In March 2020, I was nervously considering whether or not to go on a team trip to investigate Waverly Hills and Whispers Estate. We were in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and no one really knew what to expect. People were being told that they could not fly into the US from another country, cruise ships were sitting out on the ocean loaded with sick individuals, and several states had issued stay at home orders. And here I was, thinking about driving 4 hours across 2 states to investigate ghosts. I was worried we would arrive at our hotel and be told we couldn’t stay or that the locations would receive last minute notice from the government that they couldn’t rent their location to investigators. We would get there and be sent back home to Missouri. The thought of getting sick was in the back of my mind but not as nagging as all of the details.
I spent days agonizing over the decision and after receiving multiple assurances from the locations and fellow team members, I decided to go. So I packed my equipment, clothes, and a cooler of food to get me through the weekend. We were unlikely to be allowed to eat at a restaurant and I was prepared to eat only what I had on hand. I also shoved what I would later realize was my last container of Clorox wipes for months into my glovebox. I promised myself that I would wipe down anything I touched at a gas station and high contact areas at the hotel. With the Dali Lama’s “The Book of Joy” as my copilot, I set off on my adventure.
I met my team at the entrance to Waverly Hills and was instantly glad that I had decided to go. I suddenly felt a moment of normalcy sneak into my life again. As we stood there waiting to enter the gates, I began to think of the many lives that had entered into this building at the height of the tuberculosis epidemic and how much fear they must have felt about the days and weeks ahead of them. I also recognized the importance of the idea of normalcy. Especially for those who were confined to the sanatorium. I’m certain the residents of Waverly Hills clung to these moments as I did standing among my friends. We don’t always talk about the attempts made to keep the patients in high spirits but we all recognize the photo of children swinging joyfully atop the building. If you look for them, you will also find images of people escaping into a book when their bed was pushed out onto the “porch”, craft time, cakes, and women smiling. This is the resilience it would take to cope in a world of uncertainty.
I felt connected to these people and that night I used these thoughts to try to reach out to the souls still lingering in the hallways. I often praised the kindness and sacrifice of the doctors and nurses that knew they could also succumb to this deadly disease. While I never heard a response, I do feel as though I was connected to these people at this moment. We shared a fear, an unknown future, hope for a cure, a desire to have life return to normal, and an understanding of the sacrifices that would be made.
I have been to Waverly many times but until this moment I hadn’t fully understood Waverly. We don’t always talk about how being in these places holds meaning for investigators. For many of us, we strive to understand and connect with our history. I touch the walls within every building I visit and close my eyes hoping to sense the history around me. It isn’t just about finding answers to the unknown but understanding what came before. I am grateful for the opportunity I have to explore these places and hope that our continued interest in these locations keeps history alive. Keep exploring and remember the people who came before you.
Until next time, Happy Hunting.