Nothing like a good old fashioned early-20th century asylum to get the old sixth sense tingling, right? How many horror movies, psychological thrillers, and ghost stories have featured an asylum wherein everybody died save one, crazed patient who either a) killed everyone, or b) died himself and is haunting the dreams of randy teenagers…. A lot of what we know about the limits of human psychological endurance came from research done by the Nazi’s during the rise of Hitler and subsequent world war that followed, but a large portion of that research was grounded in the experimentation done by burgeoning psychologists (then called “alienists”) in places such as Waverly Hills.
At the time, the kinds of things people could be sent to asylums for were… well, ridiculous and shocking by today’s standards. Children unable to concentrate in school, asylum. PMS, asylum. Postpartum depression, asylum. Panic attacks, asylum. Being a belligerent jerk, asylum. Being gay, asylum. Being Irish, asylum. (No, seriously, not just being a prat.) Basically the things that make people diverse and interesting in today’s society was sufficient cause to have someone committed to an asylum. And the sorts of experimentation that went on… it beggers the imagination. The Inquisition could have learned a thing or two from the alienists of the 1910’s, 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
Waverly Hills has been called one of “the most haunted places in the world” most likely as part of the supernatural propaganda machine, Ghost Hunters. (Disclaimer: I am not saying that Ghost Hunters is wrong or right, accurate or inaccurate. What I AM saying is that they want to make money and will do everything in their power to do just that.) I am not saying that Waverly Hills isn’t haunted… It is. What I am saying is that Waverly Hills’ reputation most likely is greater than the level of paranormal activity present. The building itself has passed hands many times and has worn many different proverbial “hats” over the last century and a half. It started out as a family home, then became a schoolhouse. During a particularly virulent outbreak of tuberculosis, it became more or less a triage hospital, until finally it was made into a sanatorium until it closed in 1961. Since then it was almost converted into a minimum security prison in 1983 (didn’t happen) and now it serves as a significant tourist draw from its many appearances on various and sundry paranormal investigative shows.
That was a fast and dirty history. I did some research on the house and can see where it’s “most haunted” reputation came from. Rumors and speculation that during the height of the TB epidemic, something like 1 person an hour died, final tallies numbering somewhere in the 9,000 range. Actual numbers based on fact range between 152 and 162 (the latter in 1945 when soldiers were returning from the front with advanced stages of untreated TB). The total death toll over its 50 year history as a sanatorium is tallied at 8,212. (If’n ya wanna check my numbers, all of this came from the Waverly Hills Historical Society – www.therealwaverlyhills.com).
The only major haunting that I have been able to find any information about is the woman in room 502. The only verifiable source for this is from Ghost Hunters episode 214, so take it with a big honking grain of salt. Story goes a nurse working for the sanatorium discovered she was pregnant by the owner of the sanatorium. Being unwed and having contracted tuberculosis herself, she hanged herself outside room 502. There is other speculation that the owner of the sanatorium discovered the pregnancy, killed her in such a way to make it look like an accident and then killed himself.
The latter of these two tales is most likely total fabrication. I am not saying that people aren’t capable of these things, history tells us they certainly are. However there is absolutely no record of any of the owners of Waverly Hills Sanatorium ever having committed suicide (This information comes directly from the Waverly Hills Historical Society itself – I even contacted them directly to verify). The former… well it is possible. Stories like that were not uncommon in that era. To be pregnant outside of wedlock was one of the worst social faux pas a woman of the age could make. Remember, that a lot of this was contemporary to the Victorian era, and the subsequent Edwardian era which made a good English sense of propriety the “posh” thing to do in the United States. I did confirm with the Waverly Hills Sanatorium Historical Society the tale of the pregnant nurse is, in fact… truth.
So where does that leave us? The ghost of a sick impregnated nurse? The spirits of the thousands of people who died in those hallowed halls? It’s all possible. But more than anything else, I suspect human imagination has a lot to do with the hauntings at Waverly Hills. I mean, the ambiance is right. Sanatorium during one of the worst TB outbreaks in Kentucky state history. Reprehensible accepted practices, one of the least of which was the lobotomy. It is all very evocative. Am I saying that Waverly Hills is not haunted. Not at all. What I am saying is that famously haunted sites tend to be blown out of proportion. But if you go in with the right state of mind, with the right person or people… you might find the very thing you are looking for.