NOTE: It’s a good idea to set your GPS to find the Bobby Nichols Golf Course (located @ 4301 East Pages Lane, Louisville, KY 40272) to make finding Waverly Hills Sanatorium an easy task. The historic building is located a bit off the beaten track, but once you find the golf course, you’re there.
First things first…I am skeptical by nature, so am not overly-inclined to believe in the so-called “paranormal.” That being the case, I will say this review does contain references to three incidents that at least gave me some occasion to wonder about the possibility there are such things as ghosts and that these beings are present and active at Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium was opened in 1910 as a place where individuals diagnosed with tuberculosis could get rest, fresh air and good food in hope of achieving a cure. The facility grew over the years until it reached its present, ominous mass. Thousands of people died within its walls until its closing in 1961 because tuberculosis was being cured by streptomycin. The building was then decontaminated and reopened in 1962 as a nursing home. There are many tales of elder abuse connected to the place and that, to me, is far more tragic than the deaths of tubercular patients. The facility was finally closed in 1981 and remained abandoned until its purchase in 2001 by private owners, Tina & Charlie Mattingly.
After driving alongside The Bobby Nichols Golf Course on the evening of our scheduled tour, the road narrowed and cut through lush woods, terminating at a gate where we had to wait until 7:30 when vehicles were allowed to enter. Then came our first view of the behemoth! Looming above the vast parking lot, the hulking sanatorium was foreboding, to say the least. Arriving, as we did, during gloaming, made it even more so. Although a number of windows had been replaced and the building was undergoing restoration, there was still a feeling of dereliction and decay which rendered it at least an 8 on the CFS (Creep Factor Scale).
Our tour took place on a Friday night…8:00PM to 10PM ($22 be person). Being springtime, the sun had not yet gone down by 8, but this proved to be somewhat fortuitous as it provided enough ambient light at the tour’s beginning to really see the long-abandoned rooms; however, halfway through, the sun had fully set, so we could experience the place in darkness. The best of both worlds!
Before the tour started, we were herded into a restored building that serves as a Gift Shop. A word of warning: if you are on the 2-hour tour and they try to sell you a flashlight, don’t bother. Bring your own and make it small—you are only allowed to use them to illuminate stairs as you travel. You can’t use them to investigate anything.
Be sure to sign the required waiver when you get inside or you may be left behind while others get started. No one bothers to announce this needs to be done, so we found ourselves among a handful of people hurrying to sign a waiver holding the owners free from any liability in the case of an accident while the rest of the group headed into the building.
Oh—yes—but first, we had to sit through a full 30 minutes of video before being allowed into the building. This was about 20 minutes too much. After the initial historical video (which was quite interesting) we had to watch overly-long clips from episodes of “Ghost Hunters” and “The Scariest Places on Earth.” This seemed a poor choice of time usage and was frustrating as we were anxious to SEE the sanatorium, not footage of other people seeing it. I think the owners would do well to do away with all but the brief historical clip.
Once the video ended, we were, at last, allowed to enter Waverly Hills!
The lion’s share of the tour was taken up with moving down the buildings many long corridors, stopping at places of interest such as the morgue, operating theatre, kitchen, typical patient’s room, etc.. Quite fascinating. It was eerie to consider all that transpired in those vast brick environs, but there were the three aforementioned highlights I’ll now record:
THE THIRD FLOOR
This is a spot where it is alleged many see so-called “Shadow People.” After we entered the main corridor, the guide split us into two groups and each was herded to the connecting arm of yet another hall. Our guide selected a gentleman wearing light-coloured clothing and instructed him to walk about 100 feet down the hall, away from the tour group. He was soon largely-enveloped by the darkness, but we could see the vague outline of his body if we looked hard enough. He was instructed to peer down the remaining length of corridor (out of our view) and tell us if he saw anything. He reported that he did and several tour group members claimed to see some “Shadow People” in the hallway directly in front of us.
