Waverly Hills Sanatorium: 1 of the Scariest Abandoned Hospitals in America

October 24th, 2013 Permalink

This former tuberculosis hospital has been called one of the most terrifying, most haunted, places in America. At least 6,000 people died there, many taken out through a ‘death chute’ tunnel, and Waverly Hills reached urban legend ghost status. Built in 1926, the massive Gothic architecture housed TB patients suffering from the “White Plague” with no antibiotic cure on the horizon. It closed in 1962, then became a facility for the elderly, but was shut down for patient abuse by Kentucky state officials in 1982. Here’s a ‘spooky USA’ armchair visit to a place of history and mystery, Waverly Hills Sanatorium. [66 Photos, 6 Videos]

Patients of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Patients of Waverly Hills Sanatorium. You’re looking at it, the most modern, most advanced and well-equipped tuberculosis hospital at the time…in 1926. There had been a horrible outbreak, the “White Plague,” sweeping across America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s been said that thousands afflicted with tuberculosis checked in, but some never checked out. And nowadays this abandoned hospital is known as “one of the most terrifying places in America.” Photo #1 by The Owl / University of Louisville Libraries

Bird's Eye aerial view of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Zooming out to a bird’s eye view, you are here, at Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s huge! Once upon a time, or in 1883, Major Thomas H. Hays bought the property for a family home. Schools were too far away, so he built a one-room schoolhouse for his daughters to attend. The teacher, Miss Lizzie Lee Harris, was a big fan of Walter Scott’s Waverley novels and named it Waverley School. Major Hays liked the name so much that he named his property Waverley Hill; The Board of Tuberculosis Hospital liked the name too and kept it when they bought the land and opened the sanatorium. Somewhere along the lines, the “e” was removed and an “s” was added so that the name was Waverly Hills. Photo #2 by Microsoft Corporation / Pictometry International Corp

Spooky Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Spooky Waverly Hills Sanatorium. The real Waverly Hills points out that “Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters Academy and Paranormal Challenge” have all investigated the sanatorium. But YouTube has many paranormal hunting teams, with and without their own reality TV series, investigating Waverly Hills. There is a long waiting list for tour reservations, including people who come, not to hunt ghosts, but to admire the massive and magnificent Gothic architecture. Photo #3 by © Waverly Hills Historical Society

Clip of TAPS and possibly “shadow” people at Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Video #1 by Ghost Hunters via Castleofspirits

Keep Out of Waverly

Keep Out of Waverly. The stuff of urban legends, there are claims of over 60,000 people and as low as 6,000 people who died at Waverly; but 6,000 souls departing would still make for a place where people experienced high emotions. Some claims include at least one person dying every other day at the peak of the disease; urban legends claim, that at it’s worst point, it was one person who died every hour. An out-of-sight 500 foot tunnel under Waverly was converted to transport the dead and keep the sight away from the eyes of the living. Photo #4 by © Jason Walraven

Waverly Hills, Most Haunted Hospital in America

“Most Haunted Hospital in America.” The photographer, an Extreme Vision Paranormal member, added, “From our most recent investigation and a 3rd trip for me.” Photo #5 by © Anna Aaron

Welcome to Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Welcome to Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a place that has hundreds of reviews on social networking sites. Some folks swear it is haunted, while others scoff at that notion; some folks loved it, others say tour guides slam doors and stir up the spook factor. Photo #6 by © Jason Walraven

Green climbing up and into the building, Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Green climbing up and into the building. A wooden, two-story hospital with 40 beds opened on one of the highest hills of Louisville in 1910, then a children’s ward was added, but it was still too small for 130 cases of tuberculosis. This was, of course, before a “cure” (antibiotic drug streptomycin or TB vaccination), when the best “cure” was considered to be a lot of nutritional food, lots of rest and lots and lots of fresh air. New construction started in 1924 and the building above was opened in 1926. Photo #7 by © Jason Walraven

