Friday, February 5, 2010

A haunted house that really is haunted!

A menacing voice warns visitors to "Get out!" of a certain fifth-floor room.

A woman, bleeding from her slashed wrists, screams out, "Help me!"

The scent of cooking food wafts down the hall from a long-disused kitchen.

The Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky was once a famed hospital for victims of the early-20th-century "White Death", better known as tuberculosis. Regarded as one of the best sanatoria in the country, the treatment methods in those pre-antibiotic days are horrifying to modern readers. Fresh air was thought to be beneficial for tuberculosis sufferers, so the patients were put into large rooms with the windows wide open, even in the dead of winter, to "clear" the germs from their lungs. One last-resort treatment is one that must have been pure agony for the patients. A balloon was inserted into the lungs and inflated. This "treatment" often involved the removal of one or more ribs, to inflate the lungs even further, and almost invariably resulted in the death of the patient.

The sanatorium had a "Body Chute", a secret passage that the staff used to remove the bodies of those patients who had died. Realizing the the sight of corpses being carted out of the sanatorium on a daily basis would have a demoralizing effect on the rest of the patients, they devised a way to take them out in secret, unseen by the residents. This passage was also used by the staff to enter the sanatorium in inclement weather.

As with so many "hospitals" of its kind, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium eventually closed with the onset of newer and more effective (not to mention far more humane) treatments for tuberculosis. The imposing, rather scary-looking building fell into disrepair.

Now, the premises are used as - surprise! - a haunted-house attraction, with the novel twist that this is one place that has its own ghosts, not those dreamed up by a creative team. Room 502 is said to be the most haunted room; the fifth floor is where patients with mental illnesses were kept, and it continues to be the most atmospheric and disturbing of the building. In 1928, a nurse in her late twenties hanged herself in this room. Rumor has it that she had had an affair with a married doctor on the staff, and became pregnant. Rather than face the social ostracism of being pregnant and unmarried, she chose suicide. This is the room where the words "Get out!" are frequently heard.

In 1932, another suicide occurred when a nurse threw herself off the roof patio.

So far, it seems that most of the ghosts are not those you would expect - not the patients, who underwent tortures in their search for a cure, but the specters of the despairing nurses (and, perhaps, an orderly, for whom there is no background story). The fifth floor, though, seems to have absorbed the insanity of its erstwhile residents; could that be why the pregnant nurse of 1928 chose to hang herself there?

Now, the curious can have a good look at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium. The current owners have put in a lot of hard work to clean up the place; carting off garbage, removing dangerous asbestos, laying new floors. They offer 4-hour and 8-hour "ghost hunts" to the intrepid. The Waverly Hills website contains all the details, including some of the hospital's history, and photos that may or may not show some of the disembodied residents.

WARNING: The sanatorium is private property. Nobody is allowed on the grounds without a reservation. The "ghost tours" are ONLY for those 18 years of age and older. See the website for further information.

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