Black and white photo of the front of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Located in Louisville, Kentucky, Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a former tuberculosis hospital in a state that seemingly had the highest cases during the early 1900s. As one would expect, with all of the death seen within its walls, it’s said that some spirits have remained.

There are plenty of Waverly Hills Sanatorium ghosts to talk about. From the apparitions that hanging in room 502 to the supposed doctor thank hangs out in the kitchen, there are plenty of spooky stories to go around in one of America’s most haunted places.

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History of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

By the dawn of the 19th century, consumption was killing one out of every seven people “that had ever lived.” For a world with a population of less than a billion, this was big news—seriously, if the population was 500,000,000, that meant that 75 million would die of the disease.

For those of us that don’t know what “consumption” is, it’s actually just tuberculosis—which today, according to the World Health Organization, is a completely “preventable and curable disease” though millions of people are still affected. It’s most common these days in “Africa, the West Pacific, and Eastern Europe.” And it’s essentially a bacterial infection in the lungs which can also attack the kidney, spine and brain, and it’s spread through airborne infection, just like COVID. 

Tuberculosis was widespread throughout America in the early 1900s and it was the leading cause of death in Kentucky in 1938, which also happened to have the highest death rate in the entire country. Because it was such a widespread epidemic, there were really long waiting lists for hospitals. For those that don’t know, an epidemic is a “widespread” occurrence of infectious disease as opposed to a “pandemic” which is “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”

So, in 1908, construction on a somewhat-temporary, two-story, wood-framed hospital that would be able to accommodate 40 to 50 patients began and Waverly Hills opened on July 26, 1910. Unfortunately, they miscalculated the need for it, and it was very quickly overcrowded and was filled-to-the-brim with 140 patients. A new larger, permanent building was needed to care for the area’s sick.

So, in 1924, they started construction on a brand new, 180,000 square-foot, four-story facility that opened October 26, 1926. The upgraded version of Waverly Hills was state-of-the-art (for the time) and featured separate patient rooms, sunrooms, modern labs, recreation space and the room to accomodate 400 patients.

Advances in medicine started to lead to dramatic decreases in cases of tuberculosis, and by the 1950s Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Hospital’s patient numbers dropped to an average of 373. A decade later, by 1960, the numbers had dropped again to 293. And by 1962, the hospital was officially closed and any remaining patients were transferred to nearby Hazelwood Hospital.

The hospital reopened as Woodhaven Geriatrics Centre in 1963, as a “rest home” for the elderly. But that was somewhat short-lived because it closed in 1981, with all of the patients, again, being transferred to Hazelwood. 

At one point some genius wanted to take on Rio de Janeiro and erect the world’s tallest statue of Jesus on top of the building and turn it into a worship place of sorts. But that plan was kiboshed after they only managed to raise $31,000 of the $4-million they needed. 

In 2001, the building was purchased by Charles and Tina Mattingly for $250,000… they may or may not own it right now—it’s a little unclear. But they did manage to put in a new room and a sprinkler system inside the building. Overall the building is in pretty rough shape but there are some cool pictures online.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium Deaths

Waverly has seen A TON of death within its walls, so it’s not entirely surprising that it’s said to be one of the most haunted places in America. Tuberculosis sometimes called the “white plague” was very contagious and spread through simple coughing and sneezing, plus it was incurable. Adding to that, many people believed that Kentucky’s low swampland made it the “perfect breeding grounds” for the disease, so it’s no surprise that many people walked into Waverly Hills and didn’t leave alive.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium was the most advanced treatment centre in the area, and though it was mainly used to separate the sick from the rest of the population, they did do a considerable amount of barbaric treatments at the hospital. These treatments included:

  1. Exposing the lungs to UV light to “stop the bacteria” by way of sunrooms or artificial lighting. Fresh air was also seen as a treatment for it. 
  2. Surgically implanting balloons into patients lungs and filling them with air to ensure they expanded.
  3. And, as a last-ditch effort, they would remove ribs and muscles around the lungs to allow them to “expand future.”

… Needless to say, they didn’t see many successes within the hospital’s walls.

Some patients were lucky and recovered, but most let via the “body chute” which was an enclosed tunnel that went from the hospital to the railroad tracks below where the bodies were “lowered in secret to the waiting trains.” This was done in secret so patients didn’t see how many bodies left the hospital because interestingly enough and quite progressive for the time, the doctors treating TB thought that mental health was as important as physical health.

