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Notes For Unsolved: Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Research notes for Supernatural Season 2 Episode 4

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**Research compiled for Ryan & Shane on January 27, 2017 by Micki Taylor.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium

4400 Paralee Lane,
Louisville, Ky 40272
Owners: Charles & Tina Mattingly
The “GPS address” for tours and investigations is: [redacted]
Note: Nobody is allowed on the premises without a reservation!

Waverly Hills Sanatorium once housed hundreds, perhaps thousands of tuberculosis patients during a major, years-long outbreak in Jefferson County, Kentucky… the building that still stands today is said to be haunted by those who died there. In fact, it has been called one of the most haunted places in the world...


Tuberculosis: The White Death

  • Tuberculosis (also known as TB, consumption, the White Death, or the White Plague) is a highly communicable bacterial infection contracted by breathing in air containing Mycobacterium Tuberculosis.
  • The tubercle bacillus that causes tuberculosis was identified in an Egyptian mummy that dated back to 3000 BCE.
  • It wasn’t until 1882 that Robert Koch published a paper identifying this bacillus for the first time.
  • Symptoms of tuberculosis include: a lasting cough, chest pains, fever, loss of appetite / weight loss, hills, sweating, and coughing up blood
  • If left untreated, the bacteria would begin to eat away at the lungs and could spread throughout the body -- “consuming” it.
  • Tuberculosis got its nicknames from the sickly pallor of the victims the disease claimed.
  • During the late 1800s, roughly one in five deaths (20%) was attributed to tuberculosis.
  • In crowded cities in the 19th century, anywhere from 70 to 90% of the population may have been infected with the bacteria, which could lie dormant for any amount of time. If the bacteria did become an infection, there was an 80% chance of death at that time.
  • More than half of those diagnosed with TB would die in three to five years.
  • It’s believed that tuberculosis has claimed roughly 2 billion lives in total. It has been called “the plague of all plagues”.
  • Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]


Tuberculosis in Kentucky & The Construction of Waverly Hills

  • Tuberculosis became a major concern in Kentucky around the turn of the 20th century.
  • The warm, wet weather in Kentucky near the Ohio River was a breeding place for bacteria, and insects often helped to spread disease.
  • In 1883, Major Thomas Hercules Hays, who had served in the Confederate army during the Civil War and fought at the Battle of Shiloh (which claimed almost 7,000 lives), purchased the land where the sanatorium now sits.
  • He had previously lost his first wife in 1868 and a daughter two years later in 1870.
  • He had a small schoolhouse built on Pages Lane and hired schoolteacher Lizzie Lee Harris to teach his three daughters.
  • The story goes that Lizzie Lee Harris loved Sir Walter Scott’s series, The Waverley Novels -- more than two dozen books set in various historical settings, including Rob Roy -- and she named her workplace Waverley School.
  • Hays reportedly like the name and so named all of his land Waverley Hill. (Note the slightly different spelling of Waverley here. The second “e” was dropped at some point.)
  • Hays later sold the land to the Board of Tuberculosis Hospital, and they built the sanatorium there, adopting the name, to house a rapidly increasing number of tuberculosis patients.
  • Construction on the first hospital began in 1908 in a quiet space atop a hill, where it was thought patients would be at peace and receive lots of fresh air (and stay far from crowded areas).
  • The first Waverly Hills Sanatorium building opened on July 26, 1910. It was two stories tall and had only enough space for 40 patients in early stages of TB.
  • Then, the tuberculosis epidemic began to spread in Jefferson County, and the hospital could not keep up. It’s believed that, at one point, he hospital was tending to as many as 140 patients.
  • In 1912, patients in advanced stages of infection were moved from from the City Hospital to Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
  • Out of room, the hospital had to house these patients on the grounds, under tents.
  • A new wing was built that year to accommodate those patients in advanced stages.
  • A children’s pavilion was built in 1916 that housed 40 children and included a schoolroom.
  • In this 1911 publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association, it’s noted that $25,000 was allocated by the Louisville Hospital Commission to help treat patients, and another $27,000 was sent to help the hospital expand by adding four new wings.
  • Waverly Hills was later reportedly given $11 million dollars with which to build a new, larger hospital. If the number is true, the cost would equate to roughly $154 million today.
  • Construction on the second hospital was underway in March 1924.
  • A new sanatorium opened on October 17, 1926 that could accommodate 400-500 patients. It was considered very state-of-the-art for its day.
  • This is the building that still stands to this day.
  • Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

