KENTUCKY - Waverly Hills Sanatorium
by: Becky Ray in 2004
Louisville, Kentucky began its life as a city in May of 1778. At this time, the land was still part of the colony of Virginia, and it was Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson who signed the first Louisville town charter in 1780. Kentucky achieved statehood in 1792 when it became the first western star on the American Flag. Named for King Louis XVI of France in gratitude for French aid in the Revolution, Louisville grew slowly at first. It wasn't until 1828 when the population reached 10,000 that it got around to its official incorporation as a city. When the twentieth century began, Louisville's population had passed the 200,000 mark, a doubling in a single generation. In 1900, Louisville was still among the nation's twenty largest cities, twice as large as Los Angeles and Atlanta, and four times bigger than Dallas or Houston.
Although the Ohio River that the city sits on was a necessity for the growth of the city, it also was a source of problems. Louisville suffered through floods, malarial-type infections, and the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812. Unfortunately, this also made it ripe for the tuberculosis bacteria. This bacterium can attack any part of the body, but most usually attacks the lungs. During the first part of the Twentieth Century, it was the leading cause of death in the United States, and in 1900 Louisville, Kentucky had the highest death rate from tuberculosis in the country.
It seems that tuberculosis or TB (also known as Consumption) has always been with the human race. Evidence of TB has been found in the spines of Egyptian mummies and it is known that the disease was common in both ancient Greece and Imperial Rome. During some periods of history TB may have lessened its grip but it never entirely let go. For centuries health practitioners were unable to help patients afflicted with tuberculosis. Physicians in Rome recommended bathing in human urine, eating wolf livers, and drinking elephant blood. Many treatment regimens included fresh milk: human, goat, or camel. It was realized as far back as the 16th century that the disease was contagious, but besides blood letting of the patients or seeking an audience with the king to have him lay on healing hands, there was not much hope for sufferers. Over the years the treatments would change and could vary from country to country. Patients were told to rest or to exercise, to eat or to abstain from food, to travel to the mountains or to live underground. During all of this, TB claimed victims by the millions. At the end of the 19th century, Robert Koch found the microorganism Mycobacterium Tuberculosis was responsible for the disease, and this gave him a substantial enemy to fight. However, it would still be several decades before a cure was found.
Construction of what now stands as Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky began March of 1924. At the time, this was considered to be one of the most modern tuberculosis facilities in existence. In October of 1926 the sanatorium opened for patients featuring four stories of patient rooms, a cafeteria and kitchen, an operating room, and plenty of solarium porch space on each floor for the patients. On the fifth floor was the heliotherapy department where those suffering from tuberculosis of the bone would be treated with sunlight. There was also a roof top swing set for the children, a nurse's station, a kitchenette, and access to the elevator maintenance in what is now known as the “bell tower.”
Due to the continuing efforts of several scientists working around the world, Selman A. Waksman finally found an antibiotic in 1943. Streptomycin purified from Streptomyces griseus was first administered to a human on November 20, 1944 with remarkable results. Not only did the disease immediately stop its progression, but the bacteria also disappeared from the patient's sputum and he recovered fully. Due to this antibiotic, by the mid 1950s tuberculosis had been virtually wiped out from the Louisville area, and in 1961 Waverly Hills Sanatorium closed its doors as a tuberculosis hospital.
The building didn't stay closed long, however, as in 1962, the building was reopened as Woodhaven Geriatric Sanitarium. Finding specific information about Woodhaven has proven difficult, but numerous stories circulate about patient mistreatment including squalid conditions, bedsores, exposure, electroshock therapy and other unusual experiments. Some may be folklore, but some must be true as on July 25, 1980, Woodhaven was court ordered to close do to improper patient care. (Some sources site this date as in 1982)
This time, the building stayed closed. Everything was auctioned off and the doors were locked for good.