Waverly Tower, taken from the rooftop

Waverly Tower, taken from the rooftop. When the hospital closed in 1961, it reopened as Woodhaven Geriatrics Sanitarium in 1962. But it was closed in 1982 by the state of Kentucky after numerous reports of patient abuse. Photo #8 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

Sunset at Waverly Hills abandoned tuberculosis santorium

Sunset, would you want to be here in the dark? The current owner, Charlie Mattingly, told WBRD,”I would run myself ragged running through this building swearing there was somebody in there that I was trying to run out and usually I wouldn’t find anybody.” Photo #9 by © Jason Walraven

The real Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Once upon a time when Waverly Hills was a busy sanatorium. Photo #10 by Waverly Hills Historical Society

A clip from The Most Terrifying Places in America explores the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, KY, including an interview with the owner and the infamous “body chute”, a tunnel used to transport the deceased, but was out of sight from the dying. The hospital used experimental and then-advanced treatments for tuberculosis, but the abandoned hospital is now open for paranormal investigators and thrill-seekers. Video #2 by Travel Channel via JDTELEVISION

Old black and white of Waverly Hills

Old black and white of Waverly Hills. Photo #11 by Autumn (MathIsPower23)

Historical photo of patients at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Historical photo of patients. Among the “most advanced” treatment plans, according to Prairie Ghost investigators, “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.” Photo #12 by The Owl / University of Louisville Libraries

Nurse on eternal watch at Waverly, Chicago Ghost Hunters Collective

Nurse on eternal watch at Waverly, Chicago Ghost Hunters Collective. Photo #13 by © Anna Aaron

Surgery at tuberculosis hospital, Waverly Hills history

Back in the day, “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.” Photo #14 by © Christopher Drake & #15 by © Christopher Drake

Left behind at Waverly

Left behind Waverly Hills artifacts. Some paranormal investigators believe that spirits can “attach” to items. Yet others believe that if there were high drama emotions like trauma, torment, suffering, grief, pain and fear, that energy leaves an invisible but permanent mark on a place. Photo #16 by © Christopher Drake

Abandoned items at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Abandoned items. Waverly changed owners several times within the 18 years following the geriatric hospital closing; it was heavily vandalized by 2001 when the current owners purchased it. Photo #17 by © Christopher Drake

Doors to solarium at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Doors to the solarium where patients were wheeled daily. Photo #18 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

Help me at Waverly Hills, tub in abandoned tuberculosis hospital

Thomas-Industries writes, “Waverly Hills had now become every town’s ‘haunted house’. Vagrants took to living here and kids broke in for the rush of finding a ‘ghost’ or just to get high. It started to get the reputation of being haunted and rumors had it that satanic rituals were taking place within its walls. There were tales of a little girl running up and down the third floor solarium playing hide and seek with trespassers, of a little boy playing with his leather ball, of rooms lighting up as if there was still power to the building, 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 screaming ‘help me, somebody save me!'” Photo #19 by Pam Culver & #20 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

CBS Sunday Morning: Do you believe in ghosts? Waverly Hills segment begins around the 5 minute mark. “With nearly a dozen ‘ghost hunter’ reality shows on television and 60 million Americans believing they have seen a ghost, it’s hard not to deny America’s obsession with poltergeists. Tracy Smith set out to find if there’s any reliable scientific evidence to their existence.” Video #3 by © CBS

Chairs and Window at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Chairs and window at Waverly. Photo #21 by Louisville Images

Items that were found in the rooms after the closing of Waverly sanatorium

Items that were found in the rooms after the sanatorium closed. Photo #22 by © Christopher Drake

Waverly Hills Examination table, graffiti haunted room 502

Left: Examination table. Right: “502,” wrote the photographer. “Located on the fifth floor of Waverly Hills, Room 502 was made infamous by local legends about two suicides that occurred in the room. In 1928, a Waverly Hills nurse, Mary Hillenburg, supposedly hanged herself from a fixture in the room after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Other stories say that she became pregnant by a doctor that was already married and the doctor performed an abortion that went wrong. When the nurse had died the doctor allegedly had staged her suicide.” Photo #23 by Pam Culver & #24 by Pam Culver

