Waverly Hills Sanatorium

If you look at a list of the most haunted places in the United States, chances are Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky will be at the top of most of those lists. I have gone on a tour of this massive facility three times. But how much of its spooky reputation is truth, and how much of it is the ever growing legend that surrounds this abandoned structure? Before we get into the lore… Let’s look at the history of the site that has been called “the most terrifying building in America.”

Waverly Hills Sanatorium is located in southwestern Jefferson county, about thirty minutes from downtown. The sanatorium opened in 1910 to serve as an isolated hospital for patients with tuberculosis. The two-story hospital was originally designed to house around fifty patients.

Courtesy: University of Louisville Photographic Archives

After an expansion in 1926, the property could hold more than 400 patients.

Courtesy: University of Louisville Photographic Archives

Tuberculosis was extremely contagious, so patients, staff, and doctors were unable to leave the grounds. However, being quarantined on the grounds wasn’t an issue for the staff… Waverly Hills was built as a self-sufficient community, with it’s own post office and farmlands. At the time, Waverly Hills was considered the most advanced tuberculosis hospital in the country.

A significant portion of one side of the facility is an open-air balcony. Patients were wheeled out in their beds so they could have access to the fresh air.

Courtesy: University of Louisville Photographic Archives – 1926
View from inside a patient room looking out onto the open-air area – 2023

Waverly Hills continued to operate until 1961 and reopened as the Woodhaven Geriatric Facility the following year. The building permanently closed its doors in 1982.

It’s not exactly clear how many people died while at Waverly Hills, but the guide on my most recent tour said the number of deceased totaled around 6,000 in the more than 50 years it housed patients.

The tour through Waverly Hills take you through the winding halls of all five floors of the former hospital.

During my most recent tour, we started at the infamous “Body Chute.” This long tunnel was used to not only transport supplies from the railroad tracks at the bottom of the tunnel using a rope and pulley system, but it was also used to move deceased patients out of the building. Our tour guide said that at one point dozens of people were dying a day at the hospital. Instead of moving the bodies through the hospital and out the front door to a waiting ambulance, they used the tunnel to move them underground and out of sight.

Body Chute with a high-powered flashlight – 2023

The Body Chute is pretty creepy. Standing at the top and looking down, it seems to go on forever. There is a steep angle on one side and steps down the other. Our guide said a gurney was hooked up to the rope and pulley and was walked down the chute and loaded into a hearse or ambulance at the bottom. This is allegedly a pretty active spot for paranormal activity with reports of orbs of light and disembodied voices being seen and heard in the darkness.

Body Chute with natural light – 2023

Another popular stop for investigators is the room of former patient Lois Higgs.

Lois Higgs was born in Edmonson County, Kentucky in 1928. Higgs was 27 years old when she entered Waverly Hills for treat of tuberculosis. The guide on my latest tour told us that she did get better and was able to leave for a weekend. During that weekend, Higgs became pregnant. She carried the baby to full term, but the baby was taken away from her shortly after it was born. Our guide told us her family would visit and Higgs was able to see her baby from the balcony. After that, her health started to decline and Lois Higgs died due to complications of tuberculosis on August 18th, 1956… She was 28 years old. Today Lois is remember by people who visit her room. Many people leave flowers or other gifts on the bed and in the closet in her room.

Jimmy, a paranormal investigator from nearby Elizabethtown, Kentucky, shared this story with me about his visit to Lois Higgs’s room during an overnight investigation.

“One of my most intriguing experiences was the EVP that I caught in the room of Lois Higgs. (EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomenon; it’s the occurrence of catching voices or sounds on recordings that don’t seem to be present and heard by the human ear during the live recording timeframe.) There was a closet area there at the time that people were using to leave gifts for her. I had my recorder there during an overnight stay in August 2020 and decided to do a quick EVP session. In my attempt to communicate with Lois, I had asked if she had anything to say or wanted to thank anyone for the gifts they’d left in the closet. At the closing of my communication, what I personally hear in the recording is a whispered “Thank you”. I’d like to believe it’s Lois communicating across the barrier to show her appreciation.”

Jimmy – Elizabethtown

Two other stories attached to Waverly Hills are both associated with the fifth floor.

Room 502 is located on the fifth floor of the hospital. There isn’t a lot on the fifth floor, at least compared to the other floors of the hospital. There are two rooms, two nurses stations, and a couple of other small rooms that could be closets. On either side of that middle portion there are two larger rooms, glassed in on all sides with a door on the end that opens out to the roof. These larger rooms used to house both adult and child patients.

There are two stories surrounding the fifth floor. One happened in Room 502, and they both had to do with a nurse. According to our guide, a nurse was found dead in Room 502 in 1928. She allegedly committed suicide by hanging herself from from the light fixture. This is more of a legend than fact, according to our guide. The light fixtures couldn’t support the weight of an adult, there are no rafters that you could hang a rope from, and the pipe that is near the door is part of the sprinkler system, but that wasn’t installed until the 1970s.

The other death allegedly happened in 1932, when another nurse jumped from the fifth floor roof and fell to her death. Again, there are no records to confirm that either of these deaths actually happened.

There are multiple other stories that you will hear if you take a tour of Waverly Hills. Stories of The Creeper, a mysterious shadow creature that roams the fourth floor. The story of a little boy that likes to play with a ball. Or, the story of a man wandering around the site of the former cafeteria. There really is something for everyone at Waverly Hills, no matter your interests. If you are a fan of the spooky – I would recommend the paranormal tour, just make sure you dress for the weather – it’s cold in the winter and really hot in the summer. If you just want to learn about the history of this structure, take the historical tour. Waverly Hills also offers private investigations, where you can your friends can have free reign to roam the halls for 8 or 6 hours. Tickets can range from $20 all with way up to more than $1,000 – depending on which tour you book.

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