Amazingly from this time until the late 1990s, the main building remained virtually as it was, with some minor wear from time. However, in 1996, Waverly and the surrounding property were bought by a local Louisville man who had ideas all his own. In 1998, this owner began plans to demolish the building and erect a 150-foot tall statue of Jesus Christ and an adjoining Christian meditation center. After successfully demolishing all the buildings except the main hospital and the laundry room, he was stopped by an injunction because the building is on the National Historic Register's endangered list. Not one to let a little setback stop him, the owner went to plan B: let the building decay and get it condemned. He opened the building up to vandals; letting them smash out windows, porcelain toilets and sinks, and basically destroy anything they could get their hands on. Walls became covered in graffiti, doors were torn from their hinges, radiators were ripped out, and you name it. Rumor has it that he also fired his employees and refused to pay them, telling them to take what they could from the building for their final pay, forcing them to steal brass and marble. This wasn't enough, though. He next began digging around the foundation of the building to try to make the foundation crack. He dug as deep as 30 feet, but this building is solid concrete and is fire proof, so it isn't going anywhere, fortunately. Evidence of his digging can still be seen today.
It was during this time that accounts of strange activities at Waverly started circulating through the city. Rumors of “satanic rituals” taking place within the walls of the building were whispered, but what I feel was really happening was closer to vagrants moving in and locals visiting for drug deals. But other stories started surfacing as well. Waverly began to get a reputation as actively haunted. Many trespassers shared similar stories of phantom children playing hide and seek, doors slamming, disembodied voices, lights coming on when there was no power to the building, and some even witnessed a hearse drive up and drop off coffins.
Halloween weekend, 1999, the owner held “The Awakening of Waverly Manor.” He reopened the lobby and the first floor east wing for tours, a Halloween party, and a concert with local bands.
Stories of ghosts at Waverly continued to surface, and amazingly, most of them are akin to what others have experienced. Many have seen a little boy playing with his ball on the third floor, many people have witnessed “shadow people,” and there has been a report of a woman running from the building with chains on bleeding from the wrists shrieking, “Help me! Somebody save me!”
By 2001, this owner had given up and decided to sell the 29-acre property to the present owners. Thankfully, these owners are dedicated to restoring Waverly to its splendor, and have already made amazing headway!
In July of 2001, Triage Entertainment, the production company behind Fox television's “Scariest Places on Earth” decides to film an episode at Waverly and the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society was asked to participate as historians and guides.
Although some of the moments on the show are “done up” for television, not all of it is, and it is worth watching if you have a chance!
Starting in October of 2001, and every year since, the current owners have had a Haunted Hospital attraction to raise money for the restoration of the building.
There have been a few private investigations at Waverly with comparable findings such as apparitions, pin lights, shadow people, “glittering” lights, cold spots, footsteps, doors closing or the sounds of doors closing, food odors, and electronic voice phenomena including some researchers claiming to have been told to “get out.” Others have reported objects falling on them, or unknown presences touching, pushing, or tripping them.
Room 502 seems to have taken on a life all its own through the years. Depending on whom you get your story from, the legends vary greatly, so I'll tell you a few, then tell you what my research shows. Although it was told in tours for years that Room 502 was a nurses station, it was actually a patient's bathroom. Legend has it that it was the scene of two suicides by nurses. One allegedly hanged herself in 1928, while the other jumped out of the room's window at an unknown time. This legend states that the mentally ill patients were kept on the fifth floor and these patients had to go to a half door at the nurses' stations to get their food and medicine or to use the restroom that was adjacent to the nurses' station. When the nurse hanged herself, these patients had to continue to walk around her hanging body to use the restroom until the next nurse showed up for duty. Allegedly, the nurse was 29, unmarried, and pregnant. As to why the second nurse killed herself, I've never heard, nor could I find any record of it.
It is now known that there were never mental patients kept at Waverly Hills, let alone on the fifth floor. During the first years of the building the fifth floor was used for the children, but after that it was mostly occupied by ambulatory patients who were close to going home.
