OPERATION TIME: 1910 to 1962
STATUS: Open as tourist destination
A portion of land was bought by Major Thomas H. Hays in 1883 and called it the Hays’ family home. Since the home was too far from any sort of school, Mr. Hays opened a local school so his daughters could learn.
The one-room schoolhouse soon had a teacher, Lizzie Lee Harris, to teach at it. Miss Harris, having enjoyed Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, entitled the school “Waverley School.” Mr. Hays liked the name, as it was peaceful-sounding, and he named his property Waverley Hill.
When the Board of Tuberculosis Hospitals bought the land, they kept the name and opened the sanatorium; it is unknown when or why the name’s spelling was changed from “Waverley” to “Waverly.” Waverly Hills Sanatorium opened as a tuberculosis hospital in 1910 and had a capacity of 40 to 50 patients.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a good portion of Jefferson County and Louisville had been infected with tuberculosis, a disease that affected the respiratory system. The swampland of Kentucky had created a large amount of TB bacteria, and much of the area was in danger.
As a measure to contain the deadly disease, a wooden sanatorium standing two-stories high opened. It consisted of an administrative building and two open-air pavilions, each capable of holding twenty patients. Eventually, the hospital was rebuilt after $25,000 in funding was given to create a hospital to take care of cases with pulmonary tuberculosis.
On August 31st, 1912, all of the TB patients in the old sanatorium were transferred into tents so the new hospital could be worked on. Waverly Hills reopened for the treatments of an additional forty patients in December of the same year. In 1914, the hospital expanded to have a children’s pavilion, providing fifty more beds.
The pavilion was used for children sick with tuberculosis as well as the healthy children of patients carrying disease, which caused more problems than solutions. At this point, the sanatorium’s goal was to add a new building each year. Since the wooden building was almost always in need of repair and more beds, construction on a five-story building capable of holding more than four hundred patients began on March 24th, 1924.
By October 17th, 1926, the new hospital opened for more patients. However, streptomycin, the TB vaccine, came around in 1943 and reduced the number of tuberculosis cases. This made Waverly Hills less of a necessity. All of the remaining patients in the hospital were sent to Hazelwood Sanatorium in Louisville.
Due to the lack of need, Waverly Hills closed its doors for good in June 1961. A year later in 1962, the building reopened as Woodhaven Geriatric Center, a nursing home for treating ageing patients with dementia, mobility issues, and mental disabilities. The center closed in 1982 due to patient negligence, which was not uncommon in understaffed and overcrowded hospitals like the Woodhaven Geriatric Center.
The Death Tunnel
The “death tunnel” was built at the same time as the rest of the main building on the first floor. The corridor, which is 500 feet to the bottom of the hill, has a set of stairs on one side that was used to help workers enter and exit the building. A set of rails on the other side with a motorized cable system and a cart were used to transport supplies from the top to the bottom, and vice-versa.
Since the use of antibiotics wasn’t discovered when Waverly Hills opened, the treatment featured the use of heat lamps, fresh air, high spirits, and reassurances of eventual recovery. However, during TB’s peak, there was a rate of about one death every day, and the sighting of the dead being carted away lowered patient morale. The loss of morale, in turn, caused a loss of hope and depression, increasing the death rate.
The tunnel took on a new use – transporting the bodies of the deceased to the bottom where a hearse at the bottom that would take them away secretly in order to preserve the patient morale. This also was believed to lower the disease’s spreading rate.
- Room 502 – A myth regarding a nurse’s suicide has surrounded Room #502, the room where she died. Legend has it that a nurse was pregnant, but not married, and had contracted tuberculosis and hung herself with a light bulb wire in the room.
- Death Rate – Many urban legends state that there were over 100,000 deaths at Waverly Hills Sanatorium. However, Assistant Medical Director Dr. J. Frank W. Stewart claimed that the highest total number of deaths in one year was 152 when soldiers from World War II were returning with the disease. Despite this, others claim that 162 people died in 1945. The total number of deaths at the hospital is believed to be 8,212.
- Body Chute/Death Tunnel – An exaggerated amount of transported bodies of what is known as the “death tunnel” and “body chute” have been made.
In Popular Culture
- The SyFy channel show Ghost Hunters has three episodes that took place at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium: March 29th, 2006; October 31st, 2007; November 9th, 2011.
- ABC Family’s Scariest Places on Earth was taped at the sanatorium on July 19th, 2001.
- In 2004, horror film Death Tunnel (February 28th, 2006) and documentary Spooked (June 7th, 2006) were filmed at Waverly Hills.
- The VH1 celebrity reality show Celebrity Paranormal Project (October 22nd, 2006) was recorded at Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
- Part of the documentary Haunted (2007) was filmed at Waverly Hills.
- Paranormal investigation series Terror Normal “Episode 1: The Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanatorium” was filmed in December of 2006, and released in February of 2007.
- The French comic book series Pandemonium by Christophe Bec and Stefano Raffaele is based off some of the paranormal events that have taken places at the sanatorium.
- On October 31st, 2003, radio show Live From Waverly Hills was broadcasted on Louisville’s radio station 91.9 WFPK-FM from a so-called “secret room” of Waverly Hills. The show’s cast include a radio personality, a ghost hunter, two station interns, a medical history professor, and a psychic medium who did an on-the-air séance. However, at the end of the séance, it was realised that the show was an edited fictional drama carried out by actors. It was actually recorded in the WFPK studio, and was written, directed, and produced by Adam Watson.
- An episode of Most Haunted aired on November 25th, 2008 investigated the sanatorium.
- On October 31st, the sanatorium was featured in a Fresh documentary called Soirée de l’étrange (“Strange Evening”).
- On October 2nd, 2010, Ghost Adventures investigated Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
- The sanatorium was featured on Most Terrifying Places in America.
- Abandoned Online. “Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Hospital,” www.AbandonedOnline.net
- Forgotten USA. “6507,” www.ForgottenUSA.com
- Prairie Ghosts. “Waverly TB,” www.PrairieGhosts.com
- The Real Waverly Hills. “Waverly Hills Sanatorium,” www.TheRealWaverlyHills.com
- Waverly Hills Sanatorium Memorial. “Waverly Hills Sanatorium,” www.whsmemorial.tripod.com
- Waverly Hills Sanatorium – Wikipedia
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