Tag Archives: sanatorium

“Scariest Places on Earth”- History of the hauntings

“Scariest Places on Earth,” though it has been off the air since 2006, is still a Halloween favorite for many, and with good reason. The show takes you inside old buildings to get a look at some terrifying places. Here is the history of a few of them that are right here on the east coast and even in our own backyard. If you think you might be interested in visiting a real haunted house for Halloween, here are a few that have the fear factor written all over them.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Photo from Creative Commons.

Featured on ABC Family‘s “Scariest Places on Earth,” the Waverly Hills Sanatorium is a place that would give me nightmares. I hate the idea of asylums and this one doesn’t help change my mind; in fact, it made it worse.

Waverly Hills is located in Louisville, KY and was originally founded as a one room school for the daughters of Major Thomas H. Hayes who bought the land in 1883. Teacher Lizzie Lee Harris named the school Waverly School and the property that became Waverly Hills. The Board of Tuberculosis Hospitals bought the land and constructed the sanatorium from 1908-1910. They decided to keep the peaceful name to accompany the quiet, wooded surroundings that would help the patients recover. The two-story building, which was only supposed to hold 50 patients, was soon overflowing with 100 more as the spread of TB grew to epidemic proportions. The building finished expansion in 1926 to accommodate over 400 patients and perform treatments such as Heliotherapy (exposure to hot temperatures to kill bacteria), Pneumothorax (deflating a portion of the lung so it can heal) and Thoracoplasty (surgically removing up to 7-8 ribs for breathing ease) along with healthy diet and fresh air on the screen-windowed solariums, which are large, open rooms with no closed windows. Without antibiotics, the deaths piled up near 63,000 and the body chute, a 500 foot, pitch dark tunnel, was used to transport the bodies out of the hospital to the bottom of the hillside so that the other patients wouldn’t lose morale. This tunnel is said to be extremely haunted and has sparked enough interest to inspire a movie called “Death Tunnel” (2005).

It remained a tuberculosis hospital until 1961 when it was renovated by Woodhaven Medical Services and opened again in 1962 as a geriatric hospital until 1980 when it was closed by the state for patient abuse.

The many hauntings of the building include an older woman in chains crying for help that appears in the front entrance hall; an eyeless girl, possibly named Mary, on the third floor; the image of a nurse in room 502 (two nurses working in that room committed suicide); and shadow figures on the fourth floor. These are only a small sampling of the reported hauntings. And now, everyone can experience these frightening experiences for themselves by taking guided tours of the entire hospital. Creepy? Yes. No wonder it’s one of the scariest places on earth.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo from Creative Commons.

This old prison in Philadelphia, PA, was open October 23, 1829 to help relieve overcrowding from another nearby jail. This prison, built in the shape of a wagon wheel, was part of a controversial movement to correct inmate behavior through solitude and labor. The solitude included feeding doors so the guards would have minimal contact and was even so extreme that they gave the 250 inmates masks to wear during their rare trips outside their cells. Their only source of sunlight came through tiny windows or slits in the ceiling. This complete solitude drove many of the prisoners insane. And if that didn’t, the punishments would. The water bath (being dunked in ice water then strapped to a wall for the night), the mad chair (tightly strapped to a chair for days without food, water or movement), the iron gag (an iron clamp was placed on the tongue and then connected to the prisoner’s wrists, which was behind their back) and the hole (a dark pit dug below cell block 14 where prisoners were left for weeks with no light and only bread and water) were the typical torments of the day. No wonder the place is supposed to be haunted.

Originally a single story building, it was expanded in 1835 to include a second story to include four more cell blocks and 450 cells for the ever increasing inmate numbers. These expansions would continue for decades reaching numbers as high as 1,700 prisoners and 14 cell blocks, leaving hardly any space between the buildings. As the years passed, the idea of total solitude was abandoned and prisoners could exercise and eat together. There were over 100 escapes from the prison and 99 were recaptured. Riots broke out regularly until the prison was closed in January 1970 due to its poor mechanical and electrical conditions. Some notable inmates during the prison’s 142 years of use have been the infamous gangster Al “Scarface” Capone, bank robber William Sutton and even women like Freda Frost, who poisoned her husband.

Many paranormal groups, including “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” along with “Scariest Places on Earth” explored this building and had some interesting findings. Whispering, giggling, weeping and even shadowy figures and ghostly distorted faces are found in many of the cell blocks. Very spooky.

St. Albans Sanatorium

St. Albans Sanatorium. Photo from Creative Commons.

Right here in Radford we have our own supposed haunting. Even though it was not featured on “Scariest Places on Earth,” St. Albans Sanatorium has gotten a lot of attention. So much, in fact, that “Ghost Hunters” members Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango came to the abandoned hospital on Sept. 25 to show their support for the building’s preservation.

St. Albans first opened in 1892 as school for boys but was closed in 1911 for lack of funding and interest. Dr. John C. King then reopened the facility in 1915 as a sanatorium for mentally ill patients. Some of the reported treatments conducted at the hospital included opium, mercury and belladonna extract (all are very dangerous poisons) along with insulin-coma therapy, hydrotherapy and electro-convulsive therapy. Many of these treatments resulted in brain damage and death.

The sanatorium was absorbed by the Carilion Health System, but the hospital was moved in 2003, leaving the building abandoned. It was given to Radford University in 2004 but was up for auction and bought in 2008 by Tim Gregory, who was a patient of the hospital when he was 14. He hopes to preserve the building as a historical landmark and is willing to allow paranormal investigations. This site is said to be very active with EVP’s (electronic voice phenomenon), strange noises and shadows. Maybe Steve and Tango could come back one day and have a ghostly experience at St. Albans.

These are only a few frightening places with chilling ghost stories. “Scariest Places on Earth” may not be on TV anymore, but there is always the internet. Go find some scary places and enjoy!