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Mysterious Hauntings: Waverly Hills Sanatorium

The good people at Wikipedia define tuberculosis as an infectious disease caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. WebMD states that though it's mostly known for affecting the lungs, it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain and spine. Most infections, known as latent tuberculosis, show no symptoms and cannot be spread. Around 10% of latent infections progress to active TB. If left untreated, it can kill about half of those who contract it. Historically, the disease was referred to as consumption due to the fact that the patient would waste away physically. Symptoms include a severe cough with bloody mucus, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. An airborne disease, it's simply spread when a patient with active TB coughs, spits, sneezes, or even speaks.

In 1883, the land in Louisville, Kentucky that would eventually become Waverly Hills Sanatorium was bought by Major Thomas Hays. He bought the land to build his family's home on. A nice, quiet sanctuary away from everything and everyone. It was far from the local schools as well, pushing Major Hays to erect a small, one-room schoolhouse for his daughters. He hired a teacher for the girls, whose name is reported as Miss Lizzie Lee Harris by Wikipedia and grunge.com, but as Lizzie Lee Hawkins by iHorror.com. The discrepancy could simply mean that she got married at some point while she was employed with the Hays family. Lizzie decided to name the school Waverley School due to her love of the Waverley novels of Walter Scott. Major Hays thought the name sounded so peaceful and lovely that he named his property Waverley Hill.

It's not known when, but at some point the spelling of Waverley Hills changed to drop the second "e." Nevertheless, the name was kept when the tuberculosis hospital opened on July 26, 1910. A devastating epidemic swept through Jefferson County in the early 1900s. Also known as the White Plague, the outbreak spread quickly due to the wetlands along the Ohio River. It was the perfect breeding ground for the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria to thrive. The staggering amount of tuberculosis cases that seemed to be stacking up, along with the bodies, caused the need for a hospital all its own. Construction of a two-story wooden sanatorium began in 1908.

The city of Louisville began making preparations for a new city hospital in the early part of 1911. Nowhere in their plans did the hospital commissioners include provisions to admit those with advanced cases of tuberculosis. The Board of Tuberculosis Hospital was given $25,000 for the treatment and care of patients at Waverly Hills instead. Officialdata.org calculated the worth to be $760,813.16 today. The money was spent to build a hospital specially for advanced cases that added another 40 beds to the ever-expanding facility. On August 31, 1912, all of the tuberculosis patients housed at the old city hospital were relocated to temporary quarters in tents until the new addition could be finished. It was finally completed in December 1912.

In 1914, a children's pavilion was erected, adding another 50 beds. This brought the known capacity at the time to around 130. The children's pavilion was not only intended for sick children, but for children of the sick as well. For the boys and girls whose parents were stricken ill, they were taken care of by the Waverly Hills staff.


The ultimate goal was to add another building every year to accommodate the ever-growing need for space. The Board didn't want to see a patient turned away simply because there wasn't enough room to house them. The original building was in constant need of repairs and the wooden structure wasn't exactly sound. There was also the issue of space. As soon as one bed emptied, two more filled up. In March 1924, construction began on a five-story structure built of concrete and brick. It was capable of holding more than 400 patients. This much needed, more durable institution is the sanatorium that stands today.


The new hospital opened on October 17, 1926. Grunge.com describes the facility as sprawling across 180,000 square feet of land. The building featured separate patient rooms, rather than the communal ones typical for that time. It also included "sunrooms" for the exposure to sunlight that doctors thought was critical to stop the spread of the bacteria. Labs were of course included in the facility, as well as recreational rooms for the resident's entertainment. The sanatorium was its own little city, complete with its own ZIP code, radio station, post office, and water treatment facility. The institution even grew their own fruits and vegetables and raised, slaughtered, and butchered their own meat. Laundry facilities and an auto garage were also needed on site.

Open air pavilions were a big feature at Waverly Hills. Aside from plenty of sunlight, fresh air was thought to be very beneficial for those suffering from TB. People would be taken out to these patios to bask in the sun and take in the fresh air, no matter what the temperature was outside. Patients would be left outside to roast on hot days and to freeze when it was cold. All so they could breathe the fresh, country air into their diseased lungs.


Due to the extreme contagiousness of the disease, doctors, nurses, and other staff members were made to live on site along with the patients they cared for. It was very important that they separate themselves from the general public to contain the White Plague that was already spreading rampant throughout the state. Kentucky led the nation in tuberculosis deaths, with some 2000 people dying every year. The sanatorium's mortality rate was about one death per day during its operation.

With so much death in a facility it was important to keep a sunny, upbeat mood in the sanatorium. The Waverly Hills staff did all they could to make the patient's stay as pleasant as possible. There was even a visitors day to boost morale around the hospital before doctors began to understand how the disease was being spread. In an effort to keep spirits high and hopes from depleting, the bodies of those that died were removed discreetly through the employee's private back entrance. The 500 foot corridor was aptly named the body chute. The chute ended at the railroad behind the hospital so bodies could be loaded onto trains and carried away. Although this was the private entrance for staff and the inconspicuous exit for the deceased, the body chute served another purpose. It was also used to bring in supplies and necessities for the hospital.

