Waverly Hills Sanitarium
The Haunted Hospital
The Waverly Hills Sanitarium in Louisville Kentucky has it all– cold spots, disembodied voices, and ghosts roaming the halls. It sits on a hill overlooking the city and seems like a reigning fortress of gloom in its eerie, decaying state. The atmosphere is further darkened by a chilling history of mass death and of patient abuse during the years it was used as a geriatric hospital.
In 1910, a wooden two-story hospital was built on the site, which was the highest elevated hill in southern Jefferson County. But with tuberculosis rampant in the area, the building wasn’t big enough to house all of the patients. And so a new building was constructed in 1924, and the new Waverly Hospital opened in 1926.
Treatment for the dreaded disease was primitive at the time. Without antibiotics, natural cures provided the only available defense. Health care providers believed that rest and plenty of fresh air and sunshine was the answer; thus patients spent the majority of their time in the solarium-like porch ways. You can see in the picture above that the patients are just outside their rooms on an enclosed porch. The large windows had no glass and were screened. Even in the winter, patients would be placed outdoors with heating blankets (such tuberculosis treatments were the reason why heating blankets were invented.).
Besides such natural remedies, doctors tried many dangerous experimental treatments, including pneumothorax, surgically collapsing or deflating a portion of the lung to allow healing, and thoracoplasty, which involved opening the chest and removing up to two to three ribs at a time so that the lung would have more room to expand and heal. Other dire experimental methods reigned as well.
None of these treatments were effective. In fact, fewer than five percent of patients survived the pneumothorax method.
Thousands of people died at Waverly before streptomycin was discovered in 1943–some estimates are as high as 64,000. Ten thousand died during Waverly’s first three years alone. But by the 1950’s, tuberculosis was nearly eradicated thanks to the antibiotic. As a result, the need for such a huge facility to handle tuberculosis patients was no longer needed, and the hospital closed in 1961.
It reopened a year later as the Woodhaven Geriatrics Sanitarium, where tales of patient mistreatment and unusual experiments were rife.
The state of Kentucky closed it in 1982, because of the claims of patient abuse.
The buildings, contents, and land were auctioned off and the doors were locked for good.
Over the next 18 years, the ownership of the building changed many times. The second owner wanted to tear it down but was stopped at the last minute, because the property was on the National Historic Register’s “endangered” list. He decided that if he couldn’t legally tear it down then he would do everything in his power to get it condemned.
He encouraged vandalism and people broke windows, porcelain sinks, toilets and doors. They sprayed the walls with graffiti and defaced stone and wood. The owner then dug around the foundation, in some places as deep as 30 feet, in hopes that the foundation would crack. If this happened, he believed, he could get the building condemned and would be able to legally tear it down. But his efforts failed, and he finally gave up and sold the property in 2001.
Efforts are now being made to renovate the hospital, and in recent years, interest has grown in the building’s history. It was even featured in a segment of Fox Television’s, World’s Scariest Places, and on MTV’s, Fear. A documentary is now in the works called, Spooked, and the feature film Death Tunnel should hit theaters around Halloween.
There are rumors that satanic rituals took place within Waverly’s walls, of a little girl moving about the third floor solarium playing hide and seek with trespassers, of a little boy named “Bobby” playing with his leather ball, of rooms lighting up when the building was without power, of doors slamming, disembodied voices, a hearse driving up and dropping off coffins, and an old woman running from the front door with her wrists bleeding. Supposedly she screams: “Help me. Somebody save me!”
Ghosts have been seen in the form of shadow people and ectoplasm clouds, and even in full apparition form. Cries and screams are frequently heard in the lonely, moldering halls.
Here are some of the most well-known supernatural occurrences in the building:
Here the ghost of an old woman has often been seen. Sometimes she runs out the front door. Her hands and legs are in chains and spectral blood drips from her wrists and ankles. She cries for help before she dissipates into thin air.
The Third Floor
Many have seen a little girl on the third floor who is known as “Mary.” Some say that she plays with a ball. Others have only heard the ball bouncing on the floor or down the stairs. This ball bouncing has also been attributed to a little boy, but the little girl seems the spookiest. One witness said that he encountered a little girl who “wasn’t normal.” She kept saying that she has no eyes. He was so terrified that he refused to enter the building again. Some have seen the child peering out the third floor windows.
The Nurse’s Station is, perhaps, the most notorious and frightening room of all. Supposedly people have jumped to their deaths from this room. Others have seen spectral images floating in the windows and heard disembodied voices say: “Get out!”
The story goes that in 1928, the head nurse was found dead in the room. She had hanged herself from the light fixture. No one knows why the 29-year-old woman would take her own life, but it’s believed that she was unmarried and pregnant. It is unknown how long her body hung before she was finally discovered. The county coroner’s office attributed her death to suicide.
In 1932, another nurse who worked in room 502 supposedly committed suicide when she jumped from the balcony of the roof. No one knows why.
In addition to hearing voices on this floor, witnesses have seen the full body apparition of a female nurse in white and have reported that room 502 gives them an “unsettling” feeling of great despair.
Some have heard children chanting verses on the roof such as, “Ring around the Rosy.”
But why would the spirits of children occupy the roof? When the hospital was a tuberculosis facility, children were taken to the rooftop for heliotherapy, a treatment of exposure to the supposed healing rays of the sun.