Vandalism has destroyed much of the interior of the sanatorium

“Vandalism has destroyed much of the interior of the sanatorium,” wrote the photographer in 2005. “It has since been gutted to make way for restoration efforts.” Photo #25 by © Jason Walraven

Graffiti and a left over Halloween prop inside Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Graffiti and a left over Halloween prop. Every year, “the entire first floor of the 180,000 sq. ft” becomes Waverly Hills Haunted House. The owners say it’s cash only at the door and rules include: “No Recording or Photography of any kind. No flashlights, cell phone lights or flames of any kind. No weapons of any kind. No Refunds.” Photo #26 by © Christopher Drake & #27 by © Christopher Drake

Waverly Hills hallway

Waverly Hills hallway. Allegedly, a child spirit referred to as Timmy will play kick ball with people. Again, some folks swear the ball moved, other folks say it was the wind through the broken windows on each side of the building. Photo #28 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

Graffiti inside Waverly Hills

Graffiti inside Waverly Hills. The owners state, “Waverly Hills was a self-contained community. A city in and of itself, complete with it’s own zip code. Because tuberculosis was so extremely contagious and at epidemic proportions, those living with it could not be allowed to live and exist among the general population. Waverly Hillshad it’s own post office, water treatment facility, grew it’s own fruits and vegetables, raised it’s own meat for slaughter and maintained many of the other necessities of everyday life. Everyone at Waverly – patients, nurses, doctors and other employees had to say ‘goodbye’ to everything they knew on the outside world. Once you went to Waverly Hills, you became a permanent resident ‘on the hill.’ Oddly enough, despite that fact, many patients received visits from loved ones on visiting day. When the visit was over, the visitors left Waverly and ventured back out into the community. It was not known at the time that tuberculosis was an airborne disease.” Photo #29 by © Christopher Drake & #30 by © Christopher Drake

Ghost Adventures: Waverly Hills Evidence. Video #4 by Travel Channel via Teh Bozak

Dusk and gargoyles at Waverly Hills

Dusk and gargoyles. “Watching,” the photographer noted. “The peaks on the roof of the Wavery Hills Sanatorium was home to various griffins, gargoyles and who knows what else.” Photo #31 by © Christopher Drake

Haunted Waverly sanatorium

Some of the patients did recover and exit via the front door of the sanatorium. Photo #32 by © Anna Aaron

Decrepit incinerator near Waverly Hill's tunnel of death

Others, however, were taken out through the tunnels. “A decrepit incinerator stands at the rear of the building, near the walk way to the ‘tunnel of death’.” Photo #33 by © Christopher Drake

Darkness at Waverly

Tunnel of Death, aka “Death Tunnel” or “Body Chute.” The 500-foot tunnel runs beneath the main building to the bottom of the hill. There are steps on one side that workers used and rails on the other to cart in supplies. It was later used for the removal of bodies. Photo #34 by © Christopher Drake & #35 by © Christopher Drake

Waverly tunnel, body chute tunnel

The photographer wrote, “Steam tunnel. Later used to transport bodies to the bottom of the hill to keep them out of sight of other patients.” Photo #36 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

Waverly Hills gargoyle and KEEP OUT sign

KEEP OUT. Yelp reviewer Mackenzie W. wrote, “Like many things, you will get what you put in to it. The friends I went with were obsessed with ghosts, and believed they were real. They saw shadow people around every corner, they used the flash light trick and asked the flash light questions, they shrieked excitedly when their pictures showed up with blurry human forms. They had a blast, and loved every single moment of it. Me? I don’t believe in ghosts, but I love old buildings.” Photo #37 by © Anna Aaron

Wavery Hills Sanatorium ghost adventure

Did you know that when Robert Alberhasky purchased the property in March 1996, there were plans to construct the world’s tallest statue of Jesus on the site, along with an arts and worship center? Inspiration for the statue came from Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. However, after a year of trying to raise money and falling way short, the project was canceled in December 1997. Now it’s a hotbed for ghost adventures. Photo #38 by © Jan P. Navarro

