Tuberculosis is an often fatal disease that has existed for centuries. Sanatoria were built in the early 20th century to combat the illness with fresh air and rest. Victims who died within their walls still inhabit the halls and haunt anyone who cares to visit.
In this article we'll walk through the science behind the disease along with some of the controversial procedures used in search for a cure. We will then explore haunted locations that are inhabited by ghosts which are a direct result of this plague and its procedures. I will also share my personal experiences with evidence that was gathered in a local sanatorium.
A Little Bit of History..First
Tuberculosis is a disease that has been around for almost all of known human history. It is an infection of the lungs and it is in this perfectly warm and moist environment where pathogens, bacteria that cause disease, love to grow. This is why tuberculosis, or TB, has been such a detrimental ailment for humans who require lungs to breathe. It is in this exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen in the bloodstream that leaves humans extremely vulnerable to TB.
The bacteria responsible for this frequent epidemic has its origins perhaps 150,000,000 years ago when the genus Mycobacteriummay have originated. It is believed by certain colleagues "that an early progenitor of M. tuberculosis was present in East Africa as early as 3 million years ago, and they suggest that it may have infected early hominids at that time.... Analysis based on the known mutation rate of M. tuberculosis indicates that much of the present diversity among these strains originated between 250 and 1,000 years ago" (Daniel 1863). The photo on the left will give you a visual idea of what this pathogen looks like magnified.
The three minute video below will give you a better idea of how TB works on the lungs. It will reveal what type of torment patients will have experienced when they were alive and the disease was active in their system. This torment sets the foundation for why this type of distress can create such intense hauntings:
The Deadly Symptoms and Their Effects
Now that you have an idea of what tuberculosis does to the human lungs (assuming you watched the video), we can take a look at why sanatoria tend to be very active with paranormal events. The lungs essentially become calcified and the patient will, over time, slowly suffocate to death. This, in my opinion, is a horrible way to die, as I imagine most of you would agree. I believe anyone who did cross over the spirit veil in this way, may still linger in this physical plane of existence - confused or angry about having to die so unjustly.
If this reasoning isn't strong enough to be believed, then let us take a look at how tuberculosis was treated in its extreme forms. These techniques were desperate attempts to do something for the patient. These practices would have created intense psychic energy because the a few of the procedures might be considered a form of torture. Some patients did not recover from these surgeries. In the paranormal world, when an event causes large amounts of psychic energy to be created, the effects can linger for hundreds of years.
Pneumothorax and Thoracoplasty
There were three types of therapies developed during this time for treatment of Tuberculosis:
- Pneumothorax. "Between the 1930s and 1950s, approximately one third of patients with pulmonary TB underwent collapse therapy. Collapse therapies include: pneumothorax, phrenic paralysis, and thoracoplasties. It was thought that collapsing part of the lung would give the lung a rest and a chance to repair itself, and also that collapse would cut off the oxygen supply to TB bacteria in the lung and thereby kill them."¹
- Phrenic Paralysis. From what I have been able to research, this is a procedure that paralyzes the diaphragm so the patient can breathe easier. It is also tied in with the phrenic nerve that stems from the spinal cord.
- Thoracoplasty. "Thoracoplasty refers to the surgical removal of several rib bones from the chest wall in order to collapse a lung. In the time that this surgery was commonplace, the average patient required the removal of 7-8 ribs. Most surgeons preferred to remove only 2-3 ribs at a time and thus patients had to endure several procedures before the entire thoracoplasty was finished. "²
The First Sanatorium
Asheville, North Carolina is the city accredited with having the first tuberculosis hospital. The area itself is known to have a history of being a place to come to for natural healing. The American Indians, who predate records going back as far as 1795, were known to use this area as a neutral ground for their sick. The main reason behind this move was that the climate in Asheville is ideal for patient recovery. Many physicians moved to this area and set up practices. Soon this city became known as a health retreat.
During the 1880's through the 1930s, Asheville rose in prominence as a haven for treating tuberculosis. The initial residences for this foremost fatal disease consisted of boarding houses scattered throughout the town. The one pictured above was run by the very famous Dr. Carroll, who not only prescribed a vigorous rest and exercise program, but also was involved with the then modern technique of electroshock therapy. In the realm of literary history, F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife died here in a fire during the period when she was writing her novel, Caesar's Things. She was waiting for electroshock therapy when the fire engulfed her in flames.
Over time, the epidemic of tuberculosis began to overrun these small residences and so larger buildings needed to be constructed to house the tens of thousands of patients. Since there was no cure, these sites had to function, in a sense, as hotels. Asheville, North Carolina built its St. Joseph sanatorium in response to this demand. Another monstrous building was erected in Louisville, Kentucky and it has become the most haunted sanatorium in the country.