The Body Chute or Death Tunnel
What is now called the “body chute” is actually a 500 foot long tunnel that leads from the hospital to the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill. Deceased patients were sent down the tunnel via gurneys to a waiting hearse. This was done so that patients wouldn’t see the hearses or the bodies–in order to keep patient morale high.
Concrete steps line one side of the tunnel while the other side consists of a motorized rail and cable system. Voices are often heard along the long eerie passage.
Cafeteria and Kitchen
A spectral man in a white coat and pants supposedly roams this area. No one knows who he is but some think he’s an old employee of Waverly who contracted tuberculosis and died. The smell of food often wafts from the kitchen though no meals have been served since 1982 when the mental hospital was closed.
Some regard the fourth floor as the most scary and “active” area of the hospital. There have been many reports of ghostly shadow-like people treading the halls. In addition, doors frequently slam for no apparent reason on this floor.
A guard saw a floating head in one of the rooms late at night. He screamed and rushed downstairs where he passed out. He was so terrified that he never returned to the sanitarium.
Many people have also reported that they’ve seen lights in the building at night though there has been no electricity in the building for many years and no glass to reflect light. A security guard once reported that while he was outside, he’d seen what appeared to be the distinct flicker of a television screen on the third floor. He went upstairs to investigate but found nothing out of the ordinary.
Troy Taylor of the Louisville Ghost Hunter’s Society investigated the building in 2001 and captured a strange photo of a light burning in a stairwell though there were no lights in the building at the time and no light hanging in that spot. See that photo and many others here. In addition, he got several very odd readings from his EMF meter–a piece of equipment that detects disruptions in electro-magnetic fields, which are often associated with hauntings.
So is the hospital haunted? It certainly appears to be. Hopefully, in the near future, I’ll be able to travel there and get some first-hand experience. It would be even more exciting if Marie St. Claire could accompany me. I’ve asked Marie St. Claire to try to connect to the hospital to see what she picks up from afar. Here are her impressions.
Marie’s St. Claire’s Psychic Investigation
I can’t tell you how much this building bothered me during the course of my investigation.
I spent a whole day studying photos of Waverly in order to connect. And I made a very strong psychic connection. At first I was fascinated with the place, but as I started to connect on a deeper level, feelings of despair and anger surfaced and quickly began to overwhelm me. Suddenly, I found Waverly repulsive. It caused a definite–though temporary–mental change in me.
I can’t say that there’s necessarily something evil there, but I did pick up on a lot of bad feelings and mental anguish, which were so strong that they made me physically ill–nauseous. I feel that much of this pain came not from the tuberculosis era but from the geriatric era of the hospital. Though certainly the TB deaths have left their mark as well.
I doubt that I could go there in the flesh. I don’t know if I could bear the overwhelming emotions that pour from this building.
There is an old woman in the building with blood and metal cuffs on her arms. She most often inhabits the lower levels of the hospital near the entry. Someone she loved took her to the hospital, a son or daughter perhaps, long before her death, and, for whatever reason, abandoned her. She’s still waiting for that person to come and rescue her, to take her home, but, of course, that will never happen.
She’s thin with long, gray, scraggly hair and large expressive eyes. She is a patient of the geriatric hospital–not the TB hospital. She was treated badly and felt like a prisoner. The chains and blood are symbolic, however, the staff often restrained her to the point where her arms became raw and bloody.
In addition, she was often cold, not fed well, and allowed to lay in her urine for long periods of time. I’m not sure what was wrong with her other than old age and possibly dementia. Her soul is in pain and not at rest. She does not grasp that, in death, she is free. She is still living the nightmare of her confinement in the hospital and is seeking help. You can help her by praying for her.
There is the spirit of an eight-year old girl there. Like the old woman, she can’t accept or understand that she’s dead. She was in bad shape when she arrived at the hospital, and she died quite suddenly. She feels lost and so alone. She wonders where he parents are.
Many are fascinated with room 502 and the stories of two nurses that supposedly killed themselves. I only saw one nurse, very attractive, dark haired, shapely, and young, associated with that room. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t another–only that I didn’t pick her up during this brief investigation.
The nurse went about her duties but was burdened with feelings of great despair and hopelessness that she hid from everyone, feeling that no one would understand her plight. Some of the negative energy affecting her came from the environment and from the isolation in working there. I don’t know if she was pregnant. Nothing I saw suggested it.
Is she one of the nurses who reportedly killed herself? I think so. I believe that someone jumped from the roof when the building was used as a sanitarium. I never saw a hanging in my vision. And I never actually saw this nurse kill herself; nor did she reveal that to me, but it’s likely from the feelings of gloom and despair that I picked up from her that she’s the one who jumped from the roof. The anguish she carried was just too heavy to bear. She felt cornered with no way out.
To learn more about her, I would have to try another connection and focus entirely on her–something I’m not anxious to do, considering the negative affect that the hospital had on me. Still, at some time, I might take another peek as I’d like to know more about this nurse.
In conclusion, Waverly is very haunted. I’m not surprised that a place with such a dark history is. I would be more surprised if it wasn’t. If you go there, pray–for your own protection and for the poor souls who are stuck there.
Written by By Bobette Bryan and Marie St. Claire © 2005