The Sanatorium

  • Not much was known scientifically about tuberculosis at that point -- but it was clearly very contagious, and it was common practice to quarantine TB patients away from the population.
  • As such, Waverly Hills was largely self-sufficient; they grew their own food and raised animals; they had a post office and a water treatment facility.
  • Essentially, once you went to Waverly Hills -- as a patient, a nurse, or a doctor -- you no longer got to be a part of the outside world.
  • … but patients’ families still visited them on designated visitor’s days, lol.
  • A clip of a 1931 government documentary about the sanatorium mentioned that classes such as typing were offered to patients to prepare them for the workforce when they could leave the isolation of the hospital.
  • It also shows a “special department” where the (presumably uninfected) children of adult sanatorium patients lived and were taken care of.
  • Movies were shown and crafts were made to keep patients in high spirits.
  • A 1917 Kentucky Medical Journal describes a meeting that was held at WHS: “This meeting with its delightful luncheon, music and dancing was thoroughly enjoyed by the members who made the trip.”
  • A document shows the growth in number of patients from 1926 to 1932 — from 242 to 478 patients
  • Additional Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4]

Early TB treatments

  • The most common treatment was simply bed rest in the open-air solariums, even in the winter, and nutritious food.
  • Heliotherapy -- sitting in the sun -- was also thought to help TB patients.
  • One fairly horrific procedure used on TB patients before medication was available was called Artificial Pneumothorax.
  • In this procedure, nitrogen is injected into the lungs, forcing them to collapse. It was thought that doing so would close up the small holes that tuberculosis causes.
  • This clip of the government-made documentary shows a pneumothorax patient. The doc says the procedure let’s the lungs “rest”.
  • Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4]

Deaths at Waverly Hills

  • The assumed number of total deaths at Waverly Hills sanitorium has been wildly inflated over the years; some have said the number is approximately 63,000. (The myth was further spread by Tina Mattingly on an episode of Ghost Hunters.)
  • The numbers are hard to believe, however. The two TB sanatoriums were open for a total of 51 years, which means that 3 to 4 people would have died every single day. Even taking into account the extra 19 years that the geriatric hospital was in operation, more than 2 people would have had to die on-premises on average every day for 70 years.
  • The real total number of deaths is unknown.
  • Frank J. Stewart served as the assistant medical director and as a physician at the sanatorium up until the 1950s.
  • In Stewart’s autobiography, he recalls that the highest number of deaths in any year that he worked at the sanatorium was 153, and that most of the worst years followed World War II, when soldiers returned, infected, from overseas.
  • Sources: [1] [2]


The End of Waverly Hills

  • The BCG vaccine was first successfully used to ward off tuberculosis in 1921 in France, but the use of vaccines tended to travel slowly in those days.
  • An event referred to as “the Lübeck disaster,” in which a contaminated vaccine ended up killing 72 children in Germany, curtailed the popularity of the BCG vaccine for several years -- even though the vaccine itself was exonerated.
  • The first antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis was called streptomycin, and it was discovered by American biologists in 1943.
  • There are currently 10 different medications available in the US to treat tuberculosis.
  • Even so, the CDC reported 9,557 cases in the United States in 2015. In 2014, the most recent year for which the CDC reports a mortality figure, 493 people died of TB.
  • The Waverly Hills Sanatorium was closed in 1961; it was first quarantined and then renovated.
  • In this letter from 1960, Kentucky Governor Bert T. Combs recommends an increase in funding of $1.8 million (approx. $14.5 million today) to the Tuberculosis Hospital Commission to help fund the transfer of the last Waverly patients to other tuberculosis hospitals.
  • From 1962 to 1981, the building served as a medical facility for geriatric patients: the Woodhaven Geriatrics Center.
  • It’s said that the state shut it down due to reports of improper care and physical abuse of the elderly patients there.
  • After the geriatric center closed down, various owners considered turning the building into a number of things, including a jail and a worship center that would be home to the world’s new tallest Jesus statue, with plans to beat out Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro… it didn’t work out.
  • In later years, the property was repeatedly vandalized, and landowners didn’t seem to care much about upkeep on the building -- which was nearly condemned.
  • In 2001, Charles and Tina Mattingly bought the property. Since then, they’ve worked with the Waverly Hills preservation society to restore the building.
  • Sources [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

Creepy Spots:

Room 502 (Real location, unsubstantiated myths)

