The Real Waverly Hills Sanatorium – An Inside Look in 2021
Author: Team Zombillies | Published: August 2021
In the South-West corner of Louisville, Kentucky, there’s a secluded and forested hill. It looks quite unsuspecting to drivers on nearby Dixie Highway. Around this hill are homes, local businesses, an outdoor event venue, and even a golf course. But, beyond that lies a particularly-interesting 5-story structure on this unsuspecting hill. That structure has become known as one of the most haunted locations on the planet. That structure… is the real Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
If you’ve heard of Waverly Hills at all, then you’ve likely also heard that it was a tuberculosis hospital. Rumor has it that tens of thousands of people have died within these walls… and those rumors are 100% true. That said, Waverly has become quite a hot spot for paranormal investigations.
As haunted attraction reviewers, we don’t exactly specialize in paranormal investigations. But, Waverly Hills does put on a pretty darn good haunted house during the Halloween season. Proceeds from the haunt go into the restoration and upkeep of the building. For 2021, unfortunately, it does not appear that the haunted house is happening this year. (But, they do have some other special things in the works.) So, we decided to fill the void with one of their 2-hour ghost tours before haunt season began.
The time was about 9:30pm on the night we arrived; 30 minutes earlier than our slated tour time. It was a hot, overcast night, but the Night Sight feature on our phones gave us some great shots of the building.
The staff at Waverly Hills were very professional and friendly during our visit. It was easy to tell that these people enjoy what they’re doing and sharing their building with the public. We were even asked to keep our headlights off so as not to disturb the previous group that was still in the building. That said, flaggers helped us get parked and headed in the right direction to start the tour. Everyone that we spoke with seemed passionate about the building and its history. We quickly found that we could talk to these people all night!
During a previous tour, we learned one of the main reasons why Waverly is curved the way that it is. It acts as a funnel for fresh air to move throughout the building on its own. In fact, the large, open spaces that you see across the front of the building have never had windows in them. Copper screens were all that stood between those spaces and the outdoors… and that was very intentional. Back in the day, doctors believed that fresh air and sunlight were vital for recovery. We also hoped that air movement would help cool the building for our tour. But alas, the brick and mortar structure proved to be quite insulated, retaining much of the day’s heat.
For those that are interested in booking one of these tours, here are some quick notes to consider:
1: There are 5 floors to cover. That means you’ll be climbing and descending a lot of stairs. The elevator hasn’t worked in years, and we wouldn’t recommend testing it out.
2: The building is under a constant state of renovation. Some of the rooms have already been converted into office spaces, meeting rooms, a gift shop, etc. . There are also remnants of the haunted house left over on the first floor. There’s a good chance that you’ll see some of these areas during your tour.
3: No video or audio recording. This does not apply to some of the lengthier tours. But, we were welcome to take as many non-flash photos as we wanted.
4: No flashlights (except in stairwells). This rule is in place to help everyone maintain their night vision. This, in turn, helps increase the chances of seeing some of Waverly’s “shadow people” on the 4th floor. Safety is very much a priority during the tour, though, and flashlights were highly recommended in all the stairwells.
5: There are real bats in the building. Yes… you might see some sky puppies while touring Waverly Hills. Their fly-by skills are definitely on-point!
We had 3 tour guides in our group, and each had some great stories to tell! We don’t want to ruin them all, as you definitely need to visit Waverly for yourself. In fact, go ahead and pull out that bucket list and add it… now! But, we will give you some information on one story that was our favorite.
In one of the stairwells there is a door with many large bends and gashes in it. Several years ago, a group broke into the property and found themselves trapped on the 4th floor. For those that don’t know, this is where Waverly’s “shadow people” are said to reside. A security guard heard lots of screaming and banging, and decided to investigate. Upon finding the group, they repeatedly yelled to him,
“They won’t let us out! They won’t let us out!”
The guard asked, “Who won’t let you out?”
The group persisted, “The shadow people… they’ve locked us in!”
This door is only lockable from the stairwell, and the guard confirmed that it was, in fact, unlocked. With a gentle tug, the guard was able to open the door and free the trapped group. The other side of the door was nearly destroyed from where the group had struck it with an axe many many times.
Seeing that door alone may give you the chills, but if it doesn’t, we’re sure the 4th floor will…
Before our tour began, we passed a few of the haunted house’s “Last Ride” coffin simulators. One was made for a single rider, while another was custom-made for two. Each was outfitted with various special effects to “heighten” the senses during the ride, including a screen, speakers, and an air-ride system to make it jostle around while you’re inside.
Our tour of Waverly Hills started on the 2nd floor. Before we got started, we were all briefed by one of the security guards about the rules of the tour. We all got a great laugh when he told us we weren’t allowed to yell, “Boo” or make any ghostly noises. All joking aside, he did insist that we leave the creepy stuff to Waverly’s current residents. This was to respect our fellow tourers and ensure we could all hear our guides’ stories (and instructions) along the way.
The first area we came to was the Solarium. Think of a large, open room surrounded on 2 sides with huge windows. Again, sunlight and fresh air were the two main ingredients for a successful recovery from tuberculosis… or so they believed at the time. While in this room, our guides showed us a photo of a previous group that had taken a selfie. In this photo, there was a photo-bomber behind the two people. But, the person in the middle wasn’t [visibly] present when the photo was taken. Creepy, right!?
