Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky is said to be one of the most haunted places in America. A ghost-hunting tour here is not for the faint of heart.
On a ghost tour of Waverly Hills, I learned that it was built between 1924-26 to accommodate the large numbers of area residents with tuberculosis, a malady that was particularly deadly in Louisville because of its humid climate. At the height of its operations, Waverly Hills housed more than 400 TB patients and was considered a model facility using the very latest treatment methods.
Before the development of antibiotics, TB patients endured a regimen of fresh air in all seasons and the occasional surgery to remove ribs (it was thought this procedure would make it easier for patients to breathe). Not surprisingly, those treatments didn’t work very well, and thousands of patients died during the 35 years Waverly Hills was in operation.
As we entered Waverly Hills, it was even more eerie on the inside than it appeared on the outside, with rusted lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling, paint peeling off its graffiti-marked walls, and a musty smell. As we walked its hallways and rooms, the only illumination came from our guide’s flashlight and a half moon barely visible through the trees.
While the building seemed run-down, our guide explained that it actually had undergone quite a few repairs in the past decade. “When the current owners bought the place, every window was broken because for many years this was a favorite place for local kids to party,” he said. “We’ve gradually replaced the window panes and now we have security cameras to catch trespassers. Part of the reason we started offering tours, in fact, was to cut down on trespassers. If people want to see Waverly Hills, they can take a tour instead of break in.”
The main reason visitors come, of course, is not to tour a run-down building but because of the many stories of paranormal activities here. On our expedition through the hospital our guide frequently stopped to tell us about these happenings—voices in empty rooms, ghostly apparitions caught on cameras and other recording devices, odd smells, and unexplained physical sensations.
As we walked the forlorn rooms and hallways of the abandoned sanatorium, I found myself experiencing a blend of creepiness and sadness. This is billed as one of the scariest places on Earth, but to me it seemed more sorrowful than frightening. While many patients who came here recovered, thousands more left via the “body chute” by the main entrance. So much death seemed to have steeped the walls of Waverly Hills in melancholy.
As we entered the fifth floor, a friend in the group whispered to me that he suddenly felt an oppressive weight. “Do you feel anything?” he asked. “Not a thing,” I whispered back. But then our guide corroborated my friend’s intuition by explaining that a great deal of paranormal activity had been reported in this room over the years, perhaps connected to the suicide of a nurse that had occurred here many years ago.
As we ended our tour, our guide explained that there is talk of renovating Waverly Hills into a hotel, which in my opinion is a monumentally bad idea. For one thing, given its reputation the number of guests who’d want to stay overnight in such a place seems limited at best. But I also think it would be a shame to turn this atmospheric ruin of a place into a bright and modern hotel. Waverly Hills is a place to test the limits of our fears, allowing us to peer over the edge into mystery, knowing we’re safe but enjoying the thrill of imagining we’re not.
We finally emerged from the building around midnight, a bit dazed and tired. “Come back another time and you can spend the entire night inside,” our guide offered. “We rent the building out to groups on weekend evenings.”
No, thank you. I doubt I’ll ever return to Waverly Hills, and I may not ever do another ghost tour. But I was happy to have had the chance to visit this place, to walk along the thin ledge of my fears, and to have an exceedingly unusual travel experience.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.