  • Room 502 has a reputation due to the two suicides that supposedly occurred there.
  • One story has it that in 1928, one of the nurses, Mary Hillenburg, hung herself in room 502.
  • Another theory is that Mary got pregnant by one of the doctors, and when he tried to perform an abortion, she died, and the suicide was staged.
  • Some have reported seeing shapes near the window in room 502 and even a voice saying, “Get out.”
  • The owner (Tina) and a security guard say they’ve seen lights turn on in this room while they were outside.
  • According to death records in Kentucky (1911-2000), however, only two women with the last name Hillenburg died before 2000. Neither was named Mary, and their deaths occurred in 1964 and 1988.
  • BUT, according to Patti Starr in her book Ghosthunting Kentucky, owner Charles Mattingly met John Thornberry, whose father acted as head of maintenance for WHS, and where John worked for a time starting when he was 17.
  • Charlie claims John told him he was one of the people who found the nurse and confirmed that there had been a lot of blood and a baby -- and that because it was so taboo at the time, the death wouldn’t have been recorded.
  • There’s no explanation, however, as to how a man who was 17 in 1928 was talking to the owner circa 2000 -- not impossible, but improbable.
  • 1928 is the date used every time except by owner Tina Mattingly in this episode of Ghost Hunters. She reports that it happened in the early ‘30s.
  • Four years later, in 1932, some say another nurse jumped to her death from the 5th floor patio near Room 502. As no reason has been given for why she would have committed suicide, rumor is, she was actually pushed.
  • It’s also believed that patients whose infection spread to the brain, rendering them “insane,” were sent to the 5th floor.
  • Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4]

The Draining Room (Myth)
  • One of the creepier Waverly Hills legends is a room near the morgue dubbed “the draining room,” where dead bodies were supposedly hung on hooks and cut open top to bottom to rid them of infected fluids.
  • The reasons for doing this may have been to keep from spreading disease once the body was brought back into town, and/or to make the body lighter.
  • In “mechanical drawings” from 1924 and 1962, however, this room is labeled the Transformer Room, and it clearly appears to be an electrical room.
  • Sources: [1] [2]

The Death Tunnel (Real)
  • A chute was built to aid in disposing dead bodies in such a way that the sick did not have to see them leaving.
  • It’s supposedly around 500 feet long and leads down the hill.
  • Bodies were not “dumped” but rather carried down the tunnel to the bottom of the hill, where they could be collected by a hearse, as there was no cemetery at the hospital.
  • Good news: When you visit WHS, you can get in the death tunnel. (Please get in the death tunnel.)
  • Sources: [1] [2] [3]

Other Scary Stuff:

Shadow People

  • There are many reports of the infamous “shadow people” of Waverly Hills.
  • One report from a paranormal investigation group noted that six members saw what they claim looked like a young girl’s shadow that was completely opaque.
  • Several people have claimed shadowy figures have peered around corners at them.
  • Some time before the property was purchased in 2001, a story circulated about a group of teenage boys who snuck into the sanatorium. They found themselves stuck in a room whose door would not open and shadowy figures appeared in the room. They screamed and banged on the door until two security guards came to their rescue -- and found that the door gave way easily for them.
  • In Spookiest Stories Ever: Four Seasons of Kentucky Ghosts, the author writes of his own encounter with Shadow People that they seemed to be going about their own business and did not notice his group.
  • Sources: [1] [2]

Timmy
  • A young boy named Timmy or Tim has been seen rolling a blue rubber ball.
  • Ghosthunters typically like to ask Timmy to move or play with the ball.
  • Note: Some reports make it sound like Timmy’s ball is already at Waverly Hills, but you should bring a small child’s ball just in case!
  • Sources: [1]


The Man in the White Coat
  • There are tales of an apparition seemingly draped in white, like a doctor’s coat.
  • Troy Taylor from the American Ghost Society claims, on his website, that he saw the man in the white coat disappear into a treatment room on the 4th floor during his first trip to WHS, shortly after the Mattinglys purchased the property.
  • Sources: [1] [2]

And more!
  • Several visitors have reported hearing the sound of children’s laughter.
  • Food odors, such as that of bread, has been detected near the kitchen and cafeteria.
  • Slamming doors seem to be a pretty common occurrence.
  • Faces have appeared in windows to rooms that are unoccupied and in photos where nobody was standing.
  • A homeless man and his dog supposedly fell down the elevator shaft when the building was vacant, and some have seen the ghost of the dog. Owner Tina Mattingly told Ghost Hunters she saw the ghost of both the man and the dog.
  • Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4]


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