Our next stop was the large hallways visible from the curved side of the building (the ones that used to have the copper screens). Here, we learned about a particular pair of sisters that lived at Waverly for many years. One of them passed away during their stay, and the other survived and lived many years thereafter. Several investigators have supposedly heard the former sister through EVP recordings. Some believe she was calling out to her sister (the one that lived). In more-recent recordings, some claim to hear the same calls, but followed by a response. Many believe the response is from the sister that lived. Have the sisters reunited in the place that was once their mutual home for many many years? One can only speculate…
Skipping ahead in the tour, we found ourselves on top of Waverly Hills – the 5th floor / roof. Specific instructions were given not to walk on certain parts of the roof. With all the renovations going on, they didn’t want us making a new shortcut to the 4th floor. This is where we encountered the infamous Room 502.
There are as many rumors around Room 502 as there are about any other stories at Waverly Hills combined. Some say that a nurse hanged herself inside the room. Others believe it was because she had an affair with a doctor. Still others say she’s the one that jumped off the roof to her death. Very little info is confirmed about the nurse’s reasons for taking her own life. But, the little-known fact about it is that she did not die inside the room! In reality, her body was found hanging from a light fixture just outside the room.
Our tour guide told us that the 5th floor was reserved for the sickest of the sick; cases with children and those with meningitis. It was believed that the 5th floor gave them the best opportunity to be exposed to… you guessed it… fresh air and sunlight. We’d tend to agree! The two biggest rooms on this floor were surrounded on 3 sides with large window panes and glass doors. In the center section, a few rooms were sealed off because the floors are still kind of sketchy.
Our next stop before heading to the 1st floor was the highly-anticipated 4th floor. We’ll tell ya… it’s dark as crap and creepy as hell! This is where our group got the chance to play with the “shadow people.”
On this floor, our group of 26 people was split in half, and we went down the hallways in opposite directions. The goal was to get a brave group member (or two) to walk a ways down the hall, by themselves. Using the known-live people as a focal point, our eyes were able to focus on them. This, in turn, allowed us to more-easily notice anything else that was moving in the hallway, even in the dark.
This was a very unique experience, as one of us (Nora) was able to take the walk (although, she decided to go with a partner… not Tyler). Once we made it about 50 feet or so from the group, we noticed a cloudy, dark figure on the floor that appeared to be moving. We immediately told our guide this, and they noted that it was a certain spirit referred to as “creeper.” She also insisted that we needed to tell it to go away. Apparently, this “creeper” guy wasn’t particularly welcoming to Waverly’s tour guests. So, we were happy to oblige, but the spirit did not go away at first. In fact, it seemed as if it was getting closer.
Now the eyes and mind will play tricks on you, especially in the dark, but two of us were seeing the same thing. Maybe it was there, maybe it wasn’t. But regardless, it was a cool experience. The spirit eventually went away, and we didn’t see or feel anything else after that. Exceptions might be a bit of a draft, and hearing some footsteps behind us as we slowly made it back to our group.
The 4th Floor at Waverly Hills is also where the primary surgery room was located. This was the room where an untold number of experimental procedures were performed. While each was done with the full intent of helping people and saving lives, some could easily be defined as “barbaric.”
One particular procedure involved laying open one whole half of the person’s torso. Then, up to 8 ribs would be removed to gain access to the lungs. The affected lungs would then be collapsed to starve the infection of oxygen in hopes of killing it. Then, if the person had survived thus far, the lung would be reinflated and torso put back together.
This treatment was reserved for imminently-terminal patients… a “last-ditch” effort, if you will, to save the person’s life. Our guide then explained that they’d recently met someone that survived the treatment! Despite having a 90% mortality rate, and walking with a bit of a slump (with ribs removed and such), he’d gone on to live a long, happy and healthy life.
Those that didn’t survive their treatments in this room had a short elevator ride to the 1st floor. Just outside the 1st floor elevator landing is, you guessed it, the morgue.
This is where we first started seeing signs of the Halloween haunt that takes place on this level. Paintings of skeletal hands on black walls and fake morgue drawers were plentiful.
Inside the morgue, we were privileged to see a pair of authentic gurneys alongside the 3 original body drawers. We were told stories about investigators that had attempted to lay inside them for hours on end. Each of the stories ended in bouts of terror as the investigators claimed an inability to escape. Those blasted shadow people again, darn it!! I don’t think we’ll be trying that technique if we come back to Waverly for a private investigation.
Our next and final destination was the legendary “Body Chute” or “Death Tunnel.” This is another section of the property that is plagued with lots of rumors, and not all of them are true.
Some believe the tunnel was built after Waverly was constructed. This coincides with the idea of hiding all the corpses that needed to be taken away. While the tunnel was, in fact, used to help hide the remains of deceased patients, that was not its original purpose.
The tunnel was actually built before the rest of the building. Its purpose was to create a way to help get construction materials to the top of the hill. After Waverly was in operation, the hospital’s staff used the tunnel to climb the hill without being exposed to inclement weather. Only later, as an alleged 24 patients per day were passing away, was the tunnel used to move corpses down the hill.
Understandably, the doctors of the time appreciated the benefits of mental health. Could you imagine seeing 24 of your friends being hauled away in hearses every day? In that light, using the tunnel to keep Waverly’s deceased hidden from the general population seems like a wonderful idea.
If you decide to tour Waverly, and have the courage to check out the Body Chute, it’s advised that you don’t actually go all the way to the bottom. It’s not so much that they think something paranormal will happen to you down there. Rather, it’s around 150-some steps and almost 600 feet long. Unless you’re extremely fit and have crazy cardio endurance, it may be best to only go down a few flights of stairs to snap your photos before you leave.
The tour officially ends in Waverly’s updated gift shop. A great assortment of t-shirts and other WHS swag and merch are available at great prices. Plus, the funds contribute to keeping Waverly alive so people like you and us can enjoy it for years to come!