Waverly Hills Sanitorium
One of the most haunted locations in the entire country
The land that is today known as Waverly Hills was purchased by Major Thomas H. Hays in 1883 as the Hays' family home. Since the new home was far away from any existing schools, Mr. Hays decided to open a local school for his daughters to attend. He started a one-room schoolhouse on Pages Lane and hired Lizzie Lee Harris as the teacher. Due to Miss Harris' fondness for Walter Scott's Waverley novels, she named the schoolhouse Waverley School. Major Hays liked the peaceful-sounding name, so he named his property Waverley Hill. The Board of Tuberculosis Hospital kept the name when they bought the land and opened the sanatorium. It is not known exactly when the spelling changed to exclude the second "e" and became Waverly Hills. However the spelling fluctuated between both spellings many times over the years.
The hospital opened in 1910 when Jefferson County, Kentucky, began having a Tuberculosis outbreak AKA `The White Plague`. Originally it was a two story wooden structure designed to accomodate 40 or 50 patients. In 1911 it was decided that the local hospital in Louisville would not house tuberculosis patients, so the Board Of Tuberculosis Hospital was granted $25,000 to construct a facility for the treatment of those TB patients. In December 1912 the hospital added a children`s wing and officially was geared for handling 130 patients. As the tuberculosis outbreak continued to grow, construction plans were made in 1924 to build a five story structure capable of handling 400 patients, and in 1926 that became a reality.
The tuberculosis outbreak was huge and claimed many lives until the discovery of Streptomycin in 1943. The discovery of this new antibiotic eventually led to Waverly Hills` closure in 1961, as these types of hospitals were no longer needed. For years now there has been a myth that this hospital had over 60,000 deaths over the fifty years of it`s existence, but examination of records by Assistant Medical Director Dr. J. Frank W. Stewart revealed that this figure cannot be true. The worst year on records for deaths was in 1946 where 152 deaths were recorded. Since this was noted as the worst year for deaths, approximate figures would estimate that this facility saw about 8,000 deaths total, which is still a staggering number.
The Body Chute AKA The Death Tunnel
Some people today call it a Body Slide, Body Chute, and even The Death Tunnel, where the dead were transported down and collected at the bottom. A group of Waverly medical staff would collect the bodies and take them off the hill to be cremated or buried.
There are a few stories that have become local legends of characters at Waverly, but no records have been found the support them. The first being Nurses station 502 on the fifth floor. It is said that one nurse committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor, and another nurse named Mary Hillenburg. Mary was a nurse that had become pregnant with the illigitamate child from a doctor at the hospital and legend says she hung herself in room 502. Records indicate there were two deaths in that county with the last name of Hillenburg, but neither took place at Waverly nor were either of the two named Mary.
In patient room 418 on the fourth floor, two dying patients by the names of Elizabeth Beech & Jane Hurley made a pact that they would make contact after their deaths by appearing at the facility, & room 418 is now one of the several hot spots of activity in the building.
Because of the fact that tuburculosis was contageous, some of the staff even were stricken by the disease.
There`s a legend of "The man in the white coat" that has been seen roaming the halls near the surgery room. After contracting the disease, an operation was performed on Doctor Joseph Kines (spelling unconfirmed) in which several ribs were removed to give his lungs a chance to heal, but he died during the surgery. His image has been seen on many occassions.
There`s also the story of a boy that died by the name of Timmy. Timmy would always play with a bouncing ball in the hallways while he was alive, & visitors at the sanatorium have reported seeing a ball actually rolling down the halls of the building long after his death. This has also been confirmed by security personel that watch the grounds. According to the security staff these stories are absolutely true & they willingly admit the the building is haunted.
On October 20, 2006, the television program "Celebrity Paranormal" aired on VH1 & features celebrities that are sent in to haunted locations to conduct investigations. In this episode the celebrities to visit Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Gary Busey, Hal Sparks, Jenna Morasca, Toccara, & Donna d`Errico, spent the night in the facility armed with video surveilance, thermal detectors, & devination devices.
Although I missed the airing of that episode, I did see the video footage provided by VH1, & also saw footage that wasn`t used in that episode. In this footage I saw a bouncing ball that would roll on it`s own accord & disappear, only to reappear later on. The video also caught shadow images moving in the halls & one of them was a small shadow of what is believed to be Timmy rolling the ball & playing hide & seek.
Footsteps and loud crashes were heard near the surgery room & the thermal detectors picked up images moving around the celebrities. The team then went to Nurses Station 502 & Hal Sparks employed the use of spirit writing. Hal held an object from the facility in one hand & asked the spirit of Mary (the hanged nurse) to speak through him.