After years of this story being told, the legend changed from the suicide happening in room 502, and moved to the foyer area directly outside of the room. Even this legend has flaws as it is now known that the pipe the nurse allegedly hanged herself from wasn't even installed in the building until the 1970s when the building was Woodhaven Geriatric Sanitarium
One of the more odd occurrences at Waverly is the bizarre functioning of equipment, especially electromagnetic meters (EMF meters). Realistically, these meters should not even sound unless something magnetic has been encountered, and since Waverly has had no power to the building since the mid 1980's when the poles were knocked down and the wires removed, these meters should remain quiet while in the main building at Waverly. Paranormal investigators and ghost hunters also use EMF meters as a form of “ghost detector” as it is a widely held theory that ghosts or spirits are a form of energy that disrupts the natural electromagnetic fields when they are present. These meters pick up on this disturbance, and though it is not 100%, it is a good indicator that something may be present.
If I could digress a bit, another group that has been doing some research at Waverly has conducted experiments on the shadow people and have proven that they have mass. These anomalies trigger motion detectors! This is just another step in proving the energy theory since it is known that energy is mass.
Back to the EMF meters and other equipment, these electrical disturbances in Waverly have been reported to drain generators, melt equipment from the inside, and short out mobile phones.
In 2004, the movie “Death Tunnel” was filmed on location at Waverly. It is said it is based on local lore, legends, and history. I have not seen the film, but considering the main characters are five sorority girls, I have a feeling it is going to follow a bit of the typical horror film formula. This film is set for release some time in 2005. At the time of the filming of “Death Tunnel,” the filmmakers also made a documentary about Waverly Hills called, “Spooked.” Information about both of these can be found here:
Waverly Hills is private property, and trespassing is against the law. There are security guards on site 24 hours a day, and the owners live on the property as well. Do not trespass, don't even think about it. If you wish to visit Waverly, contact the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society for their next available tour.
To look at the outside of the building, the only damage you can see is the missing windows. Almost every window is missing from the building. Only on the Morgue wing have windows been replaced, this is the area currently being used as the security outpost.
Built in the “boomerang” or “batwing” style to keep the wind moving through the solarium, Waverly is uniquely shaped, with just the morgue wing coming out to what was known as the “body chute.” I'll get into that more in a bit.
Still located on the first floor of the building is the lobby, solarium and patient rooms, offices, medical labs, x-ray and dark room, a nurses station, a salon/barber shop, a dentist office, a library, the breaker and transformer rooms, cold rooms for meat and other food storage, an old electric/stone/water potato peeler (many believe it to be a meat grinder, its not), maintenance offices with a light indication system to let workers know if a cooler or transformer went out and needed repair, the north wing morgue.
On the second floor north wing is the kitchen area. This kitchen had the capacity and equipment to feed 500 people and a ventilation system that could completely change the air temperature every three minutes. Also on this wing were the bakery and the dining rooms. Serving 2,100 meals daily, the main cafeteria had the capacity to seat 328 employees and/or patients at one sitting and could be expanded to seat 448. One minor surgery/treatment room was located on the second floor as were a chapel, solarium and patient rooms, one kitchenette, one dinette, and two nurses stations.
Occupational therapy was held on the third floor, but otherwise it was basically the same as the others with one minor surgery/treatment room, solarium and patient rooms, one kitchenette, one dinette, and two nurses stations.
On the fourth floor, which many report to be the most haunted, were major surgery and the recovery rooms. Also located here was a waiting room, one minor surgery/treatment room, solarium and patient rooms, one kitchenette, one dinette, and two nurses stations.
What is referred to as the fifth floor is really just a few offices and some rooftop space. It was reserved for the heliotherapy department that treated TB of the bone with sunlight. Children with this disease had a swing set to play on while they received treatment. In these offices there was a very small nurses station and a kitchenette.
In the basement of the building there are elevator maintenance, access for the laundry building, crawl spaces for pipe maintenance, and an unidentified room containing a fire door.
