WAVERLY HILLS SANATORIUM
Louisville, Kentucky


HAUNTING OF AMERICA by Troy Taylor -- Includes the First Definitive Account of Waverly Hills!


HAUNTED LOUISVILLE
History & Hauntings of the Derby City by Robert W. Parker


HAUNTED LOUISVILLE 2: BEYOND DOWNTOWN by Robert W. Parker


MYSTERIOUS KENTUCKY
The History, Mystery & Unexplained of the Bluegrass State by B.M. Nunnelly 


THE GHOST HUNTER'S GUIDEBOOK
The Essential Guide to Paranormal Research by Troy Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the 1800s and early 1900s, America was ravaged by a deadly disease known by many as the “white death” --- tuberculosis. This terrifying and very contagious plague, for which no cure existed, claimed entire families and sometimes entire towns. In 1900, Louisville, Kentucky had one of the highest tuberculosis death rates in America. Built on low, swampland, the area was the perfect breeding ground for disease and in 1910, a hospital was constructed on a windswept hill in southern Jefferson County that had been designed to combat the horrific disease. The hospital quickly became overcrowded though and with donations of money and land, a new hospital was started in 1924. 

The new structure, known as Waverly Hills, opened two years later in 1926. It was considered the most advanced tuberculosis sanatorium in the country but even then, most of the patients succumbed to the disease. In those days before medicine was available to treat the disease, it was thought that the best treatment for tuberculosis was fresh air, plenty of nutritious food and lots of rest. Many patients survived their stay at Waverly Hills but it is estimated that hundreds died here at the height of the epidemic.

In many cases, the treatments for the disease were as bad as the disease itself. Some of the experiments that were conducted in search of a cure seem barbaric by today’s standards but others are now common practice. Patient’s lungs were exposed to ultraviolet light to try and stop the spread of bacteria. This was done in “sun rooms”, using artificial light in place of sunlight, or on the roof or open porches of the hospital. Since fresh air was thought to also be a possible cure, patients were often placed in front of huge windows or on the open porches, no matter what the season. Old photographs show patients lounging in chairs, taking in the fresh air, while literally covered with snow.

Other treatments were less pleasant --- and much bloodier. Balloons would be surgically implanted in the lungs and then filled with air to expand them. Needless to say, this often had disastrous results, as did operations where muscles and ribs were removed from a patient’s chest to allow the lungs to expand further and let in more oxygen. This blood-soaked procedure was seen as a “last resort” and few of the patients survived it.

While the patients who survived both the disease and the treatments left Waverly Hills through the front door, the majority of patients left through what came to be known as the “body chute”. This enclosed tunnel for the dead led from the hospital to the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill. Using a motorized rail and cable system, the bodies were lowered in secret to the waiting trains. This was done so that patients would not see how many were leaving the hospital as corpses. Their mental health, the doctors believed, was just as important as their physical health.


Patients take in the sunlight on the open porches outside of the rooms.
(U of L Archives)


(Left) A staged display of the Pneumothorax procedure -- without all of the blood  (U of L Archives)

(Right) Patients making the best of life at Waverly Hills
(U of L Archive Photos)

By the late 1930s, tuberculosis had begun to decline around the world and by 1943, new medicines had largely eradicated in the United States. In 1961, Waverly Hills was closed down but was re-opened a year later as Woodhaven Geriatrics Sanitarium. There have been many rumors and stories told about patient mistreatment and unusual experiments during the years that the building was used an old age home. Some of them have been proven to be false but others have unfortunately turned out to be true. Electroshock therapy, which was considered to be highly effective in those days, was widely used for a variety of ailments. Budget cuts in the 1960s and 1970s led to both horrible conditions and patient mistreatments and in 1982, the state closed the facility for good.

Is any wonder, after all of the death, pain and agony within these walls, that Waverly Hills is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the country?

The buildings and land that made up Waverly Hills were auctioned off and changed hands many times over the course of the next two decades. By 2001, the once stately building had nearly destroyed by time, the elements and the vandals who came here looking for a thrill. Waverly Hills had become the local “haunted house” and it became a magnet for the homeless, looking for shelter, and teenagers, who broke in looking for ghosts. The hospital soon gained a reputation for being haunted and stories began to circulate of resident ghosts like the little girl who was seen running up and down the third floor solarium, the little boy who was spotted with a leather ball, the hearse that appeared in the back of the building dropping off coffins, the woman with the bleeding wrists who cried for help and others. Visitors told of slamming doors, lights in the windows as if power was still running through the building, strange sounds and eerie footsteps in empty rooms.