Waverly Hills, Gargoyle

Keeping watch since 1926. Photo #39 by wanderstruck

Waverly Hills moon, gargoyle and graffiti

TripAdvisor review descriptions include spooky, haunted, beautiful, cool and lame. Photo #40 by elemsee & #41 by elemsee

Rooftop room at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Rooftop room. “The second owner of the property wanted to tear all the buildings down to construct the world’s largest statue of Jesus Christ. He succeeded in demolishing all of the buildings except for the main hospital and was only stopped by an injunction because the building is on the National Historic Register’s ‘endangered’ list,” according to Thomas-Industries. “He then decided that if he couldn’t legally tear it down then he would do everything in his power to get it condemned. He let vandals come into the building and tear it up. After breaking windows, porcelain sinks, toilets and doors, they began spraying graffiti on every available wall. The owner then dug around the foundation, in some places as deep as 30 feet, to try and make the foundation crack. If this happened, then he believed he could get the building condemned and would be able to legally tear it down. Fortunately, the structure refused to give way and his efforts failed. The area where his extensive digging took place can still currently be seen.” Photo #42 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

Massive gothic style Sanatorium, Tuberculosis hospital in Louisville

More Waverly Hills history: The massive “building was built to accommodate every treatment used to supposedly cure TB. It was even built curved so the freshest of air could come in. It was built so one end was facing the south east where wind was always blowing and it would come in and blow out the bad, contagious air out of the north west side of the building.” Photo #43 by © Jason Walraven

Waverly Hills tower

Tower and more Waverly Hills treatment history:. “One of the treatments for TB was called heliotherapy. They thought sunlight would cure the bones, joints and ligaments of the disease. The patient’s rooms were placed directly behind solarium porch ways. All day long patients laid in their beds on the solarium porch ways facing the hot sun. … Heliotherapy continued on up to the fifth floor where it was especially necessary. The fifth floor was for 2 types of patients; ones with TB of the brain and children. These were the most serious cases of TB so they thought they should have the most heliotherapy as possible.” Photo #44 by © Jason Walraven

Final resting place after an outbreak of the White Plague, tuberculosis hospital Waverly

Final destination for thousands. Originally the first floor contained a morgue, dentist, x-ray room, food cold storage, a salon, library, nurses station, offices and a lobby. The 4th and 5th floors, the morgue and the body tunnel are allegedly among the most active paranormal phenomena areas. Photo #45 by © Jason Walraven

Urban legends claim that 63,000 deaths occurred at the Sanatorium, but others estimate approximately 8,212

Urban legends claim that 63,000 deaths occurred at the Sanatorium, but others estimate approximately 8,212. Photo #46 by © Jason Walraven

Nature climbing in through the windows at Waverly Hills

Nature climbing in through the windows. The money raised by ghost tours and the haunted house are reportedly being used for restoration. Plans for Waverly, according to GoKentuckyHomes: “The rooms may be standard, and the location is a bit out-of-the-way, but Charlie Mattingly thinks his planned hotel in southwest Jefferson County will have a unique draw: It’s a creepy, old, five-story building with a morgue, a ‘body chute’ and guest rooms where people once lay dying of tuberculosis. Mattingly and his architect are dead serious about turning the old Waverly Hills Sanatorium into a 78-room boutique hotel with a spa, fitness center and meeting space for business groups.” Photo #47 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness) & #48 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

No trespassing at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Warning sign: No trespassing, $5,000 fine if caught. Photo #49 by © Christopher Drake

Kentucky Life (public TV network) “visits the infamous Waverly Hills Sanatorium (former tuberculosis hospital) in Louisville to learn its history and to see firsthand why many think it’s one of the most haunted places in America.” Video #5 by © KETVideos

Rooftop windows at Waverly

Rooftop windows. After the state closed Woodhaven hospital in 1982, the first buyer wanted to make it a prison. “Simpsonville developer J. Clifford Todd bought the hospital in 1983 for $3,005,000. He and architect Milton Thompson wanted to convert it into a minimum-security prison for the state, but the developers dropped the plan after neighbors protested. Todd and Thompson then proposed converting the hospital into apartments, but they counted on Jefferson Fiscal Court to buy around 140 acres (57 ha) from them for $400,000, giving them the money to start the project.” Photo #50 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