In an attempt to find a cure, patients were subjected to a battery of barbaric treatments. Aside from sunrooms and fresh-air pavilions, a number of strange and horrifying procedures were performed. The Peculiar Adventurer reports that balloons would be inflated inside of their lungs to expand them and help patients breathe. A procedure known as a thoracoplasty involved doctors removing two to three ribs from a patient to help their breathing. Many patients were required to endure several painful surgeries to remove up to eight ribs, though. The results of these risky procedures were often death.

Other very invasive procedures reported by iHorror.com included Lobectomies and Pneumectomies, which involved surgically removing the infected parts of the lungs. On some occasions an entire lung was taken from a patient. Doctors even tried blowing air either into the lung itself or the cavity between the lungs. This was known as an artificial pneumothorax. The purpose for this very painful procedure was to artificially collapse the diseased portion of the lung to allow it to rest, and theoretically heal the lesions. Those unlikely to pull through afterward would just try to rest their lungs as much as possible, lying on the side most affected by the lesions. This restricted the movement of the diseased lung with their posture and the pull of gravity.

For more than twenty years doctors treated TB with these brutal remedies, hoping to find a cure. Of course, fresh air, sunlight, healthy foods, and plenty of bed rest were among the treatments administered. In 1943, the antibiotic streptomycin was introduced, causing the number of TB cases to gradually fall. Eventually the need for such a facility would no longer exist. Though the antibiotic was introduced to the public in 1943, it wasn't made available at Waverly Hill Sanatorium until 1949. Once it finally became available new patients could be treated as outpatients at a regular hospital. Abandoned Online records show that the number of patients dropped from 373 in 1950 to 293 in 1960. Waverly Hills seemed to no longer be needed, so it closed its doors in 1961, sending its remaining patients off to Hazelwood Sanatorium in Louisville.

The building wasn't closed for very long after. In 1962, it was reopened as Woodhaven Geriatric Center. This was a nursing home that primarily dealt with those struggling with various stages of dementia and limited mobility. They also specialized in treating the severely mentally handicapped. According to the Peculiar Adventurer, the institution was an epic failure. It was severely understaffed and over-populated, leading to patient neglect. Residents were also abused and even subjected to unusual experimentation, such as electroshock therapy.

Grunge.com reports that a grand jury found multiple instances of patient abuse and obvious signs that the building itself was being neglected as well. Patients were transferred to another care facility and Woodhaven was closed for criminal abuse in 1982. Lasting only twenty years before the courts closed it down, it truly was an epic failure.


In 1983 the building was bought by Simpsonville developer J. Clifford Todd. He purchased it for $300,500, today worth $872,261.59. His vision was to work alongside architect Milton Thompson to turn the building into a minimum security prison for the state. This vision was quickly obliterated by the ensuing protests organized by angry locals that did not want a state prison in their area. This wave of protests hit so quickly that his project never even got off the ground.

Todd wasn't deterred entirely. He'd already bought the property and didn't want his investment to go to waste. His next big idea was to turn the old sanatorium into apartments, but this was yet another idea that would never even get off the ground. He was reliant on the Jefferson Fiscal Court to buy about 140 acres from him for $400,000. Today that would be worth $1,161,080.32. He needed that money to get his project underway, but the deal fell through.

In 1996, Waverly Hills and the surrounding area was purchased by Robert Alberhasky and his Christ Redeemer Foundation Inc. He was making plans to erect the world's tallest statue of Jesus Christ on top of the building. The Peculiar Adventurer states that the project would've run the incorporation $4 million, which today would come out to $7,370,529. Had the statue been built, it would've stood 150 feet tall and 150 feet wide and would've been modeled after the famous statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro. There were also plans to renovate the inside of the building, bringing the total for the entire project to somewhere between $8-$10 million. Today that would be between $14,741,058-$18,426,322.50. As the project was solely funded by donations it fell through, only managing to raise $3000 of the outrageous amount targeted.

The building is now owned and run by Charles and Tina Mattingly, who bought the property in 2001. They established the Waverly Hills Historical Society in order to raise money for the interior restoration of the building. They reopened the defunct sanatorium as a haunted attraction to much success. They are also well known for their annual Halloween events.

In April of this year the old sanatorium was the site of protests amid a legal battle, according to WHAS11 ABC. The very Historical Society that the Mattinglys started took them to court, claiming that Charles is seeking taxpayer money to help with the property. Loyal locals and fans of the attraction protested throughout an entire weekend to show their support for the Mattinglys. They also wanted to show their concern. Their fear was that the Historical Society would change everything and stop the haunted tours. They didn't want to see the Waverly Hills they'd come to know and love cease to exist. The Historical Society addressed their concerns, stating that a 99-year lease agreement had been signed with the Mattinglys after an IRS investigation into Charles and his nonprofit. They clarified that they will not be pushing out the owners, demolishing any buildings on the property, or changing anything about the attraction.

