LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Some come to Louisville for the Derby, others to explore the state’s history of bourbon making. But there’s one attraction bringing tens of thousands of people to Louisville each year and people will wait months just to get inside.
“You just never know,” Tina Mattingly, Waverly Hills Sanatorium Executive Director, said. “There’s a lot that goes on in here.”
Silence hangs heavy around the walls of Waverly Hills.
Visitors to the sanatorium come regularly, some to learn about the former tuberculosis hospital.
“This is the first floor. As we call this, ‘the Morgue wing,’” Mattingly said, walking down the hallway toward the room where bodies were often held.
Others are drawn in searching for something you cannot explain. Mattingly said in the building, she’s experienced a glimpse of the paranormal - everything from noises in the air to doors slamming shut for no reason."
“My favorite spot is right here on that top step,” Mattingly said, pointing her flashlight toward the “body chute.”
600 steps on one side and a ramp on the other make up the long, bleak stretch of the body chute. The hospital would use it to take out the patients who had passed on.
“Use it to take the dead out,” Mattingly said. “And then, there’s a train that would come over and pick them up or a hearse would take them out the bottom.”
Ghostly experiences are common here but Mattingly said they’re not often talked about within these walls.
“You know, we’ll tell you some history, show you around, make sure you know where you are. But we don’t tell you a lot about the paranormal activity, reason being is we don’t want to put things in people’s heads and we want them to have their own experiences,” she said.
The 180,000 square foot building was built as a hospital, serving tens of thousands of tuberculosis patients living here within its walls from 1926 to 1962. Many records on those who lived here have been lost.
“There’s a lot of things we don’t know and we just won’t. It’s lost in time,” she said.
Sometimes family members of those who lived here will come to tell them stories or return items that were once here at Waverly HIlls. Historical Society Director David Price said in its time, the 500-bed facility stayed busy.
“There were a ton of people, every bed was filled constantly,” Price said.
They estimate between 20,000 and 60,000 people died there from tuberculosis. With no cure for decades, patients were treated with sunshine, fresh air, rest and nutrition.
“Yes, a lot of people did die. But a lot of them lived, too,” Mattingly said.
The paranormal and the history at Waverly are intertwined, drawing people in. Each year, Waverly Hills brings in up to 35,000 people, coming from all over the world.
“They come from Ireland, China, Australia, Russia,” Mattingly said.
Tours only run a few months out of the year, March through August and again in October, and they often book up months in advance. Getting in can be difficult but visitors often make it the reason for visiting Louisville.
“We get people call all the time, will sit down at the gate waiting just to see if someone don’t show up,” Mattingly said. “There will be people there tonight.”
For years after closing down the hospital, Waverly Hills sat unused, falling into disrepair. Mattingly and her husband bought the building in recent years, slowly restoring the historic space and eventually coming to offer tours. They hope to do more in the years to come but it will take time.
“It’s on the National Historic Register for J.J. Gaffney’s design and the education of the tuberculosis epidemic. Our mission is to promote that and to restore the building and preserve it for future generations,” Price said.
Restoration of the building is made possible because of the tours they offer.
“If it wasn’t for them, this building would not be saved," she said. “It’s the people that are saving it, that come here to go on tours. And it’s the building that’s drawing the people here.”
Mattingly said she’s hopeful the visitors that come searching for something help keep the memories of this building and those who lived here alive for years to come.
”This is a memorial to all the people that came through here," Mattingly said. “And it deserves to be saved.”
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