Waverly Hills Today by James Bright

Waverly Hills Today

What could possibly become of an old, run-down, and abandoned mental hospital in the middle of the woods? Surprisingly, there is a lot, and many people do not know the story of this mysterious place and what all it has to offer. Who would ever imagine that paying money to have their hair stand straight up for 8 hours and walking down a 500 foot dead body chute would be a fun idea? Well, I did, and I plan to share the bone chilling experience of myself, and others, while taking you on a virtual tour and timeline of the historical Waverly Hills in Louisville, Kentucky- one of the only places on the planet where the ghosts of a boy playing ball, a girl playing hide and seek, a screaming, bloody woman, and many others “live” under the same roof.

In 1982, when it was a geriatrics hospital, a place of health care for elderly people, Waverly Hills was closed down by the state due to horrendous conditions and abusive treatment of its patients. Before it was a geriatrics treatment center, the history of Waverly Hills includes it being a small school house, a Sanatorium, a Tuberculosis Hospital, and a general Medical Services hospital. Waverly, however, is most notably known as a Tuberculosis Hospital during an outbreak of the incurable (at the time) disease from 1910 to 1936. It was not until 1943, that a remedy was found to cure the disease (ZzzipNet News). Urban legends say that over 60,000 people’s lives, staff included, ended in this building, but a more accurate number developed by research is around 8,000 (Grave Addiction). Because of these extraordinary numbers, Waverly Hills has become a legendary paranormal activity site around the globe and is a highly attractive location for paranormal investigators. It has been featured in many horror stories, novels, films, and documentaries as one of the “World’s Scariest Places.” The show, “Scariest Places on Earth,” ranks it second scariest place on the planet. Other examples of media include Fear, Spooked, and Death Tunnel (Bryan). Spooked, however, is said to be inaccurate because it features a draining room- there is no such room on “The Hill”. During the actual tour, they claim the status of being one of the scariest places in the world is on the rise because of public evidence, blogs, chronicles, etc (Flickner).

Do not let the restorations fool you. The place is still very spooky, especially at night

Between 1980 and 2001, the ownership of Waverly Hills switched hands over a dozen times; eighteen to be exact. Future plans for the property was constantly a hot topic for the owners. Through all the ownerships, the vacant building was primarily occupied by homeless people, teenagers looking for a party, and random cultists (Grave Addiction). Also, gang violence and drug deals became a growing problem (Flickner). The building quickly became vandalized, looted and trashed, which was encouraged by a previous owner. One owner tried to construct the world’s largest statue of Jesus Christ but failed due to lack of funds and, another owner even attempted to tear the “fortress” down, but was unsuccessful because it was listed on the National Historic Register’s “endangered” list (Grave Addiction). I spoke with Melissa Cheser, an acquaintance, who says she used to visit Waverly as a teenager when it was abandoned during these times. Melissa said the building was in bad shape –having to climb over bricks and rocks just to get in the doorway. Also, asbestos and lead paint were used in those days to build the buildings, which we know now is unhealthy. It was nowhere kids should have been hanging out. She also said she witnessed parties with as many as 50 or more people drinking inside the halls or on the roof, but claims nothing like that could happen today because the grounds are now watched very closely (Cheser).

It was not until the late 1990’s that a community wide restoration, the “Awakening of Waverly Manor,” took place on the property. To give the reader an idea of how immense this project is, at full service, the 180,000 square foot hospital had a running kitchen, a barbershop, a laundry center, a dentist, a library, a school…and a morgue (ZzzipNet News). This was usually the place that “many children and adults called there last home!! Very sad…” (Cheser). Tuberculosis was such an epidemic back then, that “if a neighbor heard Joe cough the wrong way, he’d be at Waverly in the next 24 hours. It was your neighbor’s word against your own” (Flickner). Hearing this reminded me of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.

Charlie (USA shirt) and Tina Mattingly

The restoration is still going on today and is now in the hands of owners Charlie and Tina Mattingly. They became owners of Waverly Hills in 2001 and have since then turned it into a haunted house during the Halloween season and a historical tour site during warm weather months. The tour features parts of each of the five floors, including the morgue, and an old dead body chute, known as the Death Tunnel, which tourists can walk down at the beginning of the tour. The tunnel was used as a way to dispose of dead bodies in a discreet way so the patients could maintain a somewhat higher spirit about the place (Body Chute). At one point during the 1930’s, before the tunnel was built, there was one death every hour, and it was believed that more people “were dying from lack of hope rather than Tuberculosis” after seeing so many lifeless bodies being taken away by hearse or train. Because of the high level of superstition towards TB back then and the many mysteries of this “White Plague,” many of the dead bodies were unclaimed by families. On the tour, our guide, Mike Flickner, told us before entering the Death Tunnel that we were within 100 yards of a mass grave for these bodies (Flickner). This was a bone chilling fact to hear in person.