The Historical Society continues to take care of the costs associated with the property as they have for the past twenty years. The attraction can still be visited and many eerie occurrences are said to take place there. Like any other haunted hospital, the sounds of disembodied footsteps, slamming doors, and screaming patients are reported. Shadow figures have been seen flitting through the halls, among other disturbing specters. One of the most haunted areas of the old hospital is obviously the body chute. Reports of a ghostly hearse dropping off coffins at the private entrance have been made. People have also reported seeing a woman with bleeding, bloody wrists begging them for help in that area.

A man in a white coat has been witnessed wandering around a completely trashed kitchen. The windows appear to be broken, as well as the furniture, and the smell of food emanates from the room. It's the fifth floor that attracts everyone to investigate, though. While the body chute may be one of the most haunted spots in the sanatorium, the fifth floor is said to be the height of the paranormal activity. It's claimed that this was the floor that mentally disturbed patients were held on, but this was not the case. This was actually the floor that contained the open air pavilions for the tuberculosis patients. Patients were encouraged to move about freely on that floor as both of its wards were glassed in to maximize sunlight.

For years before the hospital opened as a haunted attraction, teenagers used to break into the building just to investigate the storied fifth floor. People have seen shapes moving in the fifth floor windows from the ground level. While up there, many have apparently heard a voice telling them to get out. Some have even jumped to their deaths from the old pavilions. Those with no history of suicidal ideation have reported the overwhelming feeling to jump from the patios on the top floor. Some have had to be talked down because they felt so compelled to jump.


Room 502 seems to be the center of the activity taking place on the top floor of the building. Stories tell of a nurse that hanged herself in that room after finding out she was pregnant outside of wedlock in 1928. It's been said that in 1932 another nurse working in that room jumped to her death from the patio. Some stories say that she was pushed, though. According to grunge.com, both stories have been found to be false as there are no reported nurse suicides anywhere in Waverly Hills' grim history. There also would've been no possible way for the nurse to hang herself in that room in 1928. The light fixture wasn't sturdy enough to hold any amount of weight and the sprinkler pipe that is now there wasn't installed until the 1970s. The only known source of these stories is now deceased, but was a former staff member that would've been a child at the time of these alleged occurrences.

One of the friendlier spirits you may encounter is Timmy. He's a young boy that wanders the halls, playing with his leather ball. Guests are known to bring balls to Timmy only to see them floating off later on, as if carried away by invisible little hands. This friendly and seemingly sociable specter is always looking for someone to play with. A much more frightening encounter is that of the woman in chains. With chains bound around her wrists, she howls for help as she wanders the hallways. If you get close to her she will only begin to scream and run away. Some think the woman in chains to be a patient from the geriatric center.

About the creepiest-sounding thing to run across at the sanatorium is without a doubt the Creeper. It's named for its creeping, crawling movements up and around the walls, ceiling, and the floor. It moves like some sort of distorted reptile, creeping along whatever surface it grabs hold of. Some believe it to be the misshapen, contorted apparition of a mistreated patient from the geriatric center. They think that whatever trauma it suffered is manifesting itself in its twisted appearance. If you ask me that thing sounds more demonic than anything else. Demons are not able to appear entirely human because they have never been human. Those that have been unfortunate enough to encounter the Creeper report overwhelming feelings of dread whenever it draws near, much like a demon would.

On the third floor of the sanatorium The Peculiar Adventurer states that a little girl is said to run up and down the halls. Lights have been witnessed appearing in darkened windows of long abandoned rooms. There are even some that claim to have been slapped by ghostly, invisible hands while touring the old hospital. One of the creepiest experiences reported time and time again are the ghostly reflections that appear in broken mirrors. You will see your own reflection staring back at you, but it will do things that you are not doing as you watch intently. People have stood transfixed, watching their ghostly doppelgangers making movements that they were not making themselves.

The old Waverly Hills Sanatorium is certainly a scary haunt to check out if you're in the area and in need of a little spine-tingling fun. Every Halloween you can expect the owners to have events planned for those who want a ghostly experience for spooky season. Though the site has been the center of recent legal battles, nothing has been changed and the site is still open to tour. Events and tours can be planned by visiting therealwaverlyhills.com. They not only have all the information you need to plan your next ghost hunting trip, they also have a lot of interesting history on the facility itself.

So, is Waverly Hills Sanatorium really haunted? There are certainly enough stories about the institution to make one wonder. The only way to know for sure is to book your visit and go see for yourself. Maybe just steer clear of the fifth floor if you don't want to encounter the apparent epicenter of the activity. And definitely be sure to look out for the Creeper and stay away from broken mirrors.

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