THE BODY CHUTE
What is now called the “body chute” is actually a tunnel that leads from the hospital to the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill. Originally, this was built as nothing more than an underground tunnel to ship coal and food/produce up the hill to the hospital more efficiently. However, as the deaths continued to rise, the staff thought of another use. One side of the tunnel is concrete steps, while the other side consisted of a motorized rail and cable system. Eventually, this is where the bodies of the dead would be placed on gurney tables and lowered to the bottom of the tunnel where hearses would picked them up for funeral arrangements. This tunnel was totally enclosed from the morgue wing of the hospital insuring that the patients would not see how many bodies were leaving the hospital to keep up their morale. Doctors discovered early that mental health in patients is just as important as physical health.
This tunnel is approximately 500 feet long, and has air vents every few feet to let in light and fresh air. It has been said that the tunnel was large enough to hold all the patients and staff as a bomb shelter during both World Wars if needed.
Wow, where to start? I went to the 2004 Mid-South Paranormal Convention with fellow P.A.I. member Kelli Patrick on September 25, 2004 for the overnight investigation at the Waverly Sanatorium.
Our investigation started around 10pm in the cafeteria on the second floor. We'd recently been split into our groups, and were listening to Dale Kaczmarek speak on ghost photography when several of us suddenly felt extremely cold. I commented that my backpack felt like ice, and we all began looking for a source of a breeze, but could find none. The leaves on the trees outside were still. A few minutes later, the same feeling of cold came over us again, and again we were looking about for a source of this chill but found nothing. As we were looking, four of us happened to be looking towards the hallway windows and doors as a blond woman in a gown holding something over her mouth passed in front of one of the windows. She appeared to have a glowing effect to her, but what threw me the most was that she only passed in front of ONE of the windows, not the doors, or any of the other windows. All of us immediately commented, “Did you see that?” and one of our group ran to the hallway to find her, but there was no one there. My adrenaline was up! It was going to be a great night! None of us had our cameras at the ready, it happened so fast, but it was the kind of thing that I don't need to prove to anyone. I know what I saw.
When Dale was finished with his presentation, the official investigation started and our group went to the “body chute” first. It is an interesting place, not at all what I expected from what I'd been told or read. It is almost a peaceful place. While we were in there, we heard what sounded like the gate being slammed behind us several times, but when we'd check on it, the gate was always open just as we'd left it. At one point, we heard several voices talking right outside the gate, but when we went to explore, no one was there.
Next, we went to the Courtyard area. While we were there, this area had been decorated with fake tombstones and a coffin for the annual haunted house, so it seemed kind of silly to me, but I definitely had the feeling someone was watching from the third and fourth floor windows, but I never saw anyone there. Another member of our group took several photos, and a curtain was moved in one of them. We are still waiting to see if this was a person or not.
Then we returned to the second floor. Wow. With all the other people gone, and our lights shut off, the shadow people are clearly visible. I know what you may be thinking… but seriously. It's not like one or two, these “people” are everywhere in this building. They are like shadows that pass up and down the hallways, in and out of doorways, look out of windows, and it is just like someone is there. They actually move and break the moonlight. I'd never seen anything like it. At one point, they were literally all around us. I also witnessed pinpoints of light, and what I'll call “sparklers” for lack of a better term. I'd never seen anything like either of those before either. The “sparklers” were like bursts of glitter being tossed in the air with amazing light on them. I saw things like this on both the third and fourth floors as well. Also on the third and fourth floors we heard footsteps coming towards us when no one was there, and doors slamming.
Our group got several amazing photos from the third floor that I will be posting in our photos section, so be sure to check there! And visit our investigations page for other findings from this investigation!
ALSO BE SURE TO VISIT OUR 2005, & 2006 WAVERLY HILLS INVESTIGATION PAGE FOR MORE INVESTIGATION NOTES!
NOTE: Please do not contact our group for information on tours of Waverly Hills. We are based out of Kansas City, Missouri. For tour information, visit