 Before the building could be opened to the public for tours though, much more needed to be done because it was in “complete shambles; every window was broken, the ceilings and roofs were collapsing, the steps were in pieces, and the grounds were filthy” (Cheser); the building and area around it was described as a “jungle” (Restoration). After a full restoration, Charlie and Tina’s future plans include turning the main wing of the hospital into a haunted bed and breakfast. The estimated price tag for the project is some 45 million dollars (Abandoned). Besides offering overnight tours, other sources of “income” in the past have come from an on-property paintball course, allowing FBI search and rescue teams to practice on the grounds, being featured in multiple television programs, and many hours of volunteer work.

Personally, I know I will never be a guest if it is turned into a haunted bed and breakfast. To this day, paranormal activity is still at an all-time high-“legends” say that Room 502, coincidently the area code of Louisville, and the fourth floor are the most haunted locations on the property.

  • Room 502 is a laundry room on the top floor where two different nurses are said to have lost their lives. One nurse had apparently contracted TB, was unmarried, and was expecting a child. Before hanging herself outside the doorway of Room 502, the nurse aborted her child and disposed of the child down the drain. The body of the baby was discovered in the sewage system the next day. It is not uncommon for expecting woman to enter this room and immediately feel nauseous. Years later in this same room, another nurse was said to have either been pushed out of the window or willingly threw herself out of the window (Flickner). Outside of Room 502, in a glassed-in room where children used to play and go through heliotherapy, “Ring around the Rosy” has been heard being sung faintly (Bryan).
  • On the fourth floor, one of the present owners, Tina, has seen several times the apparition of a tall man in a large coat with curly hair. He and his white dog always seem to be roaming the halls (Mattingly). His dog’s collar has also been heard jingling from what sounds like a distance during tours. The homeless man and his dog actually lived in the building during the 1990’s; they were allowed to stay because the owners figured he would help keep people out or scare them off. Sadly, both the man and the dog were savagely beaten, killed, and thrown in the elevator shaft by gang members (Flickner).
  • A friendlier story includes the ghost of a little boy named Timmy who wanders the halls around the chapel. On my tour a woman asked how they knew his name -the answer was quite simple. Paranormal investigators came in, stood in the chapel, and asked “What is your name?” using high-tech equipment, they discovered the voice of a spirit say “My name is Timmy.” Investigators often leave toys laying around for Timmy to play with and move throughout the building; “Nine times out of ten, if you leave a toy in the chapel and come back fifteen minutes later, it will be somewhere else” (Flickner).

  • The ghost of “Little Mary” can also be found playing around the same halls as Timmy. She is believed to be the spirit of a woman named Mary Higgs who died next to her sister on the third floor. Her floating head has been caught in pictures in the same room she died in, and she is notorious for playing hide and seek with tourists (Flickner).
  • Other tales include doors slamming and locking (especially on the fourth floor), “disembodied voices”, random lights coming on (which is impossible because there is no electricity), the elevator leading to the morgue turning on (again, impossible), orbs and faces appearing in pictures, and even a bloody woman screaming “Help me!” (Bryan).

These examples given are known, intense cases of paranormal activity in Waverly, but the main “inhabitants” are called shallow apparitions –mere forms or pieces of figures seen quickly through peripheral vision (Flickner). It is also likely that many, if not dozens of floating orbs can be seen within any picture taken at Waverly Hills. What makes these orbs, spirits, and ghosts return here? Why do they stay? Can they leave?

To date, there are too many personal stories to tell, but for starters, I will tell my partner and I’s own experience and the encounters of another visitor on our tour. To be honest, I did not expect much driving up to the massive building, but by the end of the tour, the experience exceeded my expectations.

The tour actual tour began by walking down to the bottom of the Death Tunnel (there is a brief historical video preceding this). Was it haunted?-probably, but there were 40 people chatting and shining lights everywhere. This aspect of the adventure was interesting just because of its history, not so much because all the pictures had circular orbs in them. Once we entered the building, we were packed into the very small morgue. There were only three body trays because only a small percent (17%) of the bodies were actually processed (Flickner). Home footage from the owners’ daughter captures a very loud noise, and a death tray actually being pulled out by nothing visible. It was also mentioned that not one over night guest has been able to lay in one of these body trays for an hour (Flickner). I was for sure I was not going to try and be the first.  We were then taken into a large room next door that was supposed to be for food storage. Mike told us, however, that most often food was stacked in the hallways and dead bodies filled the room wall to wall. Even though Waverly was only required to have a 17% autopsy rate, people were still dying faster than dead bodies could be taken to an outside crematory or cemetery (Flickner). It was at this point I asked Mike what his favorite part of “The Hill” and giving tours was; he replied, “I wouldn’t say I have a favorite area of the place. The whole place is simply amazing” (Flickner). By the end of the tour, I could one hundred percent agree with his concise statement.

