Not far from the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky is the Waverly Hills Sanatorium—home to hundreds of tuberculosis patients in the 1900s. The “white plague” epidemic took as many as 100 million lives in the United States around the turn of the century. The disease was so contagious that people were sent to sanatoriums for treatment, and in most cases, to live out the rest of their lives. Waverly Hills began with approximately 60 patients and grew to house hundreds. By some estimates more than 8,000 people died there.

The focus of the hospital was treating patients with lots of fresh air, nutritious food, and reassuring them that a full recovery was possible. Some patients participated in experimental (and unsuccessful) surgeries that caused horrible pain and scarring. When death rates at Waverly reached an all-time high, they built a 500-foot underground tunnel where they could “chute” the bodies down to meet a hearse that would drive out a back entrance. This was an attempt to keep up morale so that patients did not see the black cars relentlessly going in and out. With the introduction of the drug streptomycin in 1943, tuberculosis could be treated and the need for sanatoriums around the country was no longer necessary. Waverly Hills closed in 1961.

Today Waverly Hills is visited by people all over the world for its supposed paranormal activity.

Guide Note: See a 1931 government tuberculosis film featuring Waverly.

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Tennessee State Guide Lindsay Scott is an East Nashville-based photographer, writer, drinker and ponderer. You can find her on any random night, porch sitting with a side of story telling and a camera in hand. Follow her on Tumblr at lindsayscottphotography.tumblr.com or on her website, lindsayscottphoto.com.