Rusty, crusty, scary electrical and radio outlets at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Rusty, crusty, scary electrical and radio outlets. In 2007, Waverly Hills Sanatorium hosted the last show of the touring music festival Sounds of the Underground. It had extreme metal and metalcore acts, but local residents complained and there have been no more music festivals. Photo #53 by Aaron (ConspiracyofHappiness)

Room 502 and autopsy table in the Morgue area of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Left: “Reputed to be one of the most haunted rooms of the Waverly, room 502 was the site of a gruesome murder or suicide of a pregnant nurse.” Right: “An autopsy table stands in an empty room in the Morgue area of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium.” Photo #54 by © Christopher Drake & #55 by © Christopher Drake

Spooky Waverly Hills corridor

Spooky, dark corridor. Waiting for spirits or shadow people to jump out? Some entertainment history: Ghost Hunters features three episodes that took place at Waverly Hills Sanatorium, March 29, 2006; October 31, 2007, (a live Halloween special); and November 9, 2011. In 2001, ABC Family’s taped Scariest Places On Earth. In 2004, the horror film Death Tunnel and the documentary Spooked were filmed here. Celebrity Paranormal Project taped here in 2006. Terror Normal, a paranormal investigative series, filmed at Waverly in 2007. In 2008, an episode of Most Haunted aired. Ghost Adventures filmed a paranormal investigation in 2010. “On October 17, 2012, American Horror Story: Asylum began to air on FX, seemingly influenced by the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, including the use of an old haunted hospital, the idea of redevelopment as a prison, and a death tunnel. Though the similarities are striking, no one involved with the production of the show has named Waverly Hills directly as its inspiration.” Photo #56 by © Shelbi Nikol

White Plague, aka tuberculosis outbreak at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

White Plague, aka tuberculosis outbreak. Left: Historic photo from 1922. Right: Patients making the best of it; Doctor, nurse and medicine. Photo #57 by © Thomas-Industriesinc.com & #58 by © Thomas-Industriesinc.com & #59 by © Thomas-Industriesinc.com

Waverly tuberculosis ward

Room after room after room in tuberculosis ward. Photo #60 by © Shelbi Nikol

Historical photos of women patients and visitors at Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Historical photos of women patients resting, getting sunlight and fresh air. Right: Visitors, not knowing TB could be contagious via the air. Photo #61 by © Thomas-Industriesinc.com & #62 by © Thomas-Industriesinc.com

Historical photo of women patients with tuberculosis at Waverly Hills

Historical photo of women patients with tuberculosis receiving treatment. Photo #63 by © Thomas-Industriesinc.com

Children of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Children of Waverly: “The children’s wing was on the North side of the 5th floor. All of the children stayed together in the wing but during the day they played on the swing/ play sets on the roof to soak in all of the sun. The wing for the mental patients was only 20-25 feet away from the children’s wing. TB could affect any part of the body and if it got in the brain it caused brain damage and one to be mentally unstable. They were on bed rest on the South side of the roof. Patients with TB of the brain only had a 2% survival rate.” Photo #64 by © Thomas-Industriesinc.com & #65 by © Thomas-Industriesinc.com

Darkness falls at Waverly Hills

Darkness falls at Waverly Hills. Photo #66 by © Jason Walraven

Real footage of Waverly Hospital in action back in its hey day. “A Public Domain film circa 1936 called ‘On The Front Lines,’ which showed the ongoing fight against the medical/health scourge of the times – Tuberculosis. What would be of most interest here to the majority of the YouTube viewing community is that the famously ‘Haunted’ Tuberculosis Sanitarium WAVERLY HILLS is featured in this movie. You will see Waverly Hills staff and patients going about their daily activities back in 1936.” Video #6 by ThoughtTraveler


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