After leaving the first floor, we proceeded to the third floor where the chapel was located. It was then that Mike guaranteed us that Timmy the ghost was with us in the room because of his regular curiosity. This was the place where investigators would leave toys for him to play with. Directly outside the chapel was Mary Higg’s room. Here, we were told the story of her and her sister and the ghost of “Little Mary.” At this point in the tour, nothing had really spooked me; it was all just interesting history and ghost stories. It was not until after seeing the turmoil rooms for the hopeless patients that the tour really took a turn. Mike told us to turn out ALL sources of light for the rest of the next two floors…

Approaching the stairs, we were told to go straight to the fifth floor, and to not stick anything through or shine any light through the broken window on the fourth floor door. He would tell us why later, but at the time, it was pretty intimidating. The fifth floor featured a laundry room, notoriously known as Room 502, and two heliotherapy decks. One of the decks was for the patients with Tuberculosis of the brain, who only had a 2% chance of living, and the other was for children with TB (Flickner). Directly in front of Room 502, where the nurse hanged herself, is where we stood as Mike told us the haunting accounts of the room. Sure enough, as soon as we were allowed to enter the room, a pregnant woman on our tour became very unstable. It was quite disturbing to see the “effects” that this room can have on people, even though it was apparently common.

Leaving the fifth floor, we were now in smaller groups and stood outside the door to the fourth floor. It was here that Mike revealed that anything bad that has ever happened to him in his many years at Waverly Hills has happened on the fourth floor. Before entering he also mentioned three terrifying stories. The first described him closing up and being locked in on the fourth floor until day light; “the door would simply not open.” His second encounter was two years ago when the door unexpectedly slammed on his arm as he walked through, resulting in a broken arm. The third story was truly mind blowing and is proven by police records. Eight years ago, three teenagers broke into the building for a thrill…one they would never forget. Mike and a security guard caught the teens on camera on the fourth floor. When they went to apprehend the intruders, they were screaming and banging on the door. They claimed that the door was locked and “the people” would not let them out. After a moment of sheer terror in the boys’ eyes, the security guard opened the door effortlessly. The boys fell to the platform in the stairwell…along with an axe. On the side of the door facing the inside of the fourth floor were two deep marks from wear the boys had struck the door with the axe (Flickner). 


Following this horrific story…we entered through the door cautiously. Next to the doorway was the elevator shaft where the homeless man and his dog were thrown in after being beaten and killed. As little as 6 weeks ago, Mike explained that as he gave this part of the tour, he had to stop mid-sentence because the jingling of the dog’s collar could be heard down the hallway. As soon as he shined his light on the general area, the noise stopped, but immediately resumed as he turned his flash light off (Flickner).

The next part of the tour is what leads me to this statement: “Waverly is definitely worth visiting for the fourth floor alone. The entire tour exceeds any expectations of paranormal activity in this hallway merely lit by the moon.” All of our lights were turned out. We were instructed to not say a word and simply focus our eyes on any ambient light source down the hallway. At this time, Mike asked for a volunteer to walk with arms spread down the hallway by themselves to see how the spirits react. I immediately volunteered. This was an experience of a life time. Walking down the hallway I was terrified because I could hear Mike from a distance saying “look under his left arm,” “look to his right,” and “do you see that?” The reaction from other tourists is what spooked me the most; their gasps alone caused me to lose sleep that night. When I turned around and faced the group, I could feel a deathly cold breeze going around my body. If you have ever stood on the top deck of a cruise ship and felt the wind, this is what it felt like, but three times colder. Mike then yelled stop very loud as I was walking back. When he told me to take one step back because there was something hovering around my entire torso, I felt a violent shove from behind me that sent me stumbling forward. I immediately took off toward the group as if I was running into my mommy’s arms. I was that spooked, and I later tweeted about the experience saying “scariest 30 seconds of my life #waverly11/11/11.” After it was my turn, I girl I came with also volunteered to make the walk. She had earlier mentioned that she felt scratching sensation on her leg while Mike talked about the homeless man and her dog. Apparently it was the dog that caused the outline of her body to be very fuzzy during the course of her. Spirits do not have a sense of time or up and down, so it is not uncommon to see them walking down walls or through mid air (Flickner). This is what I assume happened to Ryanne and why she had scratches down her neck following the encounter.

The tour then ended shortly after we were shown the surgery room at the end of the hall. The entire experience was well worth my $22 donation to Waverly. I would do it again in a heartbeat and encourage anyone who has the slightest interest to do the same. You will not be let down.

For information on scheduling a tour, visit the official Waverly Hills Website

Works Cited

“Body Chute.” TheRealWaverlyHills. The Waverly Hills Historical Society, 2010. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.

Bryan, Bobette. “Waverly Hills Sanatorium The Haunted Hospital.” Underworld Tales

Magazine. Underworld Tales, 2005. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.

Cheser, Melissa. Personal Interview. 9 November, 2011.

Flickner, Michael. Personal Interview. 11 November, 2011.

Mattingly, Tina. Personal Interview. 11 November, 2011.

“Restoration.” TheRealWaverlyHills. The Waverly Hills Historical Society, 2010. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.

“Waverly Hills Sanatorium.” Grave Addiction. Louisville Ghost Hunters Society, 23 July 2005. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.

“Waverly Hills Sanitarium.” ZzzipNet News. Haunted Parkersburg Ghost Hunters, 2005. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.

“Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Hospital.” Abandoned | History and Photography of Abandoned and Historical Locations across the United States. Abandoned, 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.


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