He drew the picture of a body hanging from a noose, then with his eyes closed & allowing his left hand to flow freely by the influence of an unseen entity, his hand spelled out the words "wrong" & "no", with an arrow pointing to the picture. This has lead them to believe that Mary is trying to dispell the story that she committed suicide & tell the story of her murder.
In early 2008 I was contacted by John Amerine, who is a Waverly Hills Historian. This was at the height of all the rumors of 63,000 deaths at the facility.
Trying to put a stop to the misinformation, John provided this information which I published in August 2008;
I am John Amerine, former chief historian for the Mattinglys who gave the first historical tours for them, created the original memorial site to former patients and staff, helped coordinate volunteer clean-ups, and did countless hours of volunteer security before I moved away from Louisville. I am no longer active in helping out at Waverly but I am still very active with researching the true history.
Some of my historical accomplishments are as follow, compiling of countless newspaper articles, pamphlets, booklets, reports, and correspondence to include actual copies of the Waverly Herald (newsletter put out for the patients) a 1915 report to the board of TB hospitals written by the medical director Dunning S Wilson, the 1954/55 fiscal report, and several letters/postcards.
The 1938 vintage documentary shown now in spooked, tv shows, news reports and even the pre tour show at Waverly itself is part of a documentary on the fight against TB called `On the firing line` which we first learned about from a newspaper article written about the crew filming for it.
My wife and I spent months locating the only copy in existence at a medical archive in New England, having it converted to VHS and getting a copy sent to us. We then made copies for the Mattinglys and several other regulars. You can also see my name in the credits section on Ron's official website as well as the special thanks section in the official memorial site. Feel free to contact Ron or Pam from those sites to ask if I am a legit researcher. I am also IN Spooked.
You mention all the sources that you checked confirm 60,000 deaths. Do any of them have a single shred of proof to back this figure? Because in all of my research I have yet to see anything concrete to support it. On the other hand, I have the reports mentioned above which show that the years in question had far fewer deaths then legends would have you believe.
I also have well over 2,300 death certificates to include 17.5 entire years worth as well as several partial years, This data not only supports the reports but also shows that throughout the operation of Waverly Hills, an average of 104 deaths occurred per year. This is further supported by an autobiography written by a former assistant medical director who worked at Waverly from 1945-1955 who states that he was present for the worst year for deaths in the history of the hospital was 152 deaths in a single year at the end of WWII when many troops were coming back with far advanced cases.
And of course we double checked his claim and found that in 1945 there were actually 162 deaths at Waverly and we believe that 152 was a simple typographical error. Either way, it shows that no where near a death per hour happened, and the highest that the death rate could be with this fact around 8,700, far below the legend. And to wrap it all up we have a graph that shows the rate of death from TB for Louisville, KY, and the U.S which shows (with a little math) that the death rate was way below the legends.
If you HAVE come across anything that actually supports the legend, please let me know.
But in the mean time, word IS getting out about the true figures. I even have backing from the historical societies, local historians, and awareness groups. So more and more people are coming to know that the legendary figures have at least been challenged by some real proof to the contrary.
Thanks for your reply and interest. If you have any other questions or comments please let me know.
More from John Amerine
I have looked up the name Mary Hillenburg in the KY death index
and found only two people by the name Hillard to have died in Jefferson Co. Neither were named Mary and both died well after Waverly was closed. I even tried several alternate spellings with nothing found.
The names Jane Hurley and Elizabeth Beech are new to me. This is a new legend that I hadn't heard before. Same search, same results... None found.
This also was tried with Dr Kines. Nothing found with even a similar name. And I have no record thus far of any staff members by that surname.
Try searching for them yourself and let me know if you have any more luck then I have. But I think it is another example of the legends not holding water when actually looked into.
The following has been sent to various historical societies, historian, UofL History Dept and Libraries as well as the CDC Louisville.gov Tuberculosis services, American Lung Association, and the KY Cabinet for heatlth TB division.
I have been working to find the truth behind the legends regarding Waverly Hills and have found a lot of compelling information. I'd like to run some of this info by you and see what you think.
What I have complied does not give us exact number yet, but it does show that
the legend about 63,000 deaths is a huge exaggeration and that the real number will likely be 10% of the legend if not less!
As far as the data.
1st - some excerpts from the following autobiography written by a
former assistant medical director who worked at Waverly Hills from 1945 to 1955:
Dr. J. Frank W. Stewart
6th and 7th paragraphs
" I was assigned to the third floor where I had 106 beds, most of them full
at all times. We had alot of deaths then, mostly soldiers who were coming back
from the war in about 1946 and 1947. They were so far advanced that some of
them didn't live more than a week after arriving at Waverly."