Recognized As the Most Haunted
Waverly Hills Sanatorium, located in Louisville, Kentucky, was first constructed in 1910 as a two-story wooden site and built on the highest hill in Jefferson County. As was common in many parts of the country, tuberculosis was rampant at that time and so the original building could not house all of the patients. A new building was erected in 1924 and opened soon afterward in 1926.
There was not a cure for this epidemic in the early 20th century, so the only treatment for patients was rest, fresh air, and sunshine. This was believed by most doctors to be the remedy to at least lessen the extreme symptoms.
Once the cure, an antibiotic named Streptomycin, was discovered in 1943, then recovery went very quickly. Before this discovery, though, it is reported that up to 64,000 people had died in Waverly - 10,000 dying of TB in just the first year. Such massive death will cause a definite amount of paranormal activity simply from the sheer number of people crossing over the veil between life and death. But this is not the only reason Waverly is the most haunted sanatorium in America.
Woodhaven Geriatric Sanatorium
After the cure for TB was administered and patients got better and went back into society, the Waverly Hills building was turned into a home for the elderly. The conditions here were abhorrent and would, without a doubt, leave many strong residual hauntings locked within its walls. Many of the residents had to endure the torture of extreme shock therapies. Here is an account of the environment in further detail:
"Visitors of Woodhaven reported that there was pee and cockroaches everywhere, patients had to lie in wet beds and in their own feces and that no staff cared about their well-being. The patients went crazy because they were stripped of their clothes, tied to chairs and locked in their rooms for hours upon hours. The staff neglected to keep good watch on the elderly patients and let them fall off of their wheelchairs and severely hurt themselves because, 'They were going to die anyways'."³
My Experiences With a Hometown Site
Molly Stark Hospital is located outside of Louisville, Ohio and it has always had some sort of mysterious draw for me. When I was younger this place was shrouded in whispers, not just about some of the tenants who stayed here near the end of its closing, but more so about the paranormal activity that some claim have happened on these grounds.
I started investigating this location about 8 years ago. I wasn't sure exactly what I would find, if anything, but my passion for the paranormal trumped any doubt. My nephew, who was 13 at the time, was curious about what I was planning to do. He had never been on an investigation before, so he asked if he could go along. Little did we know then that the same passion would begin inside of him and still burns brightly today.
Since that first investigation, we have done 3 other visits. Surprisingly, we have gotten some amazing results. Perhaps it may be easier to disseminate each one if I list them as follows:
• Voices were heard coming from inside a ventilation shaft leading out of the southwest wing of the building.
• A female voice was captured saying about 3 words that emanated from the smaller building adjacent the Molly Stark main hospital.
• Inside the basement, foot steps were heard coming down the far staircase. The hairs on my arms stood on end as my body physically reacted to the entities approaching me.
• An orb was captured in one of the balcony terraces which we discovered, by doing further research, is a hot spot for the presence of these light anomalies. At least 2 other different investigators who have visited the site have captured on digital film the same paranormal activity in the exact same spot.
• A friend of my nephew brought his dog on an investigation. At one spot on the back side of the main hospital, his dog began barking and prancing toward the building, sensing something. We were able to rule out any wild animals that may have been present. We are uncertain what his dog was able to pick up with heightened canine senses. We think it may have been the presence of an entity.
Tuberculosis is a nasty bacterial infection. I am certain it was very scary to live back when my father was a child, knowing that if you happened to inhale the air around someone who was infected, you would catch TB and perhaps a death sentence. As a side note, my father did catch a minor form of it, and to this day he still feels the effect of this disease.
In the paranormal world, sites that have experienced great tragedies or have been locations of repeated negative energy, tend to be very active for decades, even centuries. This would definitely be the case for sanatoria.
In Asheville, the sites remain active today because this city is essentially the birthplace of sanatoria. Any of the new extreme treatments would have been performed here first, since the top doctors at the time flocked to this city. As a result, patients who endured the agonies of having a lung collapsed and all of its complications, would still have their psychic energies embedded in the atmosphere and surrounding walls.
Waverly Hills really speaks for itself. The sheer number of patients, exceeding 60,000, along with the severe abuse suffered by the elderly on the same grounds, will create long-term enduring paranormal activity.
The Molly Stark Hospital is rather quiet in comparison, but even this site proved to be quite active as well. I suppose that if a large group of people were gathered together for a long period of time, and they knew they would eventually die, then perhaps that factor in and of itself would create an environment that spirits would revisit time and time again.