The Sad, Haunting Past of Waverly Hills

There is a female ghost that might as well be called Snoopy because she is seen everywhere, spying on tourists and lurking about the Sanatorium.

You might walk up to the front entrance of the crusty old building.  The decorative front of the structure looks to be a combination of Gothic and Art Deco.  You are puzzled.  Would that be considered Gotho or Decic? It opened its doors in 1924, so it probably does have a few Deco influences.  Waverly Hills wields some clout.  It was registered in U.S. Historical Places in 1983.  “Come on into my dark recesses,” it seems to say, with an eerie hidden agenda and a slight sneer.

     After some hesitation, you decide to go in.  You are leery, but what can be so malevolent about a historical landmark?  Once inside the pitifully groaning door you are aware of a coating of dusty grime—it is the kind of grime that has been scrubbed and scrubbed over the years with harsh disinfectants, but it is the kind of dingy grime that won’t scrub away.  The scent of horror rides up to greet you as you notice a placard, askew, in a corner, with this lettering:  Sanatorium.  Sanatorium?  For what?  You then notice a push-broom propped against a dust pile.  In the pile, you can make out the tarnished and stained parts of some odd tools or instruments.

     Yes, this is Waverly Hills in Louisville, Kentucky, Jefferson County.  The large, creepy building is named for the land it sits on.  That land was purchased from the Hays family.  Major Thomas Hays named the land at the suggestion of a favorite school mistress—a dear woman that instructed his own daughters.  She loved the Waverly novels of Walter Scott and there was a schoolhouse on the original property where the girls tended to their studies in the sweet days of Waverly Hills.

     What was it purchased for, and by whom?  Disease was spreading across the 1910 landscape.  Wetlands along the Ohio River seemed to generate the scourge and contributed to rapid spreading.  The main disease was known as The White Plague and Jefferson County was rife with it—tuberculosis.  

     Louisville City Hospital was prominent for healthcare, but the all-knowing did not want to house TB patients there because of contagion.  So, the land was purchased from Major Hays and in 1910 a facility opened for the care of 50 patients.  The first buildings at Waverly Hills were tent-like structures.  Soon some makeshift wooden structures were built to replace them—they needed constant repair.  In 1924 the five-story Waverly Hills building was completed and it could hold 400 patients.

     Would it surprise you to know that Waverly Hills has gained the reputation of being one of America’s most haunted places?  It has been combed by spiritualists and professional ghost-hunters.  They always come away as changed people.

     Waverly Hills closed its doors as a sanatorium in 1961 because of the drug

Streptomycin had begun to put a big dent in The White Plague and continued to do so.  The building was bought in 1962 to use for a geriatric health center, a nursing home.  The nursing home was soon closed due to alleged widespread patient neglect.  It was then proposed for use as a prison, but the idea was put down by wary citizens raising a ruckus.  There were then big plans to have it be a religious retreat—a giant statue of Christ was being commissioned.  All of that fell through.  Nothing was working out for Waverly Hills.  Maybe Waverly Hills wanted it that way.

     In the ensuing years, Waverly Hills drew the macabre-curious and music concerts were held there, including a heavy metal extravaganza.  

     A couple finally bought the property.  They saw the foreboding charm of Waverly Hills as a vehicle for haunted house tours, charging admission.  The money generated is used for restoration of the striking old building.

     Ghost hunters and spiritualists have reported much strange activity.  Some of it has been recorded and televised on cable channels.

     In the old disheveled kitchen, with pots, pans, and ancient condiments askew—as if the cooking staff left in a big hurry—the strong smell of yeast and baking bread often wafts about and travels into nearby corridors.  There is no one there.  No bread is baking.  Those outside the kitchen can hear pots and pans rattling, footsteps and doors slamming shut, mumbling, moaning.  Other kitchen aromas have been noted and documented—soups, stews, pepper-pots, and coffee.

     There is a female ghost that might as well be called Snoopy because she is seen everywhere, spying on tourists and lurking about.  Workers on the premises and tourists have seen doppelgangers of themselves peeking around corners—like looking into mirrors but the eyes of the doppelgangers are only black holes.

     Room 502 is known as The Death Trap Room.  It is associated with creepy events and known for being the location of two gruesome suicides—one a nurse, and one a patient, a hanging and a leaping.

     If you walk around you are sure to come across several dumbwaiters used for transporting trays, and other items from floor to floor.  In places with dumbwaiters in service (where I have worked), there has always been at least one small employee that cannot resist the temptation to ride on the dumbwaiters and startle the people that open the door.  What stories could the dumbwaiters of Waverly Hills tell if they could talk?  I am sure the stories are myriad and creepy.  If you poke your head into the wrong recess at Waverly Hills you will come across the infamous Body Chute.  It is just what it says it is.  In the days when The White Plague was raging, a patient did not come out of sanatoriums alive.  You went there to die.  Bodies were tossed down the chute to lower floors for pick-up or incineration.  

     The creepiest items at Waverly Hills are the relics of medical treatment.  Much of the treatment of the time involved surgical removal of diseased tissues, potent irrigations, blowing up of balloons to expand anatomical spaces—all of these processes painful, some required physical restraints with little or no anesthesia.  The instruments of these procedures have been spotted by workers, tourists, and ghost hunters.

     I hope no progressive people decide to tear down Waverly Hills any time soon.  I love old buildings and think they should be preserved.  Besides, it has a few years left for creepy activities and thought-provoking shenanigans.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the novel on Amazon. 


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