It was at this time that the hospital came to the attention of Keith Age, and the Louisville Ghost Hunter’s Society. Keith was a long-time friend of mine and a representative for the American Ghost Society in Louisville. It would be his work with a television show that would bring him to Waverly Hills. Over the course of the next several years, the group had a number of unexplainable encounters in the building.

One of the legends told of Waverly Hills involves a man in a white coat who has been seen walking in the kitchen and the smell of cooking food that sometimes wafts through the room. During their initial visit, they found the kitchen was a disaster, a ruin of broken windows, fallen plaster, broken tables and chairs and puddles of water and debris that resulted from a leaking roof.  The cafeteria had not fared much better. It was also in ruins and the team quickly retreated. Before they could do so though, several of them reported the sounds of footsteps, a door swinging shut and the smell of fresh baked bread in the air. A quick search revealed that no one else was in the building and there was certainly no one cooking anything in the kitchen. They could come up with no logical explanation for what had occurred.

Ghost researchers are always drawn to the fifth floor of the former hospital. The fifth floor consisted of two nurses’ stations, a pantry, a linen room, medicine room and two medium-sized rooms on both sides of the two nurses’ stations. One of these, Room 502, is the subject of many rumors and legends and just about every curiosity-seeker that had broken into Waverly Hills over the years wanted to see it. This is where, according to the stories, people have jumped to their deaths, have seen shapes moving in the windows and have heard disembodied voices that order trespassers to “get out”.

There is a lot of speculation as to what went on in this part of the hospital but what is believed is that mentally insane tuberculosis patients were housed on the fifth floor. This kept them far away from the rest of the patients in the hospital but still in an area where they could benefit from the fresh air and sunshine. This floor is actually centered in the middle of the hospital and the two wards, extending out from the nurses’ station, is glassed in on all sides and opens out onto a patio-type roof. The patients were isolated on either side of the nurses’ stations and they had to go to a half door at each station to get their food and medicine and to use the restroom, which was located adjacent to the station.  

The legends of the fifth floor are many:

Stories say that in 1928, the head nurse in Room 502 was found dead in Room 502. She had committed suicide by hanging herself from the light fixture. She was 29 years-old at the time of her death and allegedly, unmarried and pregnant. Her depression over the situation led her to take her own life. It’s unknown how long she may have been hanging in this room before her body was discovered.  And this would not be the only tragedy to occur in this room.

In 1932, another nurse who worked in Room 502 was said to have jumped from the roof patio and plunged several stories to her death. No one seems to know why she would have done this but many have speculated that she may have actually have been pushed over the edge. There are no records to indicate this but rumors continue to persist.

The Louisville Ghost Hunters Society was completely overwhelmed by Waverly Hills over the course of the next several years. They introduced the sanatorium to a national television audience, held two ghost conferences there and spent scores of thankless hours taking literally thousands of people through the building on more haunted tours than they could begin to count. They would also, during independent investigations and tours, experience numerous incidents of paranormal activity.

During a less than five year period, members of the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society experienced ghostly sounds, heard slamming doors, saw lights appear in the building when there should have been none, had objects thrown at them, were struck by unseen hands, saw apparitions in doorways and corridors and more. But none of the stories that I had been told could have prepared me for my first visit to Waverly Hills.  

The first time that I visited Waverly Hills was in September 2002. I was in town for the first Mid-South Paranormal Convention and one of the places that I asked Keith Age to show me in Louisville was Waverly Hills. I was already interested in the history of the place and had heard about the investigations that had been conducted there. I was anxious to see it and so Keith arranged a tour. It was literally a dark and stormy night when we arrived at the hospital and it had been raining all day. I was looking forward to seeing the place, no matter what the weather, and not because I was convinced that I would meet one of the former patients face to face -- it was simply to experience the place for myself. By this time, I had traveled all over the country and had been to hundreds of places that were alleged to be haunted. I had felt just this same way before exploring all of them, so Waverly Hills was no different. To me, it was just an old, spooky building with a fascinating history. The fact that it was alleged to be haunted simply added to the experience. I had long since abandoned the idea of going in expecting too much.

After meeting with the owners, Keith and I went inside and started our exploration of the building. The building was almost silent. All that I could hear was the sound of our own footsteps, our hushed voices and the drip of rain as it slipped through the cracks in the roof and splashed down onto the floor. Keith led me through the place and pointed out the various rooms, the treatment areas, the kitchen, morgue and on and on. We climbed the stairs to the top floor and I saw legendary Room 502, as well as the lights of Louisville as they reflected off the low and ominous-looking clouds that had gathered above the city.

During our excursion, I mentioned to Keith that there had been one floor that we had missed ---- the fourth floor. He explained that this was the only floor in the building whose entrance was kept locked and he had saved it for last. I remembered then some of the stories that had been passed on to me about this floor. Most of those who had spent much time here regarded the fourth floor as the most active --- and most frightening --- part of Waverly Hills.