Ultimately, it’s unclear how many people actually died at Waverly. Some say numbers as high as tens of thousands, though many historians believe this is most likely exaggerated. Dr. J. Frank Stewart who was the former assistant medical director said that the highest death rate in a single year was 152 people. And based on death certificate requests, 1955 had 42 deaths. Old hospital records dating back to 1911 show that around 6,000 people died there.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium Ghosts

The hospital started to gain a reputation as being haunted after its doors were closed, and there are a number of spirits that are said to be lurking inside its walls. 

Waverly Hills Sanatorium room 502 ghosts

One of the most famous places in Waverly Hills for paranormal tales is the hospital’s fifth floor. When it was in operation, this floor had two nurses’ stations, plus a pantry, linen room, medicine room and two medium-sized rooms on each side of each nursing station (for those counting, that makes eight rooms on this floor). 

It’s in room 502, witnesses see “shapes moving in windows, hear disembodied voices” and even allegedly watch apparitions jump to their deaths. 

There are many rumours and tales about what this area of the hospital was and why it’s haunted but one of the biggest tales told is that it was used to house patients with mental illness though that’s blatantly untrue. Regardless, the rumour persists, as do the rumours of death within the room.

According to legend, in 1928, a nurse was found dead in room 502. The 29-year-old was unmarried and pregnant (scandalous at the time) and had hanged herself from a light fixture (though some say pipes or rafters). Then, in 1932, a nurse who worked primarily in 502 jumped from the roof patio and plunged several stories to her death. Others believe she was pushed. 

There is no documentation of either death and they’re ruled unlikely by many, especially in the case of the hanging due to the fact that the pipes in the room weren’t installed until 1972, and the original light fixture, which is still there, would be unable to hold the weight of a person. However, a former nurse named John Thornberry who passed away in 2006, said that the deaths did happen but many question that since he was born in 1922 and would have been six at the time of the first one.

Despite the lack of proof on either incident, strange things are often reported on the floor, and specifically in room 502. Ghostly sounds, slamming doors, the lights turning on and off and objects being thrown by nobody. Visitors also say that they are struck by “unseen hands” and see apparitions in the doorways and corridors. 

Other ghosts at Waverly

While room 502 is where the majority of the paranormal activity is reported, there are also a number of other ghosts and strange occurrences reported throughout the hospital. 

  1. The ghost of a little girl is often seen running up and down the third-floor solarium
  2. A little boy with a leather ball is spotted in one of the hallways, we’ve heard that if you roll the ball on the floor to him he’ll roll it back
  3. Apparently, a mysterious hearse appears at the back of the building to drop off coffins
  4. There is a woman with bleeding wrists that cries for help
  5. A man in a white coat walks into the kitchen which often smells of cooking food, despite the kitchen being in a disastrous state—it has broken windows, fallen plaster, broken tables and chairs, puddles of water, debris lying around and a leaky roof. Footsteps are often also heard in the kitchen, the door swings open and shut and there is the smell of fresh-baked bread in the air.
  6. Finally, there are slamming doors, strange footsteps, eerie sounds and lights being turned on and off, despite the fact that the power is not currently running

Visiting Waverly Hills Sanatorium

We assume that you want a chance to experience the Waverly Hills Sanatorium ghosts for yourself, so you’ll be glad to know you can totally visit. This historic site is open for Waverly Hills Sanatorium tours, both for history buffs and paranormal enthusiasts. Plus, there is the opportunity to participate in a public tour or grab you and some of your closest friends for a private one.

Overall, it has a four out of five on TripAdvisor and Waverly Hills Sanatorium tickets vary in price depending on what you want to do, but it looks like you can take a tour for $25 and participate in a public investigation for $75. The public investigations tend to start at midnight and many of the attendees mention that it’s pretty much pitch black when you’re there, so keep that in mind. The events are also around six-hours, so be prepared to set some time aside to really enjoy yourself.

Did you love this episode? Check these other ones out:

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  • Ghosts of Rolling Hills Asylum: Throughout the years this haunted hot-spot has been an infirmary, orphanage, tuberculosis hospital and nursing home. Join us to learn about who still lives there.
  • Missouri’s Zombie Road: Lawlor Ford Road has a weirdly paranormal history, find out whether there are still zombies there.
  • The Sloss Furnace: Wondering what ghosts you might find lurking in Birmingham, Alabama?

The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for Waverly Hills Sanatorium Ghosts, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:

The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion and Tae Haahr. “Waverly Hills Sanatorium Ghosts” was researched, written and produced by Tae Haahr, and edited by Rory Joy. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.

Do you have your own Waverly Hills Sanatorium ghost stories? Drop them in the comments below!