My companion and I saw nothing, but we did make our way up to the front of the group and when the gentleman returned we asked if we could walk down. Our guide said we could, so we set off into the darkness to see for ourselves.
Gazing into the blackness, we could make out a faint light coming in from a distant window at the end of the hall. As we looked at it, the light would occasionally vanish—as if an unseen “something or someone” was moving back and forth in front of it. Interesting!
We then began to look at the hallway itself. Although it was very dark, we could see faint light filtering through the open doorways. My companion said she saw a humanoid “Shadow Figure” moving towards her and then vanishing. As I looked in the same direction, I saw what appeared to be a group of similar figures shuffling along, staying close to the far wall. Then, a large and more well-pronounced “Shadow Person” seemed to race directly towards me—not walking, but moving in a manner suggestive of flight—though the legs didn’t appear to be moving.
While I am fairly certain this was an optical illusion, it was, nevertheless, quite FUN!
THE CAMERA MALFUNCTION
At one point during the tour we stepped onto an open area on the roof where patients who were doing quite well once sat with visitors. It was going on full dark, but there was enough ambient light for us to snap a number of photos and that light, coupled with the flash, gave us some nice images; however, that changed inexplicably when my companion aimed our camera at a gargoyle affixed to a distant parapet and snapped a photo. The camera balked, but recorded the image. The problem came when trying to take subsequent photos of the same view. Our camera refused to cooperate…the shutter would operate, but the image on the LCD screen was merely a ghostly outline of the gargoyle or nothing at all. This happened for 11 photos and I would be inclined to say it was merely a result of the low light except for the fact that as soon as we tried to shoot a part of the parapet where the gargoyle was not in frame, the camera resumed its normal. No settings had been changed. The depth of field was virtually identical. Nothing was really different.
Coincidence or “ghostly interference?” Who can say? But I will at least allow for the possibility of something beyond our current level of understanding being responsible.
THE BODY CHUTE
For me, the highlight of the tour came at its conclusion when we were invited to visit “The Body Chute,” a 550’ tunnel used to transport many of the tens of thousands of corpses “generated” in the sanatorium to awaiting hearses, well out of the view of those still struggling to survive and recover.
A number of our group declined to even enter. My companion and I, however, happily took our place at the back of the line and joined the slow parade of travelers descending into what was, for countless thousands, the final exit from Waverly Hills.
Because the chute itself is slick and smooth, we were not allowed to walk on it. Accordingly, we took the steps which run alongside the chute and can accommodate two people across. The line was long enough that the individuals at the front had already made it to the bottom and turned around by the time we were three-quarters of the way down. This reduced the flow of traffic to single file in either direction.
I didn’t have much time to focus on the way down because it was dark and I had to keep my eyes on the beam from the flashlight my companion was holding or risk slipping and falling on some of the debris that littered the floor; however, when we got to the bottom, the place was ours. The last two people down were turning around to go back, so we had a few moments to relish the eerie blackness that descended when the flashlight was turned off. I snapped a few pictures of the old metal door (beyond which lay dark woods) and then we began the lengthy ascent. Every once in a while, I would pause and turn back to the engulfing black behind us and flash a picture. Alas, the only things that showed up were a few orbs, and I am not a believer in orbs as anything more than insects or reflected light from water droplets or dust so I can’t say there was anything that would count as even remotely being a candidate for the “paranormal.” That being said, the feeling in the tunnel was interesting if only for the thought of all those corpses that took the one-way trip out of that place.
So ended our tour of Waverly Hills. A fun 1.5 hours of wandering the halls which contained the misery of so many....for so long.
I would recommend this tour to anyone fit enough to climb numerous flights of stairs (and 550’ of tunnel for those so inclined). Young children and those who are suggestible and/or easily-spooked would probably do well not to enter the chilly and foreboding halls of Waverly Hills Sanatorium. For the rest of you, have at it!