When I entered the fourth floor for the first time, I got the distinct feeling that something strange was in the air. I make absolutely no claims of any psychic ability whatsoever but there was just something about this floor of the hospital that felt different than any of the others. What had been nothing more than just an old ramshackle and broken down building suddenly seemed different. I can’t really put into words what felt so strange about it but it almost seemed to be a tangible “presence” that I had not encountered anywhere else in the place. And right away, eerie things started to happen.

We had entered the floor in what I believe was the center of the building. Behind us was a wing that I was told was not safe to enter. Sections of the floor had fallen in and this area was off-limits to tours and visitors. The strange thing about it was that both Keith and I clearly heard the sounds of doors slamming from this part of the building. I can assure the reader that it was not the wind either. The wind was not strong enough that night to have moved those heavy doors and this clearly sounded as though someone was closing them very hard. When I questioned Keith about who else could be up there with us, he explained me about how unsafe the floors were in that section. I investigated on my own and determined that he was correct --- there was no one walking around on that part of the fourth floor.

As we started down the hallway, Keith told me about some of the other experiences that had been experienced by investigators on this floor. The experiences involved the strange shapes that had been seen. The sightings had started the previous October when, on consecutive nights, investigators were able to see what looked like human shadows moving up and down the fourth floor hallway. One of the shadows in particular actually appeared to look around corners at them and all of the shapes passed back and forth across the doorways. Keith added that sightings like this had occurred at other times as well and happened most often when no flashlights were used in the corridor.

I switched off my flashlight and we walked down the corridor using only the dim, ambient light from outside. The hallway runs through the center of the building and on either side of it are former patient rooms. Beyond the rooms is the “porch” area that opens to the outside. It was here where the patients were placed to take in the fresh air. There was no glass ever placed in the huge outer windows, which has left the interior of the floor open to the elements ever since. On this night, the windows also illuminated the corridor, thanks to the low-hanging clouds that glowed with the lights of Louisville. We walked down through the dark and murky corridor and I began to see shadows that flickered back and forth. I was sure that this was trick of the eye though, likely caused by the lights or the wind moving something outside and so I urged Keith on for a closer look. It was where the corridor angled to the right that I got a look at something that was definitely not a trick of the eye!

So that the reader can understand what I saw, I have to explain that the hallway ahead of us continued straight for a short distance and then turned sharply to the right. In the early 1900s, most institutions of this type were designed in this manner. It was what was dubbed the “bat-wing” design, which meant that there was a main center in each building and then the wings extended right and left, then angled again so that they ran slightly backward like a bird, or bat, wings. Directly at the angle ahead of us was a doorway that led into a treatment room. I only noticed the doorway in the darkness because the dim light from the windows beyond it had caused it to glow slightly. This made it impossible to miss since it was straight ahead of us.

We took a few more steps and then, without warning, the clear and distinct silhouette of a man crossed the lighted doorway, passed into the hall and then vanished into a room on the other side of the corridor! I got a distinct look at the figure and I know that it was a man and that he was wearing what appeared to be a long, white drape that could have been a doctor’s coat. The sighting only lasted a few seconds but I knew what I had seen.

And for some reason, it shocked and startled me so badly that I let out a yell and grabbed a hold of Keith’s jacket. I am not sure why it affected me in that way but perhaps it was the setting, the man’s sudden appearance, my own anxiety --- or likely all of these things. Regardless, after my yell, I demanded that Keith turn on the light and that he help me to examine the room the man had vanished into. After my initial fright, I became convinced that someone else was on the floor with us. Keith assured me we were the only ones there but he did help me search for the intruder. There was no one there, though, he was right, whoever the figure had been, he had utterly and completely vanished.

I was not the first person to have seen this mysterious figure on the fourth floor and it’s unlikely that I will be the last. However, for me, this put Waverly Hills into a unique category for there are not many places that I will firmly state are genuinely haunted. Before I can do that, I have to have my own unexplainable experience and hopefully, it will be something that goes beyond a mere “bump in the night” or spooky photograph. In this case, it was much more than that because I actually saw a ghost. In all of my years of paranormal research, I can count the times that I have seen ghosts on just two fingers and one of them was at Waverly Hills.

In this case, seeing really was believing.

Over the course of the next couple of years, I returned to Waverly Hills many times and while I was lucky enough to experience some of the other hauntings associated with the place, none of these visits have stuck with me the way that the first one did. I'll never forget that trip and one of the first times that I actually saw a ghost!

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 © COPYRIGHT 2013 BY TROY TAYLOR. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.