" Each doctor was required to try to help keep up with *the 17% requirement of
autopsies on deaths in order to hold an A classification. The doctors rotated
on the coverage for weekends. I remember one weekend when I was on call for the
whole hospital; we had 4 deaths. Out of the four, I did three autopsies. We
would collect the specimins of all of the organs, observe any abnormalities,
dictate the gross findings, and take specimins to be sent to the pathology
laboratory for further examination. One of these years, we had 152 deaths,
which was the highest in the history of the institution."
Now with only this one fact you can see that the legend is imposable.
If every year that Waverly Hills was open for 51 years. If the worst year in the
history of the institution was 152 deaths, and each of the other 50 years was
151 deaths (one less then the worst year) than 7,701 would be the highest
possible grand total.
This however is still obviously high.
2nd - We have gone through microfilms of death certificates collecting all
Waverly Hills death certificates and compiling the data getting cross
sections of actual figures. I should add that at times I also include deaths occurring at home if Waverly is listed as the informant, if a known staff member signed the document, or if there was any other reason to believe that the person may have been a patient at Waverly. I did so for two reasons, 1) as effort to identify former patients for the memorial site, and 2) to compensate for any certificates that I may have missed through human error or insufficient/incorrect documentation.
Here is some of this data:
1911 - 30 deaths
1912 - 113 deaths
1913 - 111 deaths
1914 - 116 deaths (stats only, most certs are not online yet)
1928 - 88 deaths
1932 - 91 deaths (Page not started yet)
1952 - 79 deaths (not online yet)
1953 - 65 deaths (not online yet)
This data shows the average death rate to be 86.6 deaths per year
3rd - From a report written by Dr Dunning S. Wilson (Medical
The report was written in 1915
26 July 1910 to 1 Sept 1914
31 Aug 1914 to 1 Jan 1915
1 Jan 1915 to 1 Jan 1916
For a total of 511 deaths in the first 5.4 years.
For an average of 93.96 per year
This confirms the above findings and in fact, when the certs are divided by these dates the numbers do match.
4th - From the 1954/55 fiscal report
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Fiscal Year 1954-1955
Patients carried over from previous year 362
Total patients given service 727
Patients discharged 360
Discharged alive 318
Died - - within 24 hours *2
Died - - others *40
*Patients in Sanatorium June 30 367
So the total number of deaths at this time was 42 . This shows that
again the numbers were substantially lower than the legends. It also shows that in
1955 when Dr Stewart left Waverly Hills, the death rate was on a steep
decline which backs up his number as being the largest number of deaths in the
history of the institution.
All things considered, I believe that an estimate of 100 deaths per year
(or 5,100) would be very reasonable, so my estimates of 6,000 would
likely be somewhat high, but still much more realistic than the legends.
BTW - The first known death at Waverly Hills was on - Aug 29 1911 -
(1 year 1 month and 3 days after opening)
which is backed up by statements from the 1915 report which shows that the
original sanatorium was for cases in the early stages only. This also shows
that with a whole year+ with no deaths, the overall total would reduce even
I should add that I believe that allowing such unfounded legends to flourish is
disrespectful to the memory of such a historic site and at the same time
misleading to the public who needs to know actual facts about a disease
that still infects about 1/3 of the earths population.
I would appreciate any input you might give on my findings.
Feel free to ask if you have any questions of me.
Waverly Hills researcher
These photos were taken by the Louisville Ghosthunters. www.louisvilleghs.com This photo was taken on a balcony (solarium) and you can clearly see the face of a woman in the background between the two investigators. The problem is that this photo was taken on the second floor and these two ladies were standing with there backs to the railing. This means that this face between them is floating in mid air.
More photos by Louisville Ghost Hunters
Look in the 2nd floor window Close Up
Shadow Man Caught on Film
The below ghost photo taken by Tom Halstead of Missouri Paranormal Research
Note: Tom Halstead was a professional photographer and Paranormal Investigator. There has been some question as to whether this photo had been doctored. I must admit that I am suspicious about this photo, but besides the percentage of people that allege he may have faked photographs, there are also a number of people that knew Tom and do not believe he would do something like that. Tom Halstead passed away in February 2013. Shortly before his death, he was asked about this photo and some others he had taken.
His reply was "I have nothing to prove to anyone."
I don`t know how they determined what we are seeing here, but the photographer`s theory is below.
This photo was taken at the Waverly Hills Sanitarium in Louisville, KY. There appears to be a small boy in the center, a woman in a long dress holding an infant to his right, and a man with his arm behind the boy's head on the left. Perhaps a couple of other figures, too.
This photo taken by www.ohioghosthunter.com believed to be the ghost of a little boy. Timmy perhaps?
Waverly Hills Sanitorium
4400 Paralee Drive Louisville, KY 40272