at the end of the hallway," Scott said. "I sent it to John and was like, dude, I didn't hear this when we were there."

Octagon Hall, an eight-sided house built just before the Civil War, is in Franklin, Kentucky — between Bowling Green and Nashville.

The Travel Channel and Sci-Fi Network have visited there, Valencourt said.

"You get a feeling, a sense that something is unnatural there," Valencourt said. "It's old, it's got Civil War history — a lot of people fighting in the war met in that place and died there."

Scott and Valencourt encountered some spookiness in Hazard when they explored a cemetery, train tunnels, an old cinema, an abandoned waterpark, Dead Man's Curve — which Valencourt called "intimidating" — and La Citadelle, which was a five-star mountaintop motel open from 1958-1997. Legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp once stayed there. According to a WYMT report, it had a lounge, swimming pool, shuffleboard, horseback riding and a putting green.

They've been to Shakers Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, where they stayed the night in a building erected in 1817. The owners gave them free firewood, which they used for a campfire-and-ghost-story session one night.

That night, the TV in their room kept flashing and flickering all night, Valencourt said.

Scott, an admittedly heavy sleeper, said he was in a deep slumber after all the walking they did.

"I'm too tired, the ghosts can get me," he said, laughing.

The 'Michael Myers' man

"We've been to some wild places and been in crazy situations," Scott said.

The curious pair will sometimes notice an eye-catching place while on another mission. That's when the aforementioned "notes" section grows.

When Faith Fountain, Valencourt's girlfriend, won an award in Louisville, they noticed a house up on a hill in the Shelbyville area.

"A week or two later, Thomas and I wanted to go to Louisville, so on the way back, we stopped there," Valencourt said.

They didn't know for sure if they could even enter the house, but they discovered a wide-open door.

While inside, they encountered a closed door that wouldn't budge initially.

"I pushed on it and it wouldn't move," Scott said.

Separated from Valencourt, Scott just moseyed on to a different area of the house.

Unbeknownst to him that Scott had already attempted it, Valencourt eventually tried that door. He pushed a little harder, and even harder, and managed to open it enough to peek into the room.

"All the sudden, he yells, 'there's someone in there!'" Scott recollected. "So I roll my ankle trying to keep up with him and run out of there."

"I'm telling you, it was like Michael Myers from 'Halloween' when he raises up from the floor," Valencourt said.

"The big dude just sat up and stared at him," Scott said, smiling.

The law

The American Xplorers have learned that it's best to contact property owners, when possible. Most of the time, they're more than accommodating.

However, that isn't always feasible.

"Getting in trouble is not a route I want to go down," Valencourt said, but it's bound to happen when venturing into uncertain territory.

"We were at Lock No. 19 in West Virginia, and we explored one area and then went up in these abandoned houses — pretty scary stuff," Scott said. "I walked out and saw a black SUV behind John's car."

A local police officer was waiting on them to return to their vehicle.

"We went down and said, 'We're YouTubers,'" Scott said. "He's like, well, you can't go in there."

They already had, and the video footage had been captured.

"He was cool and let us go," Scott said.

The two were looking into local spots in Helltown, Ohio, and, apparently, after a certain time of the evening, there are prohibited places.

"A police officer pulled up and we explained what we were doing," Valencourt said.

The one-and-done

Valencourt found himself saying something like "this is probably somewhere I wouldn't go back to" a few times throughout these videos.

One, specifically, was a monastery in East Cleveland.

"It's already not in a great area," Valencourt said. "We heard sounds all night."

His girlfriend saw a TikTok of the monastery that enticed them to check it out.

"This guy posted a video, and you could see it on the video, a white face, the scariest face you can imagine, and he stressed how serious and real it was," Valencourt said.

"We did it, we were there, but we got out of there and probably wouldn't go back," he added.

The movie

In December 2023, the movie "Leave The World Behind" ascended to No. 1 on Netflix.

During one scene, an astute observer will see a QR code. The code takes you to a website for Lake Shawnee Amusement Park in Rock, West Virginia.

Scott and Valencourt planned an adventure to the attraction that was abandoned in 1966.

The property owner gave them free rein in the park, which features a creepy Ferris wheel and swings full of toys and stuffed animals. Various reports indicate six people died during the park's 40-year history.

Visitors have placed toys and stuffed animals around and on the swings because many believe the ghost of a 6-year-old girl is present. As Scott told during the American Xplorers video, a little girl died when a loading truck carrying concession items backed too far into the park, and into the ride as it was moving.

The park was built on Native American burial ground.

The mission

Valencourt and Scott are always open to suggestions on where they should go.

Valencourt loves learning the history behind each place as they visit, and he hopes to convey that to viewers.

"Our videos are diverse and exhilarating, and informative as well," Scott said. "We do a lot of research."

Scott said they are always game for trying new things and going to "crazier places."

They recently attained an LLC for their channel.

They do have merchandise — including T-shirts and hoodies — although they haven't tried to sell a bunch of it just yet.

"We take it seriously," Valencourt said. "We are going to keep trying to find these places, and give people a chance to see things they wouldn't see for themselves."