The Hospital on the Hill

The Hospital on the Hill

Would you believe the unusual treatments tuberculosis patients endured in the early Twentieth century? From operations with no anesthetics to electroshock therapy, Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium patients suffered greatly at the majestic hospital. For the patients, it was a living hell.

Tuberculosis (known as TB,) was one of the worst diseases known to man. Until the early 1960's, TB was the number one cause of death in the United States. In 1900, Louisville, Kentucky had the highest TB death rate in the country, due to its location in a low-lying, swamp-like area, which was the perfect environment for the germs that caused TB to grow.
In 1910 the Governor of Kentucky authorized the building of an isolated TB sanatorium in the hills outside Louisville. Later that year a wooden, two-story, Tutor styled building was opened to with the capacity to house 30 TB patients. It was built on one of the highest hills in the area if Louisville. There was a law passed that stated no residential or commercial buildings could be built within a half-mile of the hospital to prevent the spread of disease.

In 1912 the administration of the hospital soon realized that the hospital was severely overcrowded with over 100 patients. After applying for a grant from the US Government, the officials of the hospital received an $11 million grant for the construction of a larger 400 patient building and a complex of other buildings around it to serve as storage or dormitories for the doctors and nurses.

Officials bought another 129 acres if land directly across from the older hospital for the new hospital. Construction on the new hospital began in 1924. The new building complex was designed to be a self-contained town with its own power plant, a self-contained water treatment system, a laundry facility, a dormitory for the doctors and nurses, small cottages around the larger building for the administration and people who stayed while visiting patients, and its very own sewer system. The new hospital opened in 1926 and was considered to be the most advanced TB hospital in the nation. If a patient had any chance of surviving the disease, the new hospital, known as Waverly Hills, was the place to go.

Treatments in the early twentieth century were primitive at best, which meant Waverly Hills was a place to send people to die. The main treatment of TB was nutritious food and fresh air, which would allow more air into the lungs to heal. For many this didn’t help, so the patients were given a procedure called a Thoracoplasty, where the chest of the patient was opened and cords of muscle and up to seven ribs were removed. Doctors believed this would allow the lungs to expand further to allow more oxygen into the lungs. This procedure was very bloody, and less than five percent of people who got the procedure survived it. Sometimes, balloons would be implanted in the lungs to allow them to expand further. Other treatments including a procedure called a Pneumothorax, in which the infected area of the lung was deflated to allow it to heal, were considered barbaric at the time, which is a complete oxymoron considering the surgical removal of ribs was considered standard practice.

As the hospital rooms began to fill, a problem arose. What to do with all the dead bodies? They surely couldn’t have an endless line of hearses rolling up the hospital lane, which would bring down the spirits of the patients who were trying to ‘recover.’ So the hospital administration decided that a new wing had to be added to the building. The new wing was to have a morgue, a “drip-dry” room (see further in the article), and a tunnel to transport the dead bodies down the hill to a receiving building at the bottom of the hill. After a person died, the body would be taken to the morgue, where it would be processed, and then the body would be transported through a tunnel to a building next to the morgue. The bodies would then be hung on hooks and they’re limbs slashed and the torso would be cut in an “X” pattern, the left so the bodily juices would drip from the bodies into drains in the floor. After the bodies were dried, the would be places in re-usable steel coffins that were welded to tracks, then slowly lowered down the tunnel, which was nicknamed the “death tunnel.”

Because of the experiments performed at Waverly Hills and other hospitals throughout the country, TB was becoming less of a threat. In 1943 a graduate of Rutgers University named Albert Shatz discovered Streptomycin, the only affective drug to treat TB. By the mid 1950's TB had become a rare occurrence. In 1961 Waverly Hills Sanatorium was closed as a tuberculosis sanatorium because there was no longer a need for the facility. The building re opened in 1962 under the name of Woodhaven Geriatrics Sanatorium after the building was sanitized. Woodhaven also had a unit for the treatment of those who were considered to be lunatics.

There have been tales of patient mistreatment and unusual experiments that have filtered down the hill over the years. Some have been proven false, but many more are unfortunately true. One of the true stories of patient abuse is the use of electroshock therapy. This type of therapy was sometimes accompanied by severe losses of speech or mental ability or even death. During the 1960's and 1970's severe budget cuts in geriatrics facilities caused the well-documented cases of patient abuse and neglect in geriatrics facilities and insane asylums across the country. Apparently Woodhaven was no different, since the state of Kentucky closed the facility in 1980 due to patient abuse. The buildings, contents, and land were auctioned, and the doors were locked for good.

The building and land changed hands several times over the next eighteen years. The second owner of the property wanted to demolish all the buildings and build the world’s largest statue of Jesus Christ, which would have stood at one hundred and fifty feet. He succeeded in demolishing most of the buildings except the main hospital building, which was protected under the National Historic Register’s “endangered” list. He then decided that if he couldn’t tear it down legally, he would try to get the building condemned. He let vandals inside the building who destroyed all of the fixtures. After smashing windows, busting porcelain sinks and toilets, and removing doors and other fixtures, the building was only a shell of its former glory. Since the building still wasn’t condemned, the owner dug large ditches at the base of the building in hopes the foundation would crack. Fortunately, the buildings foundation didn’t crumble, and the owner’s efforts failed. He then realized that it would cost too much to try to deface the building further.

By 2001, this once majestic hospital had been ravaged by time and weather. Waverly Hills had become every town’s “haunted house.” Kids broke in to get the “rush” of finding a ghost. Satanic rituals were performed in the basement, and a man and a dog were murdered on the fifth floor then placed into the elevator shaft. People who live at the base of the hill have reported seeing lights on in the sanatorium windows and people have claimed to see shadows of people walking through the windows. People who have been in the building have claimed to see a little girl and a little boy playing with a leather ball, the disappearing around the corner. Others have reported seeing a man dressed in a white suit in the kitchen and even the smell of freshly baked bread. People have reportedly smelled cigar smoke in the administrative areas of the building. Other things that are reported include doors, slamming, disembodied voices, a hearse driving up the lane and picking up a coffin the disappearing, and an older woman running from the entrance with her wrists bleeding screaming “Help me! Someone save me!”

In 2001 the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society was called out to Waverly Hills to find the “hotspots” for Triage Entertainment who where producing a segment in their series entitled “World’s Scariest Places.” The episode aired in October of 2003. In the year 2004 the movie “D.E.A.T.H. Tunnel” was filmed on location at Waverly Hills. The story focused on local legends, lore, and hauntings. Also, the documentary “Spooked” was shot by the same production company. “Spooked” explored the history and hauntings of Waverly Hills.

Waverly Hills has had a very historical past that many people will never know. Unless something is done, the history of Waverly Hills will be gone forever. It is estimated that the building will be completely destroyed within ten years if nothing is done to repair the damage that has occurred.

Today, tuberculosis is nearly nonexistent thanks to the research that occurred at Waverly Hills and other TB sanatoriums around the world. But the achievement came at a price. It is estimated that 63,000 patients died at Waverly Hills when it was a tuberculosis sanitarium, and many more during its operation.

Waverly Hills is a spectacular place, rich in history, from its days as a tuberculosis sanatorium to a geriatrics center, to an abandoned building. But what will happen to it in the future? No one knows for sure.

Uploaded by veggie627 on Aug 16, 2005