Among all of the haunted places filled with stories of the supernatural, some of the more popular and indeed most incredibly haunted of these are the many old, abandoned sanitariums and sanatoriums out there. After all, these are places well-versed in suffering, pain, and death, their walls saturated in it over their usually very grim histories, making them wellsprings of stories of ghosts and the unexplained. Among these one of the more well-known and indeed infamous is a sanitorium tucked away within the U.S. state of Kentucky, which has accrued a reputation as being one of the most haunted places there is.
Perched upon a hilltop in southwestern Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky, is the former Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a looming, monolithic building that looks like something out of a dark gothic fairy tale, and in many ways, it sort of is. Opened in 1910 on land that once held a schoolhouse, the sanatorium was designed to deal with the rising epidemic of tuberculosis that was plaguing the region at the time. In those days this was a scary, incurable disease that was largely seen as akin to a death sentence, made even more panic-inducing in that very little was known about the disease or how it spread, and so patients were typically locked away from the rest of the world in sanatoriums. Since Louisville was experiencing a surge in cases that swamped its other facilities, Waverly Hills was constructed to pick up the slack, and in its day it was considered a true marvel.
The facility rapidly expanded to become more or less its own self-contained city. Waverly Hills had its own fields and livestock, vegetable fields, water treatment facility, and even its own radio station, post office and zip code. The idea was to be completely self-reliant and isolated, and indeed everyone who came here, including doctors, nurses, and staff were required to cut off all links to the outside world, say goodbye to those they knew, and remain within this place permanently, making it almost like leaving Earth behind on a one-way voyage to some far away world. Their only link to those they had left behind were occasional visit days that were strictly controlled, limited, and overseen, so they were basically all on their own. Over the years many expansions were built, including a hospital for advanced cases and a children’s pavilion, vast open-air areas, and there was a new building built practically every year. At the time it was considered to be one of the largest and most advanced tuberculosis sanatoriums in the country, if not the world, yet despite the well-equipped facilities and the placid scenery of peaceful forests and scenic views from atop the hill, this was most certainly a place of darkness.
In those days there was very little known on how to treat tuberculosis, or much about it at all other than its lethal effects. Treatments were typically everything doctors could throw at the wall to see what stuck. Open air, sunshine, heat lamps, a hodgepodge of various medications, and hope and prayer were the most common ways, but these unfortunately didn’t work. Some other treatments were a bit more ominous and often nearly as deadly as the disease itself, such as and pneumectomy, a procedure in which infected parts of the lung and sometimes the entire lung were surgically removed, and thoracoplasty, which was the removal of several rib bones from the chest wall to collapse a lung. Death was an everyday occurrence here, with bodies piling up and shipped out on a daily basis, and to be sent to Waverly Hills was a one-way ticket, a veritable death sentence. It got to the point where death was so commonplace that bodies were sometimes carried out right in front of other patients, although mostly they tried to do this through a secret tunnel and away from witnesses. Nevertheless, it was hugely demoralizing, spreading fear and panic among a populace that was increasingly more aware that the medical professionals had no idea what they were doing. And they didn’t, that was until a breakthrough came in the 1940s, which would serve both as a ray of hope and the end of days for Waverly Hills.
In 1944, there was a groundbreaking discovery of a type of antibiotic that could successfully treat tuberculosis, called streptomycin, and with this amazing new treatment the need for such a large sanatorium became steadily unnecessary, rendering Waverly Hills obsolete. It shuttered its doors in 1961, only to be briefly resurrected as a geriatric facility known as Woodhaven Medical Services, before closing for good in 1981. The vast facility was then considered variously as the location of a prison, a hotel, and a conference center, changing hands several times, but mostly it just became a derelict, abandoned place that would go on to draw plenty of spooky tales, finally coming into possession of its current owners in 2001, historical and paranormal enthusiasts Charles and Tina Mattingly, who have made great efforts to try and restore it and fund the restoration through annual haunted house events. Oh, and while we are here, of course Waverly Hills is extremely haunted, with Mattingly saying:
When you have that kind of death, you can’t help but to think there might be a spirit lingering around that just isn’t happy. It’s almost an everyday occurrence here when we have the overnighters come in, they all claim they see apparitions, ghosts, shadow movements, things like that. When you’re around it and you actually see this stuff, and people can’t explain it – I mean, there’s some things we can explain but many we can’t – you start to wonder, is there something about a spirit that stays around?
It should be no surprise considering the history of death pervading this place, and the list of paranormal activity here is long. Numerous shadow figures, apparitions of patients, nurses, and doctors, roving cold spots, orbs, anomalous lights, moving objects, locked doors unlocking and opening themselves, electronic equipment going haywire, EVP (electronic voice phenomenon), being accosted by invisible hands, unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and changes to heart rate, you name it, Waverly Hills has it. One of the most haunted places at the old sanatorium is the tunnel once used to shuttle away dead bodies, often called “The Body Chute,” which is patrolled by all manner of shadowy, often very aggressive apparitions. The children’s pavilion is also well-known for being haunted by the spirit of a little boy called Timmy, who will sometimes allegedly play with balls left out for him. There is also the infamous Room 502, which is haunted by a nurse who once worked here and hung herself in the room after falling into crippling depression from her job, as well as another nurse who also killed herself here by jumping from the window. Room 502 is said to be so imbued with negative energy and a sense of overwhelming despondency and sadness that it is impossible to stay in there for very long, and is one of the most haunted places in the whole facility. The roof of Waverly Hills is also said to be rather intensely haunted, and one dramatic encounter was related on the site True Ghost Tales, by a witness who says:
My friends and I went out on the roof and just hung out thinking about the stories we heard about the place when we began to see figures moving around in the dark inside the area of the 5th floor where the patients were bedded outside for air. Shadows everywhere, we began to see perfect formations of shadows of people that were not there. My friend Chris lost his cool and wanted to bolt out of the place by jumping from the 5th floor roof. I said, “Are you nuts? We gotta go back out the way we came!” So after building up the courage to face whatever it was in the halls and rooms on the 5th floor and exit we had to enter it. We couldn’t run due to the darkness and the mess the place was in so we held tight on our arms and entered the hall area. I wanted to shut my eyes but I had to see where I was going. Mostly I saw the shadows surrounding us, banging that seemed to come from everywhere, the ceiling, floor, and walls.
As we entered the stairwell we somehow ended up on the floor below us and not the ground floor. As we entered the 4th floor our eyes were more adjusted. The moon light reflected through the building and we had a pretty good sight of the hall up to the point where the hall bent in a slight angle. It had rained the night before and due to the shape of the building and no windows left to block it out the rain entered the building at will. On the floor were puddles of water and we began to see bare foot prints appearing out of the puddles as if someone had just walked through the puddle bare footed and left tracks.
The shadows were still surrounding us in the halls. The doors to the patients’ rooms began to slam shut. Chris, who acted as the toughest guy in the group, began to cry. As I tried to calm him down something crashed against the wall near where we stood. When I looked to the floor it was a brick. Something had just hurled a brick at us hitting the wall. Chris then began to run down the hall and we gave chase. At some point between Chris and us, behind Chris and in front of us, 2 bright balls of light shot from one room across the hall and into the adjacent room. We ran past the area where the light traveled to get to Chris who stopped at the end of the hall not knowing where to go. We calmed him a little and it was as if someone just shut it all off like a light switch. There were no more shadows, no banging, no flashing light.
Other miscellaneous ghosts and spirits said to wander Waverly Hills are a screaming elderly lady in bloodied chains, a dark and malevolent demonic presence called “The Creeper,” which ambles about on all fours and climbs ceilings and walls, a shy apparition of woman who likes to peek around corners at visitors, a shadowy apparition that likes to play hide and seek with visitors, and numerous reports of entities that take on the appearance of those observing it, like doppelgangers of some sort. All of this activity has ensured that Waverly Hills Sanatorium has become a mecca for ghost hunters, and it has appeared on a veritable who’s who of paranormal TV programs, such as Scariest Places on Earth, VH1’s Celebrity Paranormal Project, SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, Zone Reality’s Creepy, the British show Most Haunted, Paranormal Challenge, Ghost Adventures on Travel Channel, and Ghost Asylum and Paranormal Lockdown, both on Destination America. Many of those who have come here have claimed it to be the most haunted place they have ever seen, and Waverly Hills has earned its reputation as one of the most intensely haunted places in the country.
Why is it that this place should be so amazingly haunted? It is the fact that in its day it saw so much death and suffering? Could it be that this strife and the negative emotions bled out to stain the very walls of this place and tether these spirits here? Or is it just the imaginings of those in a decidedly spooky locale, keyed up to see something strange to the point that their minds conjure up visions of ghosts? Whatever is going on here has been enough to attract a great amount of attention from the paranormal community and cement this place’s status as one of the granddaddies of haunted places, and if you feel brave or curious there are plenty of ghost tours available for you to take. Just be careful, keep your eyes to the shadows, and make sure to tell us all about it.