Located in Louisville, Kentucky Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a two story hospital that opened on July 26, 1910. Its main purpose was to attend to a surge of tuberculosis patients at a time when antibiotics were not readily available to combat this infectious bacterial disease. Referred to as the ‘white plague,’ those stricken with tuberculosis were typically isolated from the general public as a result of its highly contagious nature. Sanatoriums were built to house these patients.
The commonly held belief at the time was that proper nutrition, plenty of stress-free living, and fresh air would increase the recovery chance of those that had fallen victim to this terrible disease. The majority of sanatoriums that housed tuberculosis patients were built in isolated areas often times with a picturesque setting to promote an atmosphere of serenity and peace. The reasons behind this were not only to isolate patients but also to combat the demoralizing symptoms of tuberculosis that included an overall weakness coupled with weight loss, fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Infected patients would often feel as though they were drowning in their own lungs. It is a terrifying and disheartening disease.
Treatment for tuberculosis at Waverly Hills Sanatorium included heliotherapy in which the patients were placed under ultraviolet heat lamps or out in the sun’s rays in hopes that ultraviolet light would kill the bacterium. Fresh air and proper nutrition were considered extremely important in ridding a person of this potentially fatal disease. In some cases balloons had been surgically implanted into the lungs to aid in expanding them allowing them to heal. Those people that could afford the more experimental treatment had the option of Pneumothorax which was the collapse of an infected lung. The person was to survive off of the other lung that remained expanded. The hope was that the collapsed lung would be given a chance to heal before it was re-inflated. A last resort method involved Thoracoplasty which was the removal of a few ribs and some muscle tissue in order to allow lungs to expand and heal. Fewer than 5% of patients that received this procedure managed to survive.
The hospital was equipped with a great deal of open air porches promoting the idea that exposure to fresh air was considered extremely important in the health and recovery of the patient. Pictures from the past demonstrate this practice with large beds lined up on the open air porches, roof, and ‘sun rooms’ filled with patients lying out even during the cold winter months in the falling snow. Electric blankets were widely used items at the sanatorium during winter. Windows did not exist in these areas but rather the porches were screened in. This allowed for the air to circulate so as the patients exhaled the tuberculosis organism it would be carried away and replaced with fresh, clean air to help them overcome the disease.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium sits atop a large hill. An eerie remnant of the hospital is the approximately 500 foot ‘body chute’ or ‘death tunnel’ that extends from the hospital to the bottom of the hill. This tunnel contained a wench-type system to assist in carrying supplies to the hospital. It also served as a means to transport steam heat and employees to the hospital during the blistery winter months. In order to keep up morale among the hospital patients it served another important function and that was the transportation of dead TB patients from the hospital to hearses waiting at the bottom of the hill.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium functioned as a tuberculosis hospital until 1961. Between 1944 and 1954 several drugs were discovered that served as an effective treatment against tuberculosis known as streptomycin, para-aminosalicylic acid (PAS), and isoniazid. The need for isolated hospitals dedicated to tuberculosis patients diminished as a result of these drug treatments and thus Waverly Hills Sanatorium was closed down in 1961 and placed under quarantine.
It was renovated and re-opened in 1962 as Woodhaven Medical Services, a hospital dedicated to geriatrics until 1980. The state was forced to shut down the facility after an alarming number of reports surrounding patient abuse and unethical experimentation surfaced. Limited knowledge and treatment options for tuberculosis and various mental disorders resulted in unorthodox and experimental treatment practices during Waverly Hills’s 70 year rein from 1910 until 1980. There were reports of electroshock therapy, invasive and experimental surgical procedures, severe neglect, and unimaginable abuse occurring during its existence as a geriatrics hospital.
Accounts regarding the number of deaths reported over the years have been under dispute. What is known is that there have been many deaths in regards to both patients and staff at this facility during the 70 years it was in operation. It is considered one of the most haunted locations in the world.
Many legends have been passed down, field studies conducted, and documentaries filmed regarding the strange activity that is reported to take place at Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Many are convinced that the sanatorium is haunted and that spirits roam its dilapidated halls. Its neglected state lends a spooky ambiance to these ghostly tales.
One of the more famous ghostly tales circulating is of a 29 year old nurse that was reported to have committed suicide in 1928. There have been claims that she was pregnant and unmarried during a time when this was a devastating social stigma. She was reported to have been found hanging from a light fixture in Room 502. There has been some speculation that an aborted child found on the nearby railroad tracks in a trash bag was the child she had been carrying but no evidence supports this particular part of the story. Another report suggested that in 1932 a second nurse committed suicide by leaping from the balcony of the roof. Reasons behind her choice to end her life are unknown.
Others have suggested that they have detected the distinct odor of freshly cooked food wafting through the cafeteria and kitchen areas. A man in a white coat is rumored to have been seen wandering about this area. The distinct sound of a bouncing ball echoing along the lengthy corridors and a voice angrily whispering “get out” in room 502 have also circulated. The tale of a woman running screaming through the main entrance her extremities bound in chains and blood dripping from her wrists is a particularly eerie tale that is often told to curious visitors of Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
In the documentary “Spooked,” several people were interviewed and asked to share their brushes with the supernatural and experiences at Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Some were patients and employees during the tuberculosis era while others were current employees of the famous tourist attraction. Current and former employees as well as visitors have reported figures walking in front of windows, disembodied voices, shadow people, isolated cold spots, lights turning on where there is no electricity, and doors slamming shut of their own volition.
With its rich and startling history it is no wonder Waverly Hills Sanatorium is considered one of the most haunted places on Earth. Whether you are a true believer or a skeptic the tragic past of Waverly Hills Sanatorium lends an undeniable macabre aura to this historical site. If you dare to venture to the sanatorium to experience it for yourself visit The Waverly Hills Sanatorium site for further information. Happy hunting!