Discover the River City’s Past — One Ghost at a Time
by Marilyn Jones
Driving along a dark and winding road high above Louisville you’re
heading for, what many believe to be, one of the most haunted places in
America — Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
Television shows and the availability of ghost hunting equipment on the
market including EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recorders, full spectrum
and infrared cameras, and laser grids in recent years have helped place this
sanitarium, out in the middle of nowhere, top on many ghost hunter’s lists.
Opening in 1910, the sanatorium was designed to house 40 to 50
tuberculosis patients. Anyone afflicted with tuberculosis had to be isolated
from the general public and placed in an area where they could rest — and
hopefully recovery — from this deadly disease. This, along with fresh air
and a nutritious diet, was the only cure in this pre-antibiotic time.
What visitors are invited to tour is the larger sanitarium which opened
in 1926 to accommodate at least 400 patients. It was considered to be one of
the most modern and well equipped facilities and functioned as a
tuberculosis hospital until 1961. Later it served as a geriatrics center
until 1980, when it was closed by the state for alleged patient abuse.
With the knowledge that experimental treatments including removing organs
were performed, that the disease is known to ravage the mind causing some
patients to go insane, and that more than 6,000 patients died here, it’s no
wonder paranormals experiences are routinely reported here.
Visiting Waverly Hills
It’s dark. There are few exterior lights which make the hospital seem
larger and spookier than any film crew or photographer can convey. Ushered
into what was once the laundry room, tour guests watch a video highlighting
the sanitarium’s history and the many paranormal experiences recorded here
before obediently following their guide through a tunnel and into the
The two hour tour is
highlighted by stories of former residents and the experiences of recent
Visitors say they can hear the footsteps of people running through the
hallways, electricity working at a time when the power was shut off,
slamming doors, and the presence of shadows, apparitions and other ghosts.
Up and down stairwells in
darkness — aided only by flashlights — wannabe ghost hunters visit the
surgical suite, morgue, room 502 where it is reported a distraught nurse
took her own life and other hot spots of activity.
The last part of the tour involves the tour group standing quietly in one
of the hallways in complete darkness while their eyes become accustomed to
the darkness. Then the tour guide asks for volunteers to walk down the
center of the hallway while onlookers watch for “shadow people” darting
Outside again, the tour
hasn’t ended. Here, participants are invited to enter the infamous death
Constructed at the same time as the main building, the tunnel begins at
ground level and travels 500 feet to the bottom of the hill. One side has
steps to allow workers to be able to enter and exit the hospital without
having to climb the steep hill on foot especially in inclement weather.
The other side of the tunnel had a set of rails and a cart powered by a
motorized cable system so that supplies could easily be transported to the
top. Air ducts leading from the roof of the tunnel to above ground level
were incorporated every hundred feet to let in light and fresh air.
When tuberculosis hit its peak, three or four deaths occurred every week.
To shield this grim reality from other patients, the tunnel also was used
to transport bodies to the bottom where a hearse would be waiting to take
them away discreetly.
Although the tour guide waited at the top of the tunnel, guests were
invited to walk this long corridor in an attempt to make contact with the
More Louisville Haunts
There are several haunt-walks and tours to choose from including
Louisville Historic Tours where haunted places from bestselling Ghosts of
Old Louisville and Phantoms of Old Louisville by David Domine are featured.
Old Louisville is a charming Victorian district with 19th-century
architecture. Walking and bus tours visit several documented locations
including First Church of Christ, Scientist and Widmer House, the mansions
of Millionaires Row and a side trip to the Bishop’s Hat House, where Jane
and Ron Harris make their world-famous Happy Balls! bourbon candy.
You can also make a weekend of it by staying at The Seelbach Hilton.
Built in 1905, its grand character inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to use
The Seelbach as a backdrop for Tom and Daisy Buchanan's wedding in The Great
Other noteworthy guests include nine U.S. presidents, entertainers,
filmmakers and gangster including Al Capone.
One otherworldly guest often spotted here is a ghost fondly known as The
Lady in Blue. According to Larry Johnson, the author of A Centennial Salute
to Louisville’s Grand Hotel, there are many stories surrounding the young
But two facts that are agreed upon are her name, Patricia Wilson, and
that she fell to her death in the elevator shaft. Guests see her near the
mezzanine elevators as well on the eighth floor.
Even if you don’t make Mrs. Wilson’s acquaintance, you’ll forever
remember staying at this hotel on the National Register of Historical Places
for its timeless glamour and beauty.
The hotel also is home to the state’s only AAA Five-Diamond Awarded
Restaurant, The Oakroom.
Using Kentucky-produce and international ingredients side-by-side, the
cuisine is complimented by excellent service and a breathtakingly beautiful
And you never know, The Lady in Blue might decide to join you.
If you go sidebar:
Where to go:
Waverly Hills Sanatorium, 4400 Paralee Lane, Louisville, KY 40272. Call
(502) 933-2142 or check the website
Louisville Historic Tours, Visitors Center in Historic Old Louisville,
218 West Oak Street, Louisville, KY 40203. Call (502) 637-2922 or check the
Where to eat:
The Oakroom, 500 Fourth Street, Louisville, KY 40202. Call (502) 807-3463
or check the website
Lynn’s Paradise Café, 984 Barret Ave, Louisville, KY. Call (502) 583-3447
or check the website at www.lynnsparadisecafe.com.
What to buy:
Happy Balls, Handmade Kentucky Bourbon Candy. Check the website
Where to stay:
The Seelbach Hilton Louisville, 500 Fourth Street, Louisville, KY
40202-2518. Call (502) 585-3200 or check the website
For more information:
Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau. Call (800) 626-5646 or check the