The Waverly Hills Sanatorium was once an incredibly active tuberculosis hospital, but after years of abandonment, it is now a chilling sight in Louisville, Kentucky. The five-story Gothic brick building was once host to hundreds of advanced-case tuberculosis patients–many of whom are said to still haunt the premises.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium sits on land purchased by Major Thomas H. Hays in 1883. He built a home there for his family but was disappointed in the lack of nearby schools for his daughters to attend. He built one on the property and hired a teacher, Lizzie Lee Harris, for the one room schoolhouse. She named it the Waverly School. Major Hays liked the name so much that he named the entire property Waverly Hills.
As the 20th century began, a huge outbreak of tuberculosis came to Louisville. This was only heightened by the wetlands surrounding the Ohio River, which were the perfect breeding grounds for the bacteria. With the number of the sick growing at alarmingly fast rates, it soon became clear that there was no adequate facility in Louisville for the tuberculosis patients. A two-story sanatorium was constructed on the Waverly Hills land, but it was made of wood and only held 130 patients. Within just a few years, it was insufficient to contain the disease or the patients.
The next hospital constructed for tuberculosis patients on the grounds still stands today. It was built for those who were in the later stages of tuberculosis, with beds for 400 people.
Those who worked at the sanatorium lived on site and were expected to forget about their lives outside of the hospital. The sanatorium had its own post office, zip code, water facility, and farm, making it an entirely self-contained compound.
A tunnel that was soon dubbed the “body chute” was constructed underneath the sanatorium. It ran from the first floor of the building to the bottom of the hill it sat on. The body chute was used for employees to easily get in and out of the sanatorium, while it also provided a place for dead bodies that wouldn’t alarm the other patients. Since it soon became infamous as storage, it’s safe to say this plan backfired.
Because tuberculosis was, at the time, believed to be incurable, the medical professionals at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium took some… interesting approaches when it came to treating the disease. Patients’ ribs were removed to allow the lungs more space to fill with air, and patients were taken outside in near-freezing temperatures for fresh, if frigid air.
Scores of people died in the sanatorium—one widely circulated estimate puts the number at a staggering 63,000, though the figure is likely far lower, around 5,500-6,500. In any case, many believe the spirits of these patients haunt the Waverly grounds to this day. Perhaps these spirits have unfinished business or are still upset by the questionable procedures that tuberculosis patients underwent at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
By 1943, the antibiotic streptomycin was controlling the disease, and the hospital’s popularity declined. In 1961, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium closed its doors. It reopened as a nursing home the next year, but it closed down in 1982 after patients were allegedly neglected.
In the years that followed, plans for a prison were introduced as the possible next steps for the sanatorium, as were hotel plans. None of these ever came to fruition. However, Waverly Hills Sanatorium tours are now offered by the current owners, and there is a haunted house inside every Halloween.
The current owners have invested in restoring the building from the vandalism that it suffered through while it was uninhabited. If you’re brave enough to seek out the spirits of the woeful Waverly Hills Sanatorium patients, book